The truth about tactical nuclear weapons worries the world

Tactical nuclear weapons are typically characterized by their size, range, or use for limited military purposes.

US President Joe Biden has said that Russian President Putin is not capable of using tactical nuclear weapons in the war with Ukraine, despite his Russian counterpart’s earlier threats of “all means”. convenient at our disposal” to “protect our land”, including the newly annexed Ukraine areas.

Asked by CNN on Tuesday what the reality would be for Putin using tactical nuclear weapons, Biden replied: “Well, I don’t think he would.”

But as Russian troops retreated from the eastern front, the possibility that nuclear weapons could be used to prevent defeat could not be ruled out.

What are the characteristics of tactical nuclear weapons? And why do they attract so much attention?

What makes nuclear weapons ‘tactical’?

Although there is no universal definition, tactical nuclear weapons are often characterized by their size, range, or use for limited military purposes.

This type of weapon is often many times larger than a conventional bomb, causing fallout and other deadly effects in addition to the explosion itself. There is no deal size that defines tactical weapons.

They are often referred to as “non-strategic weapons”, in contrast to strategic weapons, which the US military identifies as designed to target “the enemy’s warfighting ability and will to fight”, including manufacturing, infrastructure, transportation and communication systems, and other goals.

In contrast, tactical weapons are designed to fulfill more limited and immediate military goals to win a battle. The term is often used to describe weapons with a lower “yield” – the amount of power released in an explosion.

They can be mounted on missiles, air-dropped bombs, or even relatively short-range artillery shells, far behind the giant intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) designed to fly thousands of dollars. km and hit targets across the oceans.

Tactical nuclear warheads were created to give military commanders more flexibility on the battlefield. In the mid-1950s, as more powerful thermonuclear bombs were built and tested, military planners assumed that smaller weapons with shorter ranges would be more useful in “tactical” situations. , said defense analyst Alex Gatopoulos of Al Jazeera.

“Modern warheads have a variable “dial” equivalent, which means that the operator can specify its explosive power, and tactical weapons will have power from a fraction of a kilotonne to 50k tons. , the weapon destroyed Hiroshima by about 15kt. One kilotonne has the same destructive power as 1,000 tons of TNT.”

Who owns tactical nuclear weapons?

Many of the world’s nuclear powers have weapons that are considered low-yield or used on the battlefield.

Russia has between 1,000 and 2,000 warheads for non-strategic nuclear weapons in its arsenal, according to a March report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Russian President Putin has repeatedly warned the West that any attack on Russia could trigger a nuclear reaction.

He said the US had set a “precedent” when it dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The  US has about 230 non-strategic nuclear weapons, including about 100 bombs. The B61 was deployed with the aircraft in Europe.

North Korea this week also conducted a missile test. Experts believe that if North Korea continues to test nuclear, that could include developing smaller warheads for the battlefield.

Will tactical nuclear weapons be used in Ukraine?

US President Biden has expressed doubt that Putin will use nuclear weapons but previously noted that the use of even small nuclear weapons could spiral out of control.

“I don’t think it’s possible to easily use tactical nuclear weapons and not end up with Armageddon,” Biden said last week.

As Russia dominates the battlefield in Ukraine, the unimaginable use of nuclear weapons is now increasing.

Tactical nuclear weapons have not been part of strategic thinking since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Al Jazeera’s Gatopoulos said: “Most of the calculations on how the US and Russia will respond to the use of nuclear weapons are rooted in the Cold War and the fragile ‘counter-terrorism balance’ to keep the world safe but in fear”.

However, if Putin can’t walk out of this war with a win, analysts say the chances of Russia’s nuclear use to cement its status as a world power start to increase.

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