Nuclear Threat Initiative
What’s the value of a nuclear warhead today? Not the monetary value, but as a deterrent?
Nuclear explosions are frightfully destructive, and that’s the point: to inspire fear, to deter an adversary. Atomic bombs still appeal to some nations and terrorists, making proliferation a constant risk. Fortunately, there are fewer nuclear warheads in the world than during the Cold War; down from about 60,000 to about 22,000 today, most of which remain in the United States and Russia. But the deterrent value of the arsenals isn’t what it used to be. Both the U.S. and Russia face new threats — terrorism, proliferation, economic competition, pandemics — for which these long-range or strategic nuclear weapons are of little value.
Another group of bombs which have lost their purpose are the battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons, originally created during the Cold War to deter a massive land invasion in Europe. NATO has between 150 and 200 B-61 gravity bombs in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey, fewer than the thousands of weapons based in Europe during the superpower confrontation. Today, Russia has an estimated 2,000 useable tactical nuclear weapons, although it is not clear precisely how many nor where they are located.
Why are they still deployed? Russia has its own calculus; more about that below. But for NATO, the argument made by some is that these weapons have symbolic value, showing that non-nuclear members are sharing in the alliance defense burden.
Yet by many accounts, these nuclear bombs have no military utility. Where would they be dropped? The war plans of the Cold War are defunct. Our modern nuclear-tipped missiles are plenty accurate and sufficient for any future contingency or target. Read the rest of this entry »