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A nuke by any other name via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Both NATO and Russia would like to see the other reduce its stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, but the two sides have been unable to agree on mutual reductions. Even modest progress on the issue at NATO’s Chicago summit seems unlikely. This is partially because it is unclear what a “tactical” nuclear weapon is.

…..What Makes a Nuclear Weapon Tactical? For practical purposes, tactical nuclear weapons are thought of as nuclear weapons systems with shorter ranges and smaller yields than those with intercontinental missions. Of these, it is estimated that the US has 400 warheads and Russia has approximately 2,000. But most unambiguously tactical battlefield weapons — like nuclear artillery shells or demolition munitions — have long been retired. For the few remaining weapons in the US tactical arsenal, the characteristics of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons overlap enough to render the term tactical all but useless as an arms control definition.

The confusion covers nearly every element of definitions for tactical nuclear weapons. One might think of a weapon as strategic if it has the range to hit the territory of the United States or Russia when launched by the other. But all operational US tactical nuclear weapons violate the range distinction. The tactical US B-61 nuclear bombs deployed on the territory of NATO allies in Europe could, if the fighter-bombers delivering them were refueled in air, reach targets in Russia. These fighter-bombers do not count against New START. The soon-to-be-retired nuclear variant of the Tomahawk land attack cruise missile also had the potential to hit targets in Russia from naval platforms.

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