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Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Debates within NATO Brian Burton
What are Tactical Nuclear Weapons? Lance missile
MADM warhead (1 -15 kt) W 54 SADM (. 02 -1 kt, 163 lbs. ) Atomic Demolition Munitions
Short-Range Aircraft A-7 Corsair II
Background: the 1950 s • Korean War 1950 -3: US considers use of nuclear weapons against North Korea and China • Policy of the Eisenhower administration was to respond to any direct Soviet aggression with “massive retaliation” • NATO Carte Blanche exercise, 23 -28 June 1955: wargame simulates future European conflict with Warsaw Pact involving tactical nuclear weapons; the outcome was 355 nuclear detonations in West Germany, the Low Countries, and northern France and 5. 2 million immediate civilian casualties • First US Army divisions in Europe are equipped with nuclear capability
Should NATO rely on tactical nuclear weapons to offset the Warsaw Pact’s conventional superiority? • With development complete, there is less overhead to maintain large nuclear forces than large conventional forces • Warsaw Pact/Soviet Union will be deterred, knowing that in the event of war their conventional forces will be destroyed by NATO’s nuclear weapons
Should NATO rely on tactical nuclear weapons to offset the Warsaw Pact’s conventional superiority? • Political constraints among the allies • Issues of authorization and control • Due to massively increased casualties on a nuclear battlefield, more rather than fewer conventional forces would be required to carry out military objectives • Cost of maintaining nuclear infrastructure absorbs resources that could otherwise be used to achieve conventional parity with the Warsaw Pact • “Slippery slope: ” use of tactical nuclear weapons in war could lead to a full-scale strategic nuclear exchange
Background: the 1960 s-1970 s • Under Kennedy, the US policy shifts from “massive retaliation” to “flexible response: ” the ability to respond in kind to any Soviet aggression; conventional arms race with the Soviet Union heats up • US involvement in Vietnam • Period of détente with the Soviet Union; SALT talks under Nixon • Détente comes to an end in the late ‘ 70 s during the Carter administration
Issues in the late 1970 s-1980 s • Enhanced Radiation Weapons • Deployment of new Intermediate Nuclear Forces to Europe • Possible Employment and Reagan’s “Winnable War”
ERW: the “Neutron Bomb” • Relies on prompt radiation effects with minimal blast damage • Fraction of the explosive yield of other battlefield nuclear weapons • Designed for tactical use: radiation kills troops inside armored vehicles, while the lesser explosive power supposedly lessens collateral damage effects
ERW: the “Neutron Bomb” • NATO leaders are prepared to allow President Carter to deploy ERW in Europe despite political repercussions • April 1978: Carter decides not to proceed with production • 1981: Reagan orders production of ERW to proceed, but keeps the weapons stockpiled in the United States
Modernization of NATO INF • Soviet deployment of SS-20 IRBMs and Tu 26 Backfire bombers worries Western European leaders, who request more US nuclear support • US prepares to deploy Pershing II SRBMs and Tomahawk cruise missiles to Europe • Deployment sparks massive protests in Europe; political support wavers
The “Winnable War” • ERW development and new deployments of INF and battlefield systems=preparations for an imminent war? • Sec. State Haig: in a conventional war, NATO might fire a “nuclear warning shot” • Reagan: “I could see where you could have the exchange of tactical weapons against troops in the field without it bringing either one of the major powers to pushing the button. ”
The Post-Cold War Era • August 1991: Dissolution of the USSR • September 1991: President George Bush orders withdrawal and retirement of all US battlefield nuclear systems • Where might tactical weapons be needed in the future? – Rogue states – Heavy shelter penetration – Future conventional conflict?
Sources • Boutwell, Jeffrey D. , Paul Doty, and Gregory F. Treverton, eds. The Nuclear Confrontation in Europe. Dover, MA: Auburn House Publishing Company, 1985. • Daalder, Ivo H. The Nature and Practice of Flexible Response. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. • Kromer, Robert. New Weapons and NATO: Solutions or Irritants? Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Inc. , 1987. • Nurick, Robert, ed. Nuclear Weapons an European Security. Hampshire, England: Gower Publishing Company Limited, 1984. • Olive, Marsha Mc. Graw, and Jeffrey D. Porro. Nuclear Weapons in Europe. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1983. • Pierre, Andrew J. , ed. Nuclear Weapons in Europe. New York: New York University Press, 1984.