NATO, Russia and the Nuclear Threat

  • Russia has close to 2,000 nuclear warheads.
  • The US has close to 500 nuclear warheads.
  • Russia nuclear weapons modernization could be a threat to NATO and its allies.

A NATO review on June 8 provided important information about the nuclear threat from Russia. The author is the Director, Nuclear Policy Directorate, NATO International Staff Jessica Cox. According to her bio, Cox provides policy support to the Secretary General and others at NATO HQ on matters related to NATO nuclear deterrence and also chairs the Nuclear Planning Group Staff Group.

NATO Emblem.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 North American and European countries. The organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on April 4, 1949.

She provided information that Russia have been able to modernize 80% of their strategic nuclear forces. The US has been behind on the modernization of its nuclear arsenal. Earlier this month Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Nuclear Weapons decree titled “On The Basis Of  The State Policy Of The Russian Federation In The Field of Nuclear Deterrence,” a document regulating the conditions under which Russia has the right to launch a nuclear strike against an aggressor (or a pack of aggressors). The main goal is to legalize the use of nuclear weapons in limited local conflicts.

The article states that Russia could be better prepared for the rapid deployment of nuclear capable weapons. This could be a direct threat to NATO and its allies. The Nuclear Smart Treaty expires in January 2021. It does have a provision to be extended until 2026. Previously, the US has withdrawn from the INF, hence START is the only strategic treaty left between the US and Russia.

Russian Rockets Chart.

Cox states that  Russia has close to 2,000 nuclear warheads in comparisons to the US having close to 200. Eeven though the information is correct, there could be much more. In addition to the nuclear units that are on alert (2,000), there are also reserve, non-deployed warheads, including those that are in long-term storage– even though in an agreements, it states they should have been destroyed. There is no record or priority to have them destroyed.

It is highly likely Russia has access to about 6,700-7,000 units. The US might have additional reserves as well. That number could be equivalent to Russia, if not more. This does not eliminate or minimize the nuclear threat Russia could pose to the West.

The information provided in the NATO review is much needed and brings additional light to the need for NATO to focus more on the nuclear capabilities of Russia and possible ramifications for the West.

Earlier this year, the United States conducted a military exercise that simulates a retaliatory strike using nuclear weapons after Russia’s use of low-power nuclear weapons in Europe against NATO countries. Last year, Princeton University developed a new simulation “PLAN A” for a plausible escalating war between the US and Russia using realistic nuclear force postures, targets and fatality estimates.

As of 2019, according to official information, the Russian army has: 46 heavy missiles with the code name SS-18 (Satan); 30 missiles UR-100N utth (SS-19); 63 mobile ground complexes RT-2PM “Topol” (SS-25); 60 mine and 18 mobile complexes RT-2PM2 “Topol” (SS-27); and 90 mobile and 20 mine complexes RS-24 “YARS.

As of December 2019, the Russian Navy is armed with 11 nuclear submarines containing ballistic missiles, which have 180 launchers with 864 combat units. Among the nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation, there are also about 2,000 nuclear warheads, including air defense and missile defense systems/UR 500 missiles of each class “air-surface” and other short-range tactical missiles, nuclear bombs.

China has emerged as another nuclear hungry nation. There are internal calls for China to expand their arsenal to 1,000 nuclear warheads.

Will the Kremlin want to expand the number of nuclear warheads to Soviet Era numbers? In 1975 the Soviets had close to 46,000 units; the US had 31,000. It is unknown if modernization of Russia’s nuclear arsenal includes a large expansion of nuclear warheads.

Nuclear weapons are very serious and there are ramification from threats and possible attacks using them. Once launched, there is no turning back. NATO has a lot to consider.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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