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Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Debates within NATO


Korean War 1950-3: US considers use of nuclear weapons against North Korea and China ... First US Army divisions in Europe are equipped with nuclear capability ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Debates within NATO

Tactical Nuclear Weapons The Debates within NATO
  • Brian Burton

What are Tactical Nuclear Weapons?Lance missile
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MADM warhead (1-15 kt) W54 SADM (.02-1kt, 163
lbs.)Atomic Demolition Munitions
Short-Range AircraftA-7 Corsair II
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Background the 1950s
  • Korean War 1950-3 US considers use of nuclear
    weapons against North Korea and China
  • Policy of the Eisenhower administration was to
    respond to any direct Soviet aggression with
    massive retaliation
  • NATO Carte Blanche exercise, 23-28 June 1955
    war-game simulates future European conflict with
    Warsaw Pact involving tactical nuclear weapons
    the outcome was 355 nuclear detonations in West
    Germany, the Low Countries, and northern France
    and 5.2 million immediate civilian casualties
  • First US Army divisions in Europe are equipped
    with nuclear capability

Should NATO rely on tactical nuclear weapons to
offset the Warsaw Pacts conventional superiority?
  • With development complete, there is less overhead
    to maintain large nuclear forces than large
    conventional forces
  • Warsaw Pact/Soviet Union will be deterred,
    knowing that in the event of war their
    conventional forces will be destroyed by NATOs
    nuclear weapons

Should NATO rely on tactical nuclear weapons to
offset the Warsaw Pacts conventional superiority?
  • Political constraints among the allies
  • Issues of authorization and control
  • Due to massively increased casualties on a
    nuclear battlefield, more rather than fewer
    conventional forces would be required to carry
    out military objectives
  • Cost of maintaining nuclear infrastructure
    absorbs resources that could otherwise be used to
    achieve conventional parity with the Warsaw Pact
  • Slippery slope use of tactical nuclear weapons
    in war could lead to a full-scale strategic
    nuclear exchange

Background the 1960s-1970s
  • Under Kennedy, the US policy shifts from massive
    retaliation to flexible response the ability
    to respond in kind to any Soviet aggression
    conventional arms race with the Soviet Union
    heats up
  • US involvement in Vietnam
  • Period of détente with the Soviet Union SALT
    talks under Nixon
  • Détente comes to an end in the late 70s during
    the Carter administration

Issues in the late 1970s-1980s
  • Enhanced Radiation Weapons
  • Deployment of new Intermediate Nuclear Forces to
  • Possible Employment and Reagans Winnable War

ERW the Neutron Bomb
  • Relies on prompt radiation effects with minimal
    blast damage
  • Fraction of the explosive yield of other
    battlefield nuclear weapons
  • Designed for tactical use radiation kills troops
    inside armored vehicles, while the lesser
    explosive power supposedly lessens collateral
    damage effects

ERW the Neutron Bomb
  • NATO leaders are prepared to allow President
    Carter to deploy ERW in Europe despite political
  • April 1978 Carter decides not to proceed with
  • 1981 Reagan orders production of ERW to proceed,
    but keeps the weapons stockpiled in the United

Modernization of NATO INF
  • Soviet deployment of SS-20 IRBMs and Tu-26
    Backfire bombers worries Western European
    leaders, who request more US nuclear support
  • US prepares to deploy Pershing II SRBMs and
    Tomahawk cruise missiles to Europe
  • Deployment sparks massive protests in Europe
    political support wavers

The Winnable War
  • ERW development and new deployments of INF and
    battlefield systemspreparations for an imminent
  • SecState Haig in a conventional war, NATO might
    fire a nuclear warning shot
  • Reagan I could see where you could have the
    exchange of tactical weapons against troops in
    the field without it bringing either one of the
    major powers to pushing the button.

The Post-Cold War Era
  • August 1991 Dissolution of the USSR
  • September 1991 President George Bush orders
    withdrawal and retirement of all US battlefield
    nuclear systems
  • Where might tactical weapons be needed in the
  • Rogue states
  • Heavy shelter penetration
  • Future conventional conflict?

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  • Boutwell, Jeffrey D., Paul Doty, and Gregory F.
    Treverton, eds. The Nuclear Confrontation in
    Europe. Dover, MA Auburn House Publishing
    Company, 1985.
  • Daalder, Ivo H. The Nature and Practice of
    Flexible Response. New York Columbia University
    Press, 1991.
  • Kromer, Robert. New Weapons and NATO Solutions
    or Irritants? Westport, CT Greenwood Press,
    Inc., 1987.
  • Nurick, Robert, ed. Nuclear Weapons an European
    Security. Hampshire, England Gower Publishing
    Company Limited, 1984.
  • Olive, Marsha McGraw, and Jeffrey D. Porro.
    Nuclear Weapons in Europe. Lexington, MA
    Lexington Books, 1983.
  • Pierre, Andrew J., ed. Nuclear Weapons in
    Europe. New York New York University Press,
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