In a recent article in The Hill by columnist Gordon G. Chang Do we have the wrong nuclear weapons to deter Russia and China?, it is suggested by Mr. Chang that the United States nuclear arsenal, and the lack of low-yield short and medium range nuclear missiles in the U.S. Navy, are a reason that both Russia and China would dominate the United States in a nuclear exchange between the three largest nuclear powers. This is in part do to the fact that the U.S. has a limited amount of “non-strategic” style nuclear weapons. Per the article:
There is great cause for concern. Among other reasons, the U.S. does not have the right type of “non-strategic” weapons. It has gravity nuclear bombs, but Russia knows they are particularly vulnerable while stored on the ground or carried on planes flying through contested airspace.
Up until 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and arguably a couple of years before then with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismemberment of the Warsaw Pact, non-strategic or “tactical” nuclear weapons were at the forefront of NATO strategy to deal with a Soviet Bloc invasion of Western Europe. Chang correctly points out that the Fulda Gap in Germany would have been the route that Warsaw Pact’s armored and infantry divisions would have taken, most likely within days reaching as far west as Spain.
The tactical nukes that would have been used to slow down, but not ultimately stop an invasion would have been nuclear artillery (the 203mm and 155mm howitzer fired nuclear projectiles, with ranges of 15 miles and up to 30 miles respectively, if rocket assisted; the Lance ground launched missile, which when equipped with a nuclear warhead, had a range of about 75 miles; and the Pershing II intermediate range nuclear missile with a range of around 1000 miles). The Soviets feared the Pershing II to the extent that it brought them to the bargaining table, allowing the INF Treaty to eventually be ratified by both nations. All of these systems were held by the U.S. Army, and were eventually removed from inventory by 1992.
The doctrine of NATO’s nuclear deterrence of the Soviet Union was to deploy 1000s of the weapons to Europe. The current situation in Ukraine, and the state of the Russian military (which had been vastly overestimated as well equipped and disciplined), is not the same as a Cold War era wartime scenario. Almost all of the former Warsaw Pact nations; Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, in addition to the Baltic States (former members of the Soviet Union) are now a part of the NATO Alliance.
The Russians are no longer be able to try and force their divisions through the Fulda Gap; chances are they would have a difficult time trying to push through a tough and dedicated Poland. So this alone would leave out the need of a return to short range nuclear artillery and missiles such as the Lance.
China, though a nuclear power, has an arsenal of a purported 260 nuclear warheads, about 55 to 65 of which are ICBMs. The total amount of weapons in their arsenal is not negligible, but China lacks the raw materials needed to produce enough nuclear warheads to be on par with the Russians or Americans.
The China threat, though very concerning, will not likely lead to a nuclear confrontation with the United States. Both nations are heavily connected economically, and a destructive nuclear, or even conventional war between the two would result in a near total collapse of the Chinese economy. The U.S. would be devasted economically as well, but a recovery would be made faster in the U.S. In addition, why would China risk economic collapse, with a rival, potential superpower right at their border? India, also a nuclear power, would most likely take advantage of weakened China to exert their influence in the region.
Having been an Army nuclear weapons technician, I understand the feeling of power and dominance that being around nuclear weapons can a person. We all know the ramifications of nuclear warfare. Mr. Chang grew up during the Cold War, as I had. He should know that a return to a development of short and intermediate range nuclear weapons is not the answer to the Russian and Chinese Question. A more focused approach to confronting threats to the U.S. should involve a return to being one-step ahead of those who wish us harm, by focusing our resources and funds to eliminate a threat before it has time to grow. We already learned this lesson by not investing in Russia after the collapse of the U.S.S.R, by opening China and exporting our manufacturing out of the United States, and by not addressing India as a serious regional power and potential strategic ally who also has a bone to grind with China.
These are answers we can start pursuing.
Not new nuclear weapon systems.