I came across a fascinating op-ed piece written by Dave Mosher in Business Insider, Trump Wants to make Nuclear Weapons Easier to Use, and that Should Frighten Everyone.
The piece posits that President Trump’s support of expanding nuclear capabilities may eventually lead to nuclear warfare, or at the very least make it easier for low yield nuclear weapons to be stolen by terrorists.
During the Cold War, the United States had over 5000 nuclear weapons deployed throughout Europe, both intermediate range nuclear missiles (e.g. Pershing 2 and Lance), and artillery fired nuclear projectiles (e.g. the M454 (155mm) and the M422 (203mm). These systems were spread across Europe, from the Dutch Border in the north, to North Italy in the south; and from West Germany in the west, to Turkey in the east. The United States Army was the custodian of the weapon systems; in the event of a Soviet invasion, the weapons would be released to host countries’ artillery and missile units for deployment. The 59th Ordnance Brigade commanded most of the nuke sites (I was with the 64th Ordnance Company, Fischbach, West Germany, which fell under the 197th Ordnance Battalion, 59th Ordnance Brigade), and it’s AOR stretched from Flemsburg, Germany near the Danish border, to Vincenza, Italy. Until 1992, the 59th was the Army’s largest brigade, with over 5000 soldiers assigned to it.
After the decommissioning of the Army’s tactical nuclear weapons stockpile in 1992, the 59th Ordnance Brigade’s mission was completed, and it was reassigned to the United States.
During the almost 50 years that nuclear weapons were deployed in Europe and South Korea, there were zero thefts by terrorists, and zero accidental nuclear explosions. There was a case in 1985, when a Pershing 2 solid fuel motor caught fire, resulting in the deaths of three soldiers. (NY Times article here ). No radiation was released during the accident.
The security at the former nuke sites was performed by the military police, who patrolled the sites in HUMV’s, and guarded over the concrete and steel storage bunkers while perched in watchtowers that circled the complete circumference of the storage site. Add to that volumetric motion sensors and the internal WADS (Weapons Access and Delay System) inside the bunkers themselves, and what we had was an impenetrable fortress that would make stealing a 100 pound nuke artillery shell impossible.
And that was over 25 years ago.
America’s present day nuclear stockpile is less than half of what it was at the peak of the Cold War. Intermediate range nuclear missiles and nuke artillery shells no longer exist. The tactical nukes that the BI article is referring to are gravity bombs, which in layman’s terms means a bomb that falls from a plane to the ground, using it’s weight as it’s propulsion system. They have been tweaked though; as referenced in the BI article, fins and small guidance systems may have been added to improve accuracy to 100ft of the target, which is a remarkable advancement, when compared to an artillery nuke shell with a max range of 15 miles.
Being nuclear capable as a deterrent had stopped the Cold War from becoming “hot”. The rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea will remain rhetoric, with both leaders strutting for their respective populations.