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Daily News Analysis


23rd March, 2024 Security


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Russia has moved tactical nuclear weapons from its own borders into neighboring Belarus, several hundred miles closer to NATO territory.


  • Nuclear weapons, just like other weapons, can be categorised into two types — strategic and tactical.
  • Strategic nuclear weapons are designed to engage objects in geographically remote strategic regions (over 5500 km) to accomplish strategic missions.
  • In exceptional situations, strategic nuclear weapons may be used to accomplish operational missions. Strategic nuclear weapons are in service with the strategic nuclear forces.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs)

  • They have a relatively short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads fitted to long-range strategic missiles that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
  • Unlike strategic weapons, which have been subject to arms control agreements between Russia and USA, tactical weapons never have been limited by any such pacts, and Russia hasn’t released their numbers or any other specifics related to them.
  • While strategic nuclear weapons are fitted to land- or submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles that are constantly ready for launch, tactical nuclear weapons are stored at a few tightly guarded storage facilities and it takes time to deliver them to combat units.
  • They are intended to devastate enemy targets in a specific area without causing widespread destruction and radioactive fallout.
  • These warheads can be delivered via a variety of missiles, torpedoes, and gravity bombs from naval, air, or ground forces.
  • The yield varies for a tactical nuclear weapon from a fraction of a kiloton to approximately 50 kilotons. In comparison, a strategic nuclear weapon has a yield from 100 kilotons to over a megaton, with much larger warheads available.
  • Delivery systems for tactical nuclear weapons also tend to have shorter ranges, typically less than 500 kilometres, compared with strategic nuclear weapons, which are typically designed to cross continents.

What are Russia’s tactical and strategic nuclear weapons?

  • According to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the arsenal of nuclear weapons possessed by countries can vary in terms of the purpose they can achieve and their technical specifications. Each country designates its weapons as it sees fit.
  • For example, France’s weapons include strategic nuclear weapons, whose use or threat of use only the highest authority of the State can resort to.
  • The definition of the strategic nuclear weapon is fundamentally linked to France’s doctrine of deterrence rather than to technical characteristics which, however important they may be, are merely consequences of that doctrine.
  • So, given France wants to use these weapons only to deter or prevent potential attacks on it, they help in achieving strategic goals.
  • Russia’s Tactical nuclear weapons are designed to engage objects in the tactical depth of enemy deployment (up to 300 km) to accomplish a tactical mission.
  • Its strategic nuclear weapons, on the other hand, are designed to engage objects in geographically remote strategic regions (over 5500 km) to accomplish strategic missions.

Regulations with respect to TNWs

  • TNWs are the least-regulated category of nuclear weapons covered in arms control agreements.
  • They are only subject to an informal regime created by unilateral, parallel declarations made by George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in the fall of 1991.
  • But the informal nature of the 1991 regime has resulted in considerable uncertainty with regard to implementation, as well as considerable disparity in numbers.
  • There is no specific treaty dedicated solely to regulating tactical nuclear weapons. However, several arms control agreements have indirectly affected the deployment and management of tactical nuclear weapons. Eg:
  • Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START): The START treaties between the United States and Russia focus primarily on reducing and limiting the number of strategic nuclear weapons, but they also include provisions that indirectly affect tactical nuclear weapons. For example, START I and START II required the elimination of certain types of delivery systems that could potentially carry both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
  • Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF): The INF Treaty, which was in force until 2019, specifically targeted intermediate-range missiles (with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers). While it primarily addressed missiles with conventional warheads, it also covered those with nuclear warheads, including some tactical nuclear weapons.
  • New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty): New START, signed in 2010 between the United States and Russia, focuses on reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons. It does not directly address tactical nuclear weapons, but it includes provisions for inspections and data exchanges that enhance transparency and confidence-building measures between the two countries, indirectly affecting nuclear arsenals as a whole.

Nuclear weapons

  • The United States was the first country to develop and use nuclear weapons, during World War II. It conducted the first nuclear test, code named “Trinity”, in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.
  • At present there are 9 countries in the world that possess nuclear weapons.

The Road Ahead

There is a comprehensive treaty needs to dedicated solely to regulating them and highly desirable to strengthen the informal 1991-92 U.S.-Russian regime on TNWs. As a result, the management and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons largely remain within the purview of individual states' military policies and strategic calculations.


What role should nuclear weapons play in national security strategies? Is it ethical to possess and potentially use such destructive weapons? Critically analyze 200 words