Russia’s Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence Strategy, Explained: There are new reasons not to poke the Bear. According to a recent study conducted by the Rand Corp., in the event of war with Russia, Moscow would be able to use its arsenal of low-yield nuclear weapons to destroy key bases in Europe. That could neutralize NATO’s conventional military edge, and even deliver a defeat to the alliance that might be wary of a larger nuclear escalation.
“Although the overall military power of the United States and the NATO alliance vastly outstrips that of Russia, a regional conflict close to Russia’s borders would pose enormous challenges and could result in defeat for the West,” the Rand reported noted.
The Pentagon has in recent years refocused its attention to near-peer adversaries including Russia and China. As Stars & Stripes reported this month, in Europe much of the focus has been on boosting U.S. and allied forces in the Baltics and Poland.
A danger is that in the event of war, Moscow would use its nuclear weapons.
“The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened,” Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said on Wednesday during the ninth Moscow Conference on International Security.
It was last June that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin approved Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy, which he saw would allow him to use nuclear weapons in response to a strike with conventional weapons, Newsweek reported. Additionally, Putin could even deploy nuclear weapons if Russia were to obtain “reliable information” that the motherland or its allies were being targeted. Putin’s signing of the document had raised concerns about the potential for conflict.
Yet, according to Rand, it would be a NATO attack that would like ratchet up any potential conflict.
“Although NATO is vulnerable to Russian (nonstrategic nuclear) attacks … a NATO attack on Russian territory is liable to be much more escalatory than a Russian attack on targets in a non-nuclear NATO state such as Germany or Italy,” Rand said.
Such a scenario could end in doomsday, as a U.S. response to a low-yield nuclear attack on Russia could, in turn, result in Moscow retaliating with a nuclear strike on the continental U.S.
“Although at present the Russian government appears to have little appetite to challenge NATO by exploiting this local advantage, the possibility that Russian leaders will be tempted to do so in the future cannot be ruled out,” according to Rand, which added, “that limited nuclear warfighting options might appear attractive to Russian decision makers during an extreme crisis.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.