Would Moscow really go nuclear if a U.S.-Russia or NATO-Russia war ever broke out?
Russian military doctrine allows the use of tactical nuclear weapons in battlefield engagements with American and allied armed forces. A Congressional Research Service report from January estimated that Russia has 1,830 tactical nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
“The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy,” Vladimir Putin wrote in his June executive order on Russian nuclear doctrine.
This has U.S. officials worried that Russia would use such nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict to compensate for the inferiority of its conventional forces to their U.S. and NATO counterparts.
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev committed to the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Nevertheless, Russia under Putin has balked at the idea of following through with their elimination and has been unwilling to include tactical nuclear weapons in the next START treaty.
Reducing the threat from Russian tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons to U.S. troops in the event of a war with Russia stands among the top of President Donald Trump’s priorities in the event he wins a second term. The president’s team unsuccessfully pressed hard against Russian negotiators to include tactical nuclear weapons in the next iteration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
However, former Vice President Joe Biden has not endorsed including tactical nuclear weapons in the next iteration of the START treaty. Biden has indicated a willingness to extend the current START Treaty; however, he has not indicated any preconditions such as the inclusion of Russian tactical nuclear weapons or roping China into a tripartite agreement.
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