The Hazards of Non Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Deterrence remains necessary for strategic stability

With a growing number of nuclear armed countries with widely differing world views and actions, a level of nuclear deterrence at the strategic level remains necessary.  History since 1945 strongly indicates that nuclear deterrence, alongside of all of the risks inherent in the existence of nuclear weapons has exerted a continued suppressive force upon major inter-state conflict.  In addition, since 1962, the existence of nuclear weapons has proven to be a distinct down ratchet on inter-nuclear weapons state crises.

These factors are likely to remain beneficial until new security paradigms realised, but that does not mean that all nuclear weapons contribute to these residual stability positives.

Nuclear Deterrence Strategic Relationship

Nuclear weapons currently contribute to the relationship between states at the strategic level and should not be seen as a pawn in minor disputes or rhetoric.  Unfortunately, the use of nuclear weapons in this way is on the rise.  Nuclear arsenals exist to deter nuclear weapon employment, which at any scale would be a game-changing strategic event.  Only strategic weapons are ESSENTIAL to such deterrence.

Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons (NSNW) weaken deterrence and do not contribute to stability

  • They open paths for nuclear weapon employment at lower thresholds
  • They invite doctrine and mindsets which allow, or even plan for, feasible employment of nuclear weapons as extensions of conventional conflict
  • The weapons are often forward deployed, in vulnerable systems, often with intent to delegate release authority in crisis or conflict
  • The need to have equivalence in capability, range and payload in order to deter is a myth.  You need equivalence to fight a nuclear war, not to deter
  • NSNW are thus inherently less stabilising than Strategic Nuclear Weapons.
  • NSNW thus weaken deterrence.

Tactical thoughts, tactical doctrines, tactical level decision making involving nuclear weapons has no place in the 21st century .  ANY use of a nuclear weapon is strategic and should risk a strategic (even if ab initio strictly disproportionate) response.  Any doctrine which allows for a lower level tit-for-tat nuclear exchange is much more vulnerable to the risk of any other doctrine to the risk of miscalculation of opportunity.

Nuclear weapon employment is best done dispassionately.  On the scene commanders, whose mission success, units’ and personal survival may in extremis depend on their detonation of short range lower yield weapons are likely to cross the under stress than ICBM/SLBM commanders whose launch is unlikely to immediately improve their personal chances of survival and who are not, in any case, a “thinking” part of the chain.

There are shorter range and lower yield weapons, but as we stand now with the post 1945 nuclear taboo intact, all nuclear weapons are strategic in nature and effect.  Maintaining a stockpile, and a lexicon, let alone an order of battle and doctrine/operating procedures of NSNW is both destabilising and counter-productive to national and international  security.

A world in which there are only survivable ballistic missile nuclear weapons is inherently more stable than one where weapons pepper the doctrine and geography at all levels.