Russia’s Nuclear Warheads: the Case for Mutually Assured Disassembly in the Cold Cold Cold Middle East
NATO is using fighter jets this week in a nuclear strike exercise called “Steadfast Noon”. And Russia is expected to conduct its own nuclear drills sometime this month—as it typically does—in reaction to NATO’s exercises. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that the Kremlin could deploy nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine has made these rehearsals a very risky thing to do.
As the war enters winter, Russia is continuing to shell eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, and is facing attacks on its own soil.
Nuclear weapons are basically Armageddon, said DeBretton-Gordon. Russia and the West (including the United States, Britain and France) both have almost 6,000 warheads each, according to the Federation of Nuclear Scientists, which is pretty much enough to change the planet as we know it. This is a type of destruction, called mutually assured destruction.
Russia has thousands of non-retirement nuclear warheads according to the Federation of American Scientists. Thetactical warheads that could be used on a foreign battlefield are about 2,000. We know that Russia has not begun “mating” tactical warheads to delivery systems. Lynn Rusten notes that moving the warheads out of storage would be very dangerous, since there could be a possibility that they were moved.
Tactical nuclear weapons have a yield of up to 100 kilotons of dynamite, while strategic nukes have a yield of about 1,000 kilotons.
To blow up the power stations would not make a nuclear explosion, but it could cause radioactive debris to be deposited in the water supply.
Russian nuclear weapons in the region of Ukraine: Where are we going? What do we need in order to save Russia from nuclear attacks in Europe?
Russia has tactical nuclear weapons in the conflict so if they are used they will cause NATO action. So degraded are Russian conventional forces, that they would likely be quickly overcome by NATO forces if it came to that, which even with Putin’s other failings, presumably he realizes.
But this is likely not the case for the tactical weapons. The missiles and warheads are probably in good shape, but the vehicles they are mounted on are not. Judging by the state of the rest of the Russian Army equipment on show in Ukraine, this is a fair assumption.
The only way they could attack Ukraine was by traveling hundreds of miles, since the launchers only have a range of up to 500 kilometers. But from a mechanical perspective it’s unlikely, in my opinion, that they would get that far.
Also, it is likely these weapons rely on microprocessors and other high-tech components which are in very short supply in Russia – given international sanctions and the heavy use of precision guide missiles by Russia, which also use these parts.
At the heart of this move is attacking civilians rather than opposition forces. There were attacks on hospitals, schools and hazardous infrastructure. If these are attacked, they can become improvised chemical or nuclear weapons.
The Russians hope that if the Ukrainian people give up, the military will quickly follow, which, in my opinion, is a highly flawed assumption – both are showing a lot more mettle than the Russians.
Meteorological conditions at the moment indicate that all this contamination would also head west across Europe. If NATO were to attack one ally, it would be an attack on all of them, which would allow NATO to strike back at Russia.
De Bretton-Gordon: The use of strategic nuclear weapons is extremely unlikely in my opinion. This is a war nobody can win, and at the moment it does not seem likely that this regional conflict in Europe would lead to a global nuclear war which could destroy the planet for many generations.
The checks and balances are in place in the Kremlin and in the White House, to make sure we do not plunge ourselves into a nuclear conflict on a whim.
I don’t think that Putin’s nuclear weapons are usable. Even if their vehicles work, they will be picked up by US and NATO intelligence once their engines start to move.
The Russians developed unconventional warfare tactics in Syria. (Russian forces entered Syria’s long civil war in 2015, bolstering ally President Bashar al-Assad’s regime). If Assad hadn’t used chemical weapons, he wouldn’t be in power.
The massive nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 on Ghouta stopped the rebels overrunning Damascus. The four-year siege of the city was ended by chlorine attacks.
It appears that Putin does not have a lot of morals. Hospitals and schools in Syria and Ukraine were attacked by Russia. Unconventional warfare aims to break the will of civilians to resist, and Putin appears to be happy to use any means and weapons to achieve this.
The Soviet doctrine gives local commanders the ability to use nuclear weapons to stop a loss of Russian territory.
The attempted annexation of four districts through the current sham referendums makes the likelihood of tactical use very high, if these places are attacked. Local commanders are expected to wait for Putin before pressing their own red button.
Western military sources say that Putin is getting involved in the close battle and seems to be giving fairly low-level commanders their orders. This is extraordinary – it appears that only now Putin has lost faith in his generals after Ukraine recaptured large swathes of the north-east earlier this year – and suggests a broken command and control system, and a president who doesn’t trust his generals.
Even in an attack on a power station one assumes Putin would be involved, as the West would likely construe it as an improvised nuclear weapon and act accordingly.
The White House takes any nuclear weapons or nuclear saber-rattling very seriously. She added that they had not seen a reason to modify our own strategic nuclear posture or to be on guard for Russian use of nuclear weapons.
Similarly, Jeremy Fleming, director of the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency, said last week, “I would hope that we will see indicators if they started to go down that path.” There is a good chance that Russian preparations will be detected.
Russia’s nuclear bombs are stored in military facilities and would need to be transported and loaded into either aircraft or launchers for deployment. According to the research organization Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, the global community knows the location of more than 12 nuclear weapons storage facilities around Russia, where this activity would likely originate. He adds that the US has intimate knowledge of most of the sites because it worked with Russia to improve the physical security of the repositories between 2003 and 2012 as part of an initiative called Cooperative Threat Reduction.
Putin was speaking at a news conference in Bishkek. He described the preemptive nuclear strike as “applied to the control points, deprive the enemy of these control systems and so on,” implying that it could even prevent a retaliatory strike.
Some background: On Wednesday, Putin acknowledged that the conflict is “going to take a while,” as he also warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war.
If Russia uses such weapons first under any circumstances, we wouldn’t be able to be the second to use them, since the likelihood of an attack on our territory would be very limited,” he said.
The Biden administration officials have said in the past that Moscow has been warned at the highest levels of the consequences for its use of a nuclear weapon.
If we can talk about this disarming strike and consider the best practices of our American partners, then maybe we could come up with some solutions to ensure their security. We are just thinking about it. No one was shy when they talked about it out loud in previous times and years,” he said.
“If a potential adversary believes it is possible to use the theory of a preventive strike, and we do not, then this still makes us think about those threats that are posed to us,” he added.
On Monday, Russia unleashed a fresh wave of drone and missile attacks targeting energy infrastructure across Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strikes caused extensive power outages in several regions, including Kyiv and Odesa.
Tests of nuclear warheads with live ballistic missile systems in the U.S., China, and other epochs
Surprisingly, as far as we know, the US has only ever tested a live nuclear warhead using a live missile system once, way back in 1962. It was launched from a submarine. The Soviet Union had performed a similar test the previous year, and China followed in 1966. No nation has ever tested a nuclear warhead delivered by an intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile could blow up in the air. No one wants to clean that mess up.