Classified Russian Military Files Unveil Alarming Shift in Nuclear Strategy


The Financial Times, in its recent publication, disclosed alarming revelations based on 29 secret Russian military files spanning from 2008 to 2014. These documents, reportedly provided by anonymous Western sources, shed light on Russia’s strategic military planning, particularly concerning the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. The report indicates a significant departure from previously understood thresholds, suggesting that the Russian government’s criteria for resorting to nuclear warfare may be far lower than publicly acknowledged.

Historically, apprehensions surrounding Russia’s nuclear strategy have persisted, especially following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The concept of an “escalate-to-deescalate” strategy, wherein Russia would employ limited nuclear strikes to manipulate the outcome of a conflict, has garnered attention in recent years.

Contrary to previous assessments, the leaked documents propose scenarios where the destruction of merely a fifth of Russia’s ballistic missile submarines or three cruisers could prompt a nuclear response. These revelations underscore a stark shift in Russia’s nuclear doctrine, particularly in its readiness to utilize tactical nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the documents outline various conditions that could warrant nuclear strikes, including repelling enemy advances on Russian territory and thwarting conventional military assaults. This expanded scope for nuclear engagement indicates a more aggressive stance than previously acknowledged by Russian authorities.

Of particular concern is Russia’s apparent preparedness to employ tactical nuclear weapons in response to conflicts with China. Despite improving diplomatic ties, the documents suggest that Russia maintains contingency plans for nuclear confrontation with its Asian neighbor. This revelation underscores the complex dynamics between the two nations and the persistent geopolitical tensions in the region.

Experts have voiced apprehensions regarding the leaked documents, emphasizing the need for caution in interpreting their significance. While the disclosures offer unprecedented insights into Russia’s military planning, questions remain about the operational implementation of these strategies.

Critics argue that without access to the original documents, it is challenging to ascertain their authenticity and the extent of their influence on Russian military policy. Moreover, the absence of clear attribution raises doubts about the precise intentions behind the leak and the agenda driving its disclosure.

The Russian government’s response to the Financial Times report has been dismissive, with officials casting doubt on the authenticity of the documents without providing substantive counterarguments. However, President Putin’s previous rhetoric regarding nuclear escalation adds credence to the concerns raised by the leaked files.

The timing of these revelations coincides with heightened global apprehensions about Russian nuclear capabilities, particularly in light of reports concerning the development of space-based anti-satellite weapons with potential nuclear components. These developments underscore the urgency of international efforts to mitigate the risks associated with nuclear proliferation and strategic escalation.

In response to the revelations outlined in the Financial Times report, the United States government has offered its analysis and perspective on the matter, further enriching the discourse surrounding Russia’s nuclear capabilities.

The U.S. government’s assessment of Russia’s nuclear capabilities is multi-faceted and relies on a combination of technical intelligence, strategic analysis, and policy considerations. Intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA), play a central role in gathering and analyzing information related to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

One crucial aspect of the U.S. analysis is the size and composition of Russia’s nuclear forces. The United States closely monitors Russia’s nuclear stockpile, which includes a diverse array of delivery systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), strategic bombers, and tactical nuclear weapons. Through satellite imagery, signals intelligence, and human intelligence sources, U.S. agencies track developments in Russia’s nuclear forces, including the deployment of new weapons systems, upgrades to existing platforms, and changes in operational posture.

Furthermore, U.S. analysts assess the readiness and survivability of Russia’s nuclear forces. This involves evaluating the operational status of missile silos, submarine bases, and strategic bomber airfields, as well as the reliability and maintenance of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of Russia’s nuclear infrastructure is essential for assessing its potential to launch and sustain a nuclear conflict.

In addition to technical intelligence, the U.S. government closely monitors Russia’s nuclear doctrine and strategic intentions. This includes analyzing official statements, military exercises, and doctrinal publications to discern Russia’s approach to nuclear deterrence, escalation management, and nuclear warfighting. Recent developments, such as Russia’s adoption of a more assertive nuclear posture and the incorporation of tactical nuclear weapons into its military strategy, have raised concerns among U.S. policymakers about the potential for miscalculation and escalation in a crisis scenario.

Moreover, the U.S. government conducts war-gaming exercises and scenario planning to assess the implications of Russia’s nuclear doctrine for strategic stability and crisis management. This involves modeling various escalation scenarios, evaluating the potential for nuclear coercion and escalation control, and identifying measures to mitigate the risks of inadvertent nuclear conflict.

From a policy perspective, the U.S. government’s response to Russia’s nuclear capabilities is guided by a combination of deterrence, arms control, and diplomatic engagement. The United States maintains a credible nuclear deterrent posture to dissuade potential adversaries from engaging in aggression or coercion. At the same time, the U.S. government actively participates in arms control negotiations, such as the New START Treaty, to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and reduce the risk of nuclear conflict.


Russia’s Nuclear Arsenal: An Expanding Threat in the Modern Era

As the global landscape evolves, Russia’s nuclear capabilities remain a focal point of international security concerns. As of early 2023, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise approximately 4,489 nuclear warheads. This figure represents a net increase of about 12 warheads from the previous year, indicative of Russia’s ongoing commitment to enhancing its nuclear forces. The increment is attributed mainly to the induction of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the commissioning of a new ballistic missile submarine, alongside the retirement of older warheads.

The current stockpile includes around 1,674 strategic warheads that are deployed, with 834 on land-based ballistic missiles, about 640 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and an estimated 200 at heavy bomber bases. Additionally, about 999 strategic warheads are in storage, complemented by approximately 1,816 nonstrategic warheads. Beyond the operational military stockpile, Russia maintains a significant number of retired but largely intact warheads, approximately 1,400, awaiting dismantlement, bringing the total inventory to roughly 5,889 warheads.

Russia is amidst the concluding phases of a comprehensive, decades-long modernization program of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces. This initiative aims to replace aging Soviet-era weapons with modern systems, reflecting a strategic pivot towards maintaining and enhancing its nuclear deterrence capabilities. In December 2022, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that modern weapons and equipment now constitute 91.3 percent of Russia’s nuclear triad. This marks an increase of 2.2 percent from the previous year, although the accuracy of these figures remains uncertain due to the opaque nature of Russia’s methodology for such calculations.

Table 1. Russian nuclear forces, 2023.

Type/nameRussian designationLaunchersYear deployedWarheads x yield (kilotons)Total warheadsa
Strategic offensive weapons
SS-18 M6 SatanRS-20V (Voevoda)34198810 x 500/800 (MIRV)340b
SS-19 M3 StilettoRS-18 (UR-100NUTTH)019806 x 400 (MIRV)0c
SS-19 M4? (Avangard)720191 x HGV7
SS-25 SickleRS-12M (Topol)0d19881 x 8000
SS-27 Mod 1 (mobile)RS-12M1 (Topol-M)1820061 x 800?18
 SS-27 Mod 1 (silo)RS-12M2 (Topol-M)6019971 x 80060
SS-27 Mod 2 (mobile)RS-24 (Yars)17120104 x 100? (MIRV)684e
  SS-27 Mod 2 (silo)RS-24 (Yars)f2220144 x 100? (MIRV)88
 SS-29 (silo)RS-28 (Sarmat)(2024)10 x 500? (MIRV)
   ?? (Sirena-M)92022Command and control module
SS-N-23 M2/3RSM-54 (Sineva/Layner)5/8020074 x 100 (MIRV)h320i
SS-N-32RSM-56 (Bulava)6/8020146 x 100 (MIRV)576j
Bear-H6/16Tu-95MS6/MS16/MSM551984/20156–16 x AS-15A ALCMs448
or 14 x AS-23B ALCMs
BlackjackTu-160/M131987/202112 x AS-15B ALCMs132
or AS-23B ALCMs, bombs
Subtotal strategic offensive forces567o2,673p
Nonstrategic and defensive weapons
Submarines/surface ships/airLACMs, SLCMs, ASWs, SAMs, DBs, torpedoes835
Land-based air
Bombers/fighters (Tu-22M3(M3M)/Su-24M/Su-34/MiG-31K)2661974–2018ASMs, ALBMs, bombs506
ABM/Air/Coastal defense
S-300/S-400 (SA-20/SA-21)7501992/20071 x low290
53T6 Gazelle6819861 x 1068q
SSC-1B Sepal (Redut)8r19731 x 3504
SSC-5 Stooge (SS-N-26) (K-300P/3M–55)562015(1 x 10)s23
SS-26 Stone SSM (9K720, Iskander-M),15020051 x 10–10070t
SSC-7 Southpaw GLCM (R-500/9M728, Iskander-M)u
SSC-8 Screwdriver GLCM (9M729)v20w20171 x 10–10020
Subtotal nonstrategic and defensive forces1,816x
Retired warheads awaiting dismantlement1,400
Total inventory5,889

Abbreviations used: ABM = antiballistic missile; ALCM = air-launched cruise missile; AS = air-to-surface; ASM = air-to-surface missile; ASW = antisubmarine weapon; DB = depth bomb; GLCM = ground-launched cruise missile; ICBM = intercontinental ballistic missile; LACM = land-attack cruise missile; MIRV = multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle; SAM = surface-to-air missile; SLBM = submarine-launched ballistic missile; SLCM = sea-launched cruise missile; SSM = surface-to-surface missile.

  • aAll warhead numbers come with considerable uncertainty because of the limited transparency of Russian nuclear-capable forces. The numbers for nonstrategic nuclear weapons are particularly uncertain.
  • bIt is estimated that the SS-18s now carry only five warheads each to meet the New START limit for deployed strategic warheads. It is also possible that a fourth regiment at Dombarovsky is operational.
  • cIt is thought that all SS-19 ICBMs have been retired, although activities continue at some former regiments.
  • dAlthough the final division at Vypolzovo had not yet completed its upgrade to the SS-27 Mod 2 by March 2023, it is believed that its legacy SS-25 missiles had been removed in preparation for the upgrade.
  • eIt is estimated that the SS-27 Mod 2s now carry only three warheads each to meet the New START limit on deployed strategic warheads.
  • fIt appears that there are multiple variants of the Yars system: one of which (known as Yars-S) is reportedly equipped with more powerful, medium-yield warheads for use against hardened targets, and another (known as Yars-M) is equipped with more capable penetration aids to circumvent missile defenses.
  • gOnly about 834 of these warheads are believed to be deployed. The rest are in storage for potential loading.
  • hThe current version of the RSM-54 SLBM might be the Layner (SS-N-23 M3), a variant of the previous version—the Sineva (SS-N-23 M2). However, the US Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) did not include the Layner in its 2020 report on ballistic and cruise missile threats, and there is some uncertainty regarding its status and capability. In 2006 US intelligence estimated that the missile could carry up to 10 warheads, but it lowered the estimate to 4 in 2009. The average number of warheads carried on each missile has probably been limited to 4 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) to meet the New START limits.
  • iAt any given time, only 256 of these warheads are deployed on four operational Delta IV submarines, with the fifth boat in overhaul. Often two boats are out.
  • jIt is possible that Bulava SLBMs now carry only four warheads each for Russia to meet the New START limit on deployed strategic warheads.
  • kThe first figure is the number of operational SSBNs; the second is the total number of missiles (launchers) on the SSBNs. Note that several SSBNs may be in overhaul at any given time.
  • lAt any given time, one or two SSBNs are in overhaul and do not carry nuclear weapons, so not all 896 warheads are deployedperhaps only around 640.
  • mOnly about 55 of the bombers are thought to be deployed.
  • nThe total bomber force can theoretically carry more than 800 nuclear weapons, but weapons are probably only assigned to deployed bombers. Bomber weapons are not deployed on the aircraft under normal circumstances, but we estimate a couple hundred weapons are present at the two bomber bases, with the remainder in central storage.
  • oThis number of total fielded strategic launchers is higher than those listed in the New START aggregate data as of September 1, 2022, because some bombers are not counted as deployed. This is the total number of operational launchers (ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers) in service. Russia also has more than 250 non-deployed launchers, many of which are mothballed or in the process of being dismantled.
  • pOnly about 1,674 of these warheads are estimated to be deployed on missiles and at bomber bases. New START counts fewer deployed warheads because it does not count weapons in storage and because at any given time, some SSBNs are not fully loaded.
  • qWe estimate that the warheads for the remaining Gazelle interceptors are kept in central storage under normal circumstances. All previous 32 Gorgon missiles have been retired.
  • rIt is assumed that all SSC-1B units, except a single silo-based version in Crimea, have been replaced by the K-300P by now.
  • sThe US National Air and Space Intelligence Center lists the ground-, sea-, and sub-launched 3M55 as “nuclear possible.”
  • tThis estimate includes warheads for both SS-26 and SSC-7.
  • uThe US National Air and Space Intelligence Center lists the R-500/9M728 as “Conventional, Nuclear Possible.”
  • vIt is possible that SSC-8 launchers are co-located with some of the Iskander brigades.
  • wThis figure assumes five SSC-8 battalions, each with four launchers, for a total of 80 missiles. It is assumed there is at least one reload for at least 160 missiles.
  • xAll nonstrategic warheads are thought to be in central storage. The 1,816 listed make up the estimated nominal load for nuclear-capable delivery platforms, although not necessarily all launchers of a dual-capable weapon system are assigned nuclear warheads. It is possible there are more unreported nuclear-capable non-strategic systems.

The Kremlin’s push for nuclear modernization is driven by multiple factors. There is a pronounced desire to maintain parity with the United States and to safeguard national prestige. Moreover, there is an evident need to compensate for Russia’s conventional forces’ perceived inferiority, alongside concerns regarding the potential future threat posed by the U.S. ballistic missile defense system to Russia’s retaliatory capabilities. The underperformance of Russian conventional forces in the conflict in Ukraine and the resultant depletion of weapon stockpiles have likely intensified Russia’s reliance on nuclear weapons for national defense. Throughout the Ukrainian conflict, Russia has employed a variety of long-range dual-capable precision weapons, including the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles, 9-A-7760 Kinzhal ballistic missiles, and ground-launched Iskander missiles. This operational behavior underscores the strategic importance of these capabilities within Russia’s military doctrine.

Furthermore, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense has identified instances where Russia has utilized unarmed munitions and older cruise missiles, such as the Kh-55, in Ukraine. This adaptation, including the repurposing of anti-ship missiles and missile defense systems like the S-300 for ground-strike roles, suggests a depletion in Russia’s longer-range weapons arsenal as the conflict protracts.

The diversity in the development of multiple weapon systems underscores the significant influence of the military-industrial complex on Russia’s strategic posture and nuclear planning. This multifaceted approach reflects a broader strategy not just aimed at deterrence but also at ensuring Russia’s military and industrial capabilities remain robust and forward-looking.

Russia’s nuclear modernization efforts, coupled with an uptick in military exercises and occasional overt nuclear threats, contribute to a cloud of uncertainty regarding its long-term strategic intentions. This ambiguity fuels a growing international debate about the nature of Russia’s nuclear strategy and has consequential implications for global security dynamics. It stimulates increased defense expenditures, nuclear modernization initiatives, and political resistance to further nuclear weapons reductions, particularly within the contexts of Europe and the United States.

The New START Treaty: Navigating Complexity and Contention in U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control

The ongoing situation with the New START Treaty between Russia and the United States has become increasingly complex and contentious, especially in light of recent developments. The Treaty, which came into force in 2011 and was extended in 2021 for five more years, plays a crucial role in capping the number of strategic nuclear warheads and the deployment of delivery systems by both countries. Despite this, compliance and implementation issues have emerged, notably concerning Russia’s refusal to allow on-site inspections and its decision to suspend its participation in the Treaty.

In August 2022, Russia informed the United States of its decision to prohibit inspections at Russian facilities, invoking a treaty clause for temporary exemption without citing specific conditions that would justify such an exemption. This action and Russia’s unilateral postponement of a Bilateral Consultative Commission meeting scheduled for November 2022 in Cairo have been central to U.S. concerns of Russian noncompliance​​. The U.S. Department of State has criticized Russia for refusing to permit inspection activities, which are vital for the treaty’s implementation and for ensuring compliance with its obligations​​.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in February 2023 to suspend Russia’s participation in New START has further escalated tensions. Putin conditioned the resumption of treaty activities on the United States cutting off support for Ukraine and including France and the United Kingdom in arms control talks. This move has been described by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible”​​.

TreatyNew START Treaty
Central LimitNo more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads
February 2018Russia significantly reduced the number of warheads deployed to meet the central limit
Latest Data (September 1, 2022)Russia declared 1,549 deployed warheads attributed to 540 strategic launchers
New START ImplementationCompleted 328 on-site inspections and exchanged over 25,000 notifications by March 2023
Suspension of InspectionsRussia refused inspections due to grievances regarding U.S. measures in response to the invasion of Ukraine
U.S. Findings (January 31, 2023)Declared Russia in a state of “noncompliance” with specific clauses of New START
Reasons for NoncomplianceLack of inspections; the U.S. has less confidence in the accuracy of Russia’s declarations; Russia likely under the warhead limit at the end of 2022; noncompliance not a threat to U.S. national security interests
Russia’s Response (February 21, 2023)Announced “suspension” of participation in New START; intention to abide by central limits despite suspension
Potential ImpactRussia could theoretically increase deployed nuclear arsenal by about 60% if it exceeds treaty limits
This table provides a comprehensive overview of the timeline, actions, and implications of Russian noncompliance with the New START Treaty. Each aspect is outlined with relevant details, allowing for a clear understanding of the situation.

As of early 2024, with the Treaty set to expire in two years, there are growing concerns over the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control. The potential absence of a successor arms control arrangement poses the risk of both countries’ strategic nuclear forces going unconstrained for the first time since 1972. Experts estimate that in such a scenario, the strategic nuclear forces of both Russia and the U.S. could approximately double in size​​.

Despite these challenges, both nations have continued to adhere to the Treaty’s central limits, data exchanges, and notifications until Putin’s decision to suspend the treaty. The situation underscores the importance of dialogue and negotiation in addressing compliance issues and ensuring the continued viability of nuclear arms control between the United States and Russia​​​

The continuation and escalation of issues surrounding the New START Treaty between Russia and the United States mark a significant period of tension and uncertainty in the realm of international arms control. The Treaty’s provisions aimed at limiting strategic nuclear arsenals are crucial for global security. However, disputes over compliance, particularly regarding on-site inspections and Russia’s suspension of participation, underscore the complexities of arms control in a changing geopolitical landscape.

Following Russia’s refusal to allow inspections and its subsequent suspension of participation in the Treaty, the United States has expressed readiness to engage in talks on strategic arms limitations at any time, emphasizing the importance of such discussions irrespective of other geopolitical tensions. U.S. officials have highlighted the critical nature of the Treaty for national and global security, urging Russia to return to compliance and allow inspections to resume​​​​.

The impasse over the New START Treaty reflects broader geopolitical dynamics, especially concerning the situation in Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions by the United States and its allies. Russian officials have linked their stance on the Treaty to what they perceive as a hostile policy by the United States, arguing that arms control cannot be isolated from these broader geopolitical realities​​.

The potential expiration of the New START Treaty without a successor poses significant risks, including the possibility of unconstrained increases in strategic nuclear arsenals by both Russia and the United States. This scenario would not only undermine decades of arms control efforts but also increase the risk of nuclear proliferation and strategic instability globally​​.

Despite these challenges, there remains a window for diplomatic engagement and negotiation to address compliance issues and explore the possibilities for extending or succeeding the New START Treaty. The ongoing dialogue, even amid disputes, suggests that both parties recognize the importance of strategic arms control. The situation underscores the need for innovative diplomatic solutions and the importance of considering broader security dynamics in arms control negotiations.

What is Russia’s Nuclear Strategy?

The discourse surrounding Russia’s nuclear strategy has significantly intensified following the country’s military actions in Ukraine in early 2022. This escalation has drawn global attention to Russia’s nuclear doctrine and its implications for international security and strategic stability.

Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy, updated in 2020, details specific scenarios under which the nation would consider deploying nuclear weapons. These scenarios include retaliation against attacks on critical state or military infrastructure with ballistic missiles, nuclear arms, or other weapons of mass destruction, and in situations where the use of conventional arms threatens the state’s very existence (Russian Federation Foreign Affairs Ministry, 2020). This stance maintains a continuity with Russia’s historical nuclear posture, emphasizing retaliatory rather than preemptive nuclear strikes. President Vladimir Putin’s remarks to the Valdai Discussion Club in October 2018 underscored this policy, stating Russia’s commitment to use nuclear weapons solely in response to an attack on its territory (Russian Federation, 2018a).

Contrary to some interpretations of Putin’s 2018 comments as signaling a shift towards a no-first-use policy, the context and subsequent clarifications suggest a consistent adherence to a retaliatory strategy. This interpretation aligns with the stance outlined in the 2022 US Nuclear Posture Review, which reframed previous assumptions about Russia’s nuclear threshold and highlighted Russia’s nuclear capabilities as a means to support aggressive regional actions under the protection of its nuclear arsenal (US Department of Defense, 2022).

In a significant diplomatic gesture in January 2022, Russia, along with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, affirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” (The White House, 2022). Despite this declaration, Russian officials have occasionally issued statements suggesting a more flexible interpretation of nuclear weapon use, potentially diverging from the documented doctrine.

For instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in an interview on April 25, acknowledged Russia’s commitment to the principle that a nuclear war must never occur, while also cautioning against underestimating the current risks of such a conflict (Russian Federation Foreign Affairs Ministry, 2022b).

The development and modernization of Russia’s nuclear arsenal suggest a strategic ambition extending beyond mere deterrence. Notably, the Status-6 or “Poseidon” nuclear-powered torpedo represents a controversial element of Russia’s military planning, aimed at inflicting long-term radioactive contamination, thereby breaching international humanitarian law (Podvig, 2015). This weapon, still under development, illustrates the potential for new nuclear capabilities to shape regional and global security dynamics in profound and unsettling ways.

The evolving context of Russia’s nuclear strategy, marked by strategic developments, diplomatic interactions, and military modernization, underscores the complex interplay between deterrence doctrines, geopolitical ambitions, and international norms. As global tensions persist, the international community remains vigilant, seeking to navigate the precarious balance between deterrence and diplomacy in the nuclear age.

Russia’s Nuclear Signaling: Implications Amidst the Ukraine Conflict

The nuclear signaling by Russia during its conflict with Ukraine, spearheaded by President Vladimir Putin, has been a focal point of international attention, raising concerns about the stability of global nuclear order and the potential for escalation into a nuclear conflict. Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, which began with Putin’s declaration of a “special military operation” on February 24, 2022, Russia has engaged in a series of actions and statements that have significant implications for its nuclear posture and doctrine.

Putin’s rhetoric has oscillated between threats of nuclear use and assurances of a defensive nuclear doctrine. In February 2023, during his annual address, Putin reiterated the possibility of nuclear weapon use if Russia felt threatened, essentially warning that he could dismantle the architecture of nuclear arms control unless the West altered its stance on Ukraine. This statement came in the context of Russia and the United States holding 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads under the New START Treaty, which sets limits on deployed missile launchers and heavy bombers. Despite the escalatory rhetoric, Russia expressed its intention to abide by the treaty’s restrictions​​.

In a dramatic move underscoring the deteriorating relations with the United States and the broader West due to the conflict in Ukraine, Russia revoked its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in November 2023. This decision, which Putin signed into law, was a stark departure from a global norm that had been in place for over two decades, aimed at preventing nuclear testing. While Russia stopped short of announcing a resumption of nuclear tests, Putin’s comments left open the possibility, depending on U.S. actions​​.

Amidst these developments, the nature of Russia’s nuclear doctrine has been a subject of analysis and speculation. The doctrine, perceived by some as having a low threshold for nuclear war, indicates a willingness to use nuclear weapons in scenarios where the Russian state perceives a threat to its territorial integrity or existence. This has led to heightened concerns about the potential use of nuclear weapons in the context of the Ukraine war​​.

The international response to Russia’s nuclear signaling has been mixed, with calls for diplomacy and efforts to deter escalation. The United States and NATO have maintained a commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, refusing to close the door to Ukraine’s potential NATO membership despite Russian demands​​.

The implications of Russia’s actions and statements on its nuclear doctrine and potential for nuclear escalation are profound. Analysts suggest that Moscow’s nuclear threats and anti-Western posture are likely to continue, influenced by the outcome of the war in Ukraine and the domestic situation within Russia. The potential deployment of nuclear weapons in territories like Crimea, should Russia perceive a victory, would represent a significant shift in the nuclear landscape of Europe, leading to increased militarization and a prioritization of nuclear capabilities​​.

Putin’s statements throughout the conflict have ranged from threats to deploy nuclear weapons in defense of Russian territory to declarations that Russia’s nuclear doctrine remains unchanged and defensive. He has emphasized that any use of nuclear weapons against Russia would provoke an immediate and overwhelming response, highlighting the country’s readiness to deploy its latest nuclear-capable weapons​​.

Russia’s nuclear signaling during the war in Ukraine, characterized by a mix of threatening rhetoric and assertions of a defensive posture, has significantly impacted international relations and the global nuclear order. The developments have raised concerns about the risks of nuclear escalation and the future of nuclear arms control, reflecting the broader geopolitical tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the West.

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Force and the Evolution of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Force stands as a formidable pillar of its nuclear deterrent, housing a variety of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) designed for both silo-based and mobile deployment. As of recent assessments gleaned from satellite imagery, official statements, and data exchanges under the New START treaty, Russia’s arsenal comprises several variants, including the SS-18, SS-19 Mod 4, SS-27 Mod 1, and SS-27 Mod 2 for silo-based deployment, alongside the SS-27 Mod 1 and SS-27 Mod 2 for mobile operations.

Analyzing available information, it is estimated that Russia currently maintains around 312 nuclear-armed ICBMs, potentially carrying up to 1,197 warheads. This modernized arsenal reflects ongoing efforts to upgrade infrastructure, such as equipping silos with advanced air and perimeter defense systems. Notably, the deployment of the Peresvet laser, observed in conjunction with mobile ICBM divisions, suggests a strategic move to disrupt surveillance operations, potentially indicating a defensive measure to shield maneuvering operations from spy satellites.

The organizational structure of Russia’s ICBM forces is delineated within the Strategic Rocket Forces, comprising three missile armies encompassing 12 divisions, housing approximately 40 missile regiments. Among these divisions, the Yurya missile division stands out for its operation of the Sirena-M system, an adjunct to the SS-27 Mod 2 ICBM, purportedly serving as a fail-safe launch code transmitter rather than being nuclear-armed.

Over the past three decades, the Russian ICBM force has witnessed a gradual decline in numbers, attributed to both aging Soviet-era missiles and ongoing modernization efforts. As part of this modernization initiative, Russia aims to replace outdated missile systems with newer iterations on a less-than-one-for-one basis. Recent statements from Col. Gen. Sergei Karakaev, commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, indicate progress towards the retirement of legacy systems, with the SS-25 ICBM notably phased out by the end of 2022. Karakaev’s remarks underscore the transition from fourth-generation mobile missile systems towards more advanced weaponry.

While the upgrade to the SS-27 Mod 2 was underway across divisions, lingering legacy systems, particularly the SS-18, remained operational. However, some SS-19 missiles have been repurposed to accommodate the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, showcasing Russia’s commitment to incorporating cutting-edge technology into its nuclear arsenal.

Table 2. Estimated status of Russian ICBM forces, 2023

LocationsDivisionsRegiments (Coordinates)Launchers*Status
Barnaul35th MD307th MR (53.3128, 84.5080)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELaActive
479th GMR (53.7709, 83.9580)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
480th MR (53.3054, 84.1459)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
867th GMR (53.2255, 84.6706)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
Dombarovsky13th MDb368th MR (51.0934, 59.8446)(6 SS-19 Mod 4 silos)Upgrading, 1 silos completedc
494th MR (51.0628, 60.2119)6 SS-18 silosActive
621st MR (51.0618, 59.6081)6 SS-19 Mod 4 silosActive
767th MR (51.2411, 60.6069)6 SS-18 silosActive
Irkutsk29th GMD92nd GMR (52.5085, 104.3933)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
344th GMR (52.6694, 104.5199)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
586th GMR (52.5505, 104.1584)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
Kozelsk28th GMD74th MR (53.7982, 35.8039)10 SS-27 Mod 2 silosActive
168th MR (54.0278, 35.4589)10 SS-27 Mod 2 silosActive
214th MR (53.7641, 35.4866)(10 SS-27 Mod 2 silos)Upgrading, 2 silos completed
Novosibirsk39th GMD357th GMR (55.3270, 82.9417)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
382nd GMR (55.3181, 83.1676)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
428th GMR (55.3134, 83.0291)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
Nizhny Tagil42nd MD308th MR (58.2298, 60.6773)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
433rd MR (58.1015, 60.3592)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
804th MR (58.1372, 60.5366)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
Tatishchevo60th MDd31st MR (51.8792, 45.3368)10 SS-27 Mod 1 silosActive
104th MR (51.6108, 45.4970)10 SS-27 Mod 1 silosActive
122nd MR (52.1589, 45.6404)10 SS-27 Mod 1 silosActive
165th MR (51.8062, 45.6550)10 SS-27 Mod 1 silosActive
322nd MR (52.0449, 45.4458)10 SS-27 Mod 1 silosActive
626th MR (51.7146, 45.2278)10 SS-27 Mod 1 silosActive
Teykovo54th GMD235th GMR (56.7041, 40.4403)9 SS-27 Mod 1 TELActive
285th GMR (56.8091, 40.1710)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
321st MR (56.9324, 40.5440)9 SS-27 Mod 1 TELActive
773rd MR (56.9167, 40.3087)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
Uzhure62nd MD229th MR (55.2453, 89.9194)6 SS-18 silosActive
269th MR (55.2077, 90.2526)6 SS-18 silosActive
302nd MR (55.1147, 89.6311)(6 SS-29 silos)Upgrading
735th MR (55.2720, 89.5783)10 SS-18 silosActive
Vypolsovo7th GMD41st MR (57.8620, 33.6500)(9 SS-27 Mod 2 TEL)Upgradingf
510th GMR (57.7889, 33.8660)(9 SS-27 Mod 2 TEL)Upgrading
Yoshkar-Ola14th MD290th MR (56.8328, 48.2370)g9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
697th MR (56.5601, 48.2144)9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
779th MR (56.5821, 48.1550)h9 SS-27 Mod 2 TELActive
11 Nuclear ICBM Divisions39 regiments312 ICBMsi
Yurya8th MD76th MR (59.21946, 49.4256)9 Sirena-M/SS-27 Mod 2 TELjActive; non-nuclear
12 Total ICBM Divisions40 regiments321 ICBMs
  • Abbreviations used: GMD = Guards Missile Division; GMR = Guards Missile Regiment; MD = Missile Division; MR = Missile Regiment; TEL = Transporter Erector Launcher; () = currently being upgraded.
  • *Uses US/NATO missile designations. SS-18 (RS-20V), SS-19 (RS-18), SS-25 (Topol), SS-27 Mod 1 (Topol-M), SS-27 Mod 2 (RS-24 Yars), SS-29 (RS-28 Sarmat).
  • aIt appears that there are multiple variants of the Yars system: one of which (known as Yars-S) is reportedly equipped with more powerful, medium-yield warheads for use against hardened targets, and another (known as Yars-M) is equipped with more capable penetration aids to circumvent missile defenses.
  • bIt is possible that the 175th Missile Regiment (51.2708, 60.2992) is also active, but it is not thought to be armed.
  • cThe first full regiment with six silos was completed in late-2021, although some construction is still visible. The upgrade of a second regiment has begun for a total of 12 silos (two regiments) to be operational by 2027. The first missile of the second regiment was loaded into its silo in December 2022.
  • dIt is possible that one or two SS-19 regiments are active, but they are not thought to be armed. They are potential candidates for an upgrade to the SS-19 Mod 4 (Avangard) in the future.
  • eThe 62nd MD at Uzhur is scheduled to receive the SS-29 (Sarmat) in the near future, although there have been significant delays. Some former SS-18 silos will also be converted to the SS-19 Mod 4 (Avangard).
  • fAlthough the final division at Vypolzovo had not yet completed its upgrade to the SS-27 Mod 2 by March 2023, it is believed that its legacy SS-25 missiles had been removed in preparation for the upgrade.
  • gIt is potentially possible that the 290th regiment will move south to the new garrison (56.5658, 48.4515) that is nearly completed closer to the supply base and other garrisons of the division.
  • hThe 779 MR garrison is being rebuilt. Until completion, the launchers and support vehicles are temporarily based near the supply base (56.5587, 48.0558).
  • iUpgrading regiments sometimes go on experimental combat alert with only a few launchers ready.
  • jA 12th division at Yurya has recently upgraded to the Sirena-M system, which is based on the SS-27 Mod 2. It does not carry warheads but serves as a back-up ICBM launch code transmitter.

The Evolution of Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

The landscape of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in Russia has been undergoing significant transformations as older systems near the end of their service lives and new, more advanced missiles are introduced. Among the prominent missiles in this transition is the SS-18 (RS-20V or R-36M2 Voevoda), a heavy ICBM that has been in service since 1988.

As of recent assessments, approximately 34 SS-18s remain operational, distributed between the 13th Missile Division at Dombarovsky and the 62nd Missile Division at Uzhur. These formidable missiles, capable of carrying up to 340 warheads collectively, are gradually being phased out due to their aging infrastructure and the need to adhere to strategic arms limitation agreements such as the New START treaty.

The retirement of the SS-18 began in 2021 in preparation for the introduction of the SS-29 (Sarmat or RS-28) ICBM, which is expected to take its place. Commercial satellite imagery has revealed disarmament activities within the 302nd Missile Regiment, signaling the start of upgrades to accommodate the new SS-29 at the Uzhur missile field.

Concurrently, the SS-19 (RS-18 or UR-100NUTTKh), another stalwart of Russia’s ICBM arsenal since 1980, has seen a shift in its role. While it appears to have been retired from combat duty, a few converted SS-19s have been repurposed to carry the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles. The extension of the SS-19’s service life until at least 2023 suggests its boosters are being utilized for the deployment of the Avangard-equipped Mod 4 variant.

In tandem with the phase-out of older missiles, Russia has been bolstering its arsenal with newer iterations. The SS-27, known as Topol-M, comes in two versions: Mod 1 and Mod 2. The SS-27 Mod 1, deployed since 2012, is a single-warhead missile available in both mobile (RS-12 M1) and silo-based (RS-12 M2) variants. With 78 missiles in total, these form a significant part of Russia’s strategic deterrent, strategically positioned across various divisions.

However, the spotlight of Russia’s modernization efforts shines brightest on the SS-27 Mod 2, or RS-24 (Yars). This modified version of the Topol-M is capable of carrying up to four multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), significantly enhancing its lethality and versatility. Notably, the RS-24 is available in different configurations, such as the Yars-S, equipped with medium-yield warheads for hardened targets, and the Yars-M, featuring advanced penetration aids to counter missile defenses effectively.

The evolution of Russia’s ICBM arsenal underscores its commitment to maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent while adapting to geopolitical challenges and technological advancements. As older systems make way for newer, more capable missiles, Russia seeks to ensure the effectiveness and survivability of its strategic forces in an ever-changing global security landscape.

Figure 1. Upgrade from the SS-18 to the SS-29 ICBM at the Uzhur missile field

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces Modernization

In a bid to bolster its strategic deterrence capabilities, Russia has been steadily modernizing its Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN), a process marked by the deployment of advanced missile systems and infrastructure upgrades. Through a series of official announcements, satellite imagery analyses, and expert assessments, a comprehensive picture emerges regarding the scale, progress, and challenges faced in the modernization efforts of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

As of December 2020, during an interview with Col. Gen. Sergei Karakaev, the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV channel revealed the deployment of approximately 150 mobile and silo-based Yars missiles by the Strategic Rocket Force. This number surged to an estimated 193 by January 2022, underscoring the rapid pace of expansion in Russia’s missile capabilities (Zvezda Citation2020).

The modernization drive primarily focuses on upgrading the SS-27 Mod 2 missiles, with significant progress witnessed across multiple divisions. Notably, the 39th Guards Missile Division at Novosibirsk, the 42nd Missile Division at Nizhny Tagil, the 14th Missile Division at Yoshkar-Ola, the 29th Guards Missile Division at Irkutsk, and the 35th Missile Division at Barnaul have all completed the SS-27 Mod 2 upgrades (Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2021a). However, challenges persist in some garrisons regarding the accommodation of vehicles required to support the launchers, necessitating ongoing construction efforts (Russian Federation Defense Ministry Citation2020).

A critical milestone in the modernization agenda is the upgrade of the 7th Missile Division at Vypolsovo to SS-27 Mod 2, slated for completion by 2023 (Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2022). This process involves the complete disarmament of SS-25 ICBMs, marking the retirement of a missile system deployed since the mid-1980s (Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2021a).

The Kozelsk site emerges as a focal point of modernization, with the 28th Guards Missile Division witnessing significant upgrades. The first regiment, the 74th Missile Regiment, achieved operational status in November 2018, followed by the completion of upgrades for the second regiment, the 168th Missile Regiment, confirmed by Col. Gen. Karakaev in 2020 (TASS Citation2020a). However, infrastructure upgrades at silos remain ongoing, posing uncertainties regarding the completion timeline (Russian Federation Defense Ministry Citation2022).

Beyond missile upgrades, extensive modifications encompass external fences, internal roads, and support facilities, alongside the installation of perimeter defense systems to fortify security (Russia Insight Citation2018; Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2021a).

The development of advanced missile variants, such as the compact SS-27 version Rubezh (Yars-M or RS-26), faces delays, potentially pushing its deployment to the late 2020s (TASS Citation2018a). Similarly, the rail-based version Barguzin appears to have been shelved, redirecting focus towards other modernization priorities.

A significant phase in Russia’s modernization roadmap involves the replacement of the SS-18 (RS-20V) with the SS-29 (RS-28) Sarmat. While upgrades at the Uzhur site have been underway since 2021, progress has been marred by technical setbacks, with only one successful flight test reported as of April 2023 (Russian Federation Citation2022d). Despite challenges, claims of Sarmat entering serial production highlight Russia’s determination to advance its strategic capabilities (Emelyanenkov Citation2022).

The SS-29, dubbed the “Son of Satan,” inherits the legacy of its predecessor SS-18, raising speculations regarding its destructive potential. However, exaggerated claims regarding its payload capacity are debunked, with expectations aligning with the SS-18’s warhead configuration. Furthermore, prospects of equipping the SS-29 with the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle add another dimension to Russia’s strategic calculus, underscoring the evolving nature of its nuclear deterrence strategy.

Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces: Modernization Challenges and Future Developments

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) have embarked on an ambitious modernization journey aimed at enhancing its nuclear deterrent capabilities. From the deployment of advanced missile systems to the development of next-generation technologies, the modernization efforts underscore Russia’s commitment to maintaining a formidable strategic posture amidst evolving global security dynamics.

The introduction of the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle represents a significant leap in Russia’s strategic arsenal, designed to evade missile defenses and ensure a credible deterrence posture. Initially fitted atop modified SS-19 missiles at Dombarovsky, the deployment rate of two missiles per year highlights Russia’s strategic priorities (TASS Citation2019a). The regiment’s gradual expansion and rearmament underscore the strategic significance attached to this advanced weapon system (Russian Federation Citation2021a). Moreover, the prospect of integrating the Avangard onto SS-29 missiles at Uzhur signifies the evolution of Russia’s strategic capabilities (Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2022).

In tandem with missile advancements, Russia is developing a new mobile ground-based missile system, promising greater mobility than the existing Yars platform. Col. Gen. Karakaev’s announcements hint at the Osina-RV ICBM or the “Kedr” project, signaling Russia’s focus on next-generation strategic missile systems (Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2021a; War Bolts (Военно-болтовой) Citation2021; TASS Citation2021b).

Despite modernization strides, challenges persist, with uncertainties surrounding force levels and arms control agreements. The anticipation of increased missile forces clashes with assessments predicting a decline due to arms control agreements and resource constraints (US Air Force Citation2020). However, the modernized force’s enhanced warhead delivery capability, particularly with the transition from single-warhead Topol-M to MIRVed Yars, underscores the nuanced nature of force projections (Russian Federation Defense Ministry Citation2020a).

The trajectory of Russia’s missile testing program provides insights into its strategic ambitions and operational readiness. While planned ICBM launches aim to demonstrate technological prowess and operational readiness, delays and limitations, such as the April 11th launch to Sary-Shagan amid nuclear disarmament treaties, raise questions regarding future testing strategies (Krasnaya Zvezda Citation2021a, Citation2022; TASS Citation2023h; United Nations Citation2017).

Amidst modernization efforts, Russia’s development of the 9M730 Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered, ground-launched cruise missile, stands out for its technological ambition and setbacks. Facing multiple failures since testing began in 2016, including incidents resulting in missile loss and fatalities, the program’s status remains uncertain, with no declared tests since 2019 (Panda; Macias Citation2018; DiNanno Citation2019). The apparent halt in testing and absence from official discourse raise questions about the program’s viability and future trajectory (Lewis Citation2021; Cohen Citation2021).

Russia’s Nuclear Submarine Arsenal: A Comprehensive Analysis

Submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles

The Russian Navy stands at the forefront of nuclear deterrence with its formidable fleet of nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). As of recent data, the Russian Navy operates a total of 11 SSBNs across two classes, comprising five Delta IV (Project 667BRDM) and six Borei (Project 955) submarines, with two of the latter being of the improved Borei-A (Project 955A) variant. Notably, there are indications that Russia might expand its fleet with the construction of two additional Borei-class submarines (TASS, 2022b).

Evolution of the Fleet:

In 2022, Russia introduced a new Borei-A SSBN, named Generalissimus Suvorov, bolstering its maritime nuclear capabilities (Russian Federation, 2022f; TASS, 2022c). Each SSBN is capable of carrying up to 16 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), with potential for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on each missile, resulting in a combined maximum loading of approximately 896 warheads. However, operational constraints and New START treaty obligations may reduce the actual number of warheads carried, estimated to be around 640 (Russian Federation, 2022f; TASS, 2022c).

Delta IV Class:

The backbone of Russia’s nuclear submarine force for the foreseeable future remains the five third-generation Delta IV submarines, constructed between 1985 and 1992. These submarines are stationed exclusively within the Northern Fleet and are primarily based at Yagelnaya Bay (Gadzhiyevo) on the Kola Peninsula. Equipped with 16 SLBMs each, these submarines have undergone upgrades to accommodate modified SS-N-23 SLBMs, known as Layner (or Liner), capable of carrying multiple warheads (Podvig, 2011). Typically, three or four Delta IVs are operational at any given time, with the others undergoing maintenance (Russian Federation Defense Ministry, 2021).

Transition and Decommissioning:

The Delta IV fleet saw a reduction with the decommissioning of Yekaterinburg (K-84) in 2022, after 36 years of service, marking the end of its operational tenure (TASS, 2021c). Additionally, all remaining Delta III SSBNs have been withdrawn from strategic service, with some repurposed for other roles, indicating a strategic shift in submarine deployment (Podvig, 2018; Krasnaya Zvezda, 2021b).

Borei Class:

In contrast, the Borei-class submarines represent the modernization of Russia’s submarine force. Armed with SS-N-32 (Bulava) SLBMs, these submarines boast enhanced capabilities, with potential payloads of up to six warheads per missile. However, to adhere to New START limits, the missile payload may have been reduced (Russian Federation Defense Ministry, 2018b). Notably, the Borei fleet saw the introduction of the improved Borei-A variant, with Knyaz Vladimir (K-549) being the first of its kind, accepted into service in June 2020 (Russian Federation Defense Ministry, 2020b).

Expansion and Upgrades:

The expansion of the Borei fleet continued with the launch and delivery of Knyaz Oleg (K-552) to the Pacific Fleet in December 2021, further strengthening Russia’s maritime nuclear capabilities (Sevmash, 2021a). This addition brings the total number of Borei SSBNs in the Pacific Fleet to three, reflecting a strategic emphasis on both the Northern and Pacific Fleets. Moreover, ongoing upgrades at the Pacific SSBN base underscore Russia’s commitment to enhancing its naval capabilities (TASS, 2020c).

Russian Nuclear Submarine Fleet: Detailed Overview

ClassNumber in ServiceCharacteristicsOperational StatusNotable Events/Developments
Delta IV5– Third-generation SSBNs<br>- Constructed between 1985 and 1992<br>- Equipped with 16 SLBMs each– Three to four operational at any given time– Yekaterinburg (K-84) decommissioned in 2022<br>- Umka-2021 exercise: 3 SSBNs surfaced simultaneously near the North Pole (2021)
Borei6– Includes Borei-A variant<br>- Each armed with 16 SS-N-32 (Bulava) SLBMs– Five in service, five under construction– Introduction of Generalissimus Suvorov (2022)<br>- Knyaz Vladimir (K-549) accepted into service (2020)
– Knyaz Oleg (K-552) delivered to Pacific Fleet (2021)<br>- Knyaz Oleg (K-552) launched MIRVed Bulava SLBM (2021)
– Alexander Nevsky (K-550) and Vladimir Monomakh (K-551) join fleet at Rybachiy (2015, 2016)
Delta III0– Withdrawn from strategic service– Converted to attack submarines– K-223 Podolsk and K-433 Svyatoy Georgiy Pobedonosets decommissioned (2018)<br>- Ryazan (K-44) repurposed (late-2021)

Note: SSBN – Nuclear-Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine; SLBM – Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile.

Figure 2. Russian Pacific Fleet infrastructure in Kamchatka

The Strategic Significance of Russia’s Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 MS Bear-H Bombers

Russia’s strategic bomber fleet, comprised of the Tu-160 Blackjack and the Tu-95 MS Bear-H, plays a pivotal role in the country’s nuclear deterrence strategy. With an estimated active inventory of approximately 68 bombers, of which around 55 are counted as deployed under New START, Russia maintains a formidable airborne nuclear capability.

The Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers are both nuclear-capable platforms, capable of carrying the AS-15 Kent (Kh-55) air-launched cruise missile. Furthermore, ongoing modernization efforts are equipping these bombers with the new AS-23B (Kh-102) nuclear cruise missile. These upgrades enhance the bombers’ lethality and ensure their relevance in modern warfare scenarios.

The Tu-95 variants, namely the Tu-95H6 and Tu-95H16, exhibit varying capabilities in missile deployment. The Tu-95H6 can carry up to six missiles internally, while the Tu-95H16 is designed to carry missiles both internally and on wing-mounted pylons, totaling up to 16 missiles. Modernization programs are enhancing the Tu-95’s capacity, enabling it to carry eight AS-23B missiles externally, potentially accommodating up to 14 missiles per aircraft. Similarly, the Tu-160s are undergoing upgrades to carry up to 12 AS-23B missiles internally, replacing the AS-15.

The exact number of nuclear weapons assigned to these heavy bombers remains uncertain. Each Tu-160 can carry a significant payload of up to 40,000 kilograms, including 12 nuclear AS-15B air-launched cruise missiles. The Tu-95 MS, depending on its configuration, can carry between six to 16 cruise missiles. While theoretically capable of carrying over 800 weapons combined, practical estimates suggest that approximately 580 bomber weapons are deployed, with the remainder likely held in central storage facilities.

Storage of these nuclear weapons is primarily at Russia’s strategic bomber bases, such as Engels in Saratov oblast and Ukrainka in Amur oblast. Modernization efforts at Engels Air Base have been ongoing, emphasizing the importance of maintaining and securing these critical assets. However, the vulnerability of the aging Tu-95 in modern air defense environments poses challenges, as evidenced by visible damage to Tu-95 bombers following likely Ukrainian airstrikes on Engels air base in December 2022.

The utilization of both Tu-160s and Tu-95 bombers in combat roles during the conflict in Ukraine underscores Russia’s commitment to leveraging its strategic bomber fleet in various military operations. Despite the risks and challenges posed by evolving air defense systems, Russia continues to invest in the modernization and operational readiness of its heavy bombers, ensuring their continued relevance in an increasingly complex global security landscape.

In conclusion, Russia’s Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 MS Bear-H bombers represent critical components of its nuclear deterrence strategy. Through ongoing modernization efforts and strategic deployments, Russia maintains a formidable airborne nuclear capability, underscoring its commitment to national security and defense interests.

Figure 3. Movement of Tu-160 Blackjacks from Engels to Belaya bases between November 2022 and January 2023.

The Complex Dynamics of Russia’s Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

In the realm of global security, the discourse often centers around strategic nuclear arsenals, dominated by the United States and Russia. However, an often overlooked yet crucial aspect of nuclear deterrence lies in nonstrategic nuclear weapons. These shorter-range weapons, while not as powerful as their strategic counterparts, play a significant role in military planning and deterrence strategies.

Russia, amidst its broader modernization efforts, has been actively updating and introducing new types of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. This initiative, although less transparent compared to strategic forces modernization, reflects Moscow’s strategic calculus and perceived security imperatives. Notably, the replacement of Soviet-era weapons with newer, albeit fewer, systems underscores Russia’s commitment to maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review raised concerns about Russia’s activities, accusing Moscow of enhancing its nonstrategic nuclear capabilities. However, a closer examination reveals a nuanced picture. While new systems are indeed being added, the overall inventory of nonstrategic nuclear weapons has witnessed a significant decline over the past decade, contrary to claims of proliferation.

The strategic rationale behind Russia’s emphasis on nonstrategic nuclear weapons lies in their utility across various military domains, including naval, tactical air, and missile-defense forces. These weapons serve as a counterbalance to NATO’s superior conventional forces, particularly those of the United States. Additionally, Russia’s geopolitical considerations vis-à-vis China’s growing conventional capabilities further underscore the perceived importance of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in maintaining strategic parity.

Despite assertions about the size of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear arsenal, estimating its exact numbers remains challenging. Conflicting assessments within the US intelligence community highlight the complexity of the issue. While the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review cited figures of “up to 2,000” nonstrategic nuclear weapons, subsequent reports suggest a range of 1,000 to 2,000 warheads. Moreover, speculations about potential increases in Russia’s arsenal by 2030 add further uncertainty to the equation.

A conservative estimate places Russia’s current nonstrategic nuclear warheads at approximately 1,816, with variations depending on different assessments. These warheads are designated for delivery by air, naval, ground, and defensive forces, highlighting the diverse capabilities within Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear arsenal. However, the lack of authoritative public information complicates efforts to precisely quantify and categorize these weapons.

The composition of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear arsenal encompasses a wide array of delivery systems, including air-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs, depth charges, and ground-launched cruise missiles. Many of these systems are dual-capable, meaning they can perform both conventional and nuclear roles, adding a layer of complexity to strategic calculations.

Despite the emphasis on modernization, not all platforms within Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear arsenal are immediately operational. Many delivery platforms are undergoing overhaul or refurbishment, limiting their immediate nuclear launch capabilities. Additionally, the evolving nature of military technology and strategic doctrines further complicates assessments of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear posture.

Russia’s approach to nonstrategic nuclear weapons underscores the intricate dynamics shaping contemporary nuclear deterrence. While efforts to modernize and update these weapons reflect Moscow’s strategic imperatives, the evolving security landscape and technological advancements pose challenges to accurately assessing the size and capabilities of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear arsenal. As geopolitical tensions persist, understanding the nuances of nonstrategic nuclear weapons becomes increasingly imperative for maintaining global stability and security.

Evolution and Modernization of Sea-Based Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in the Russian Navy

The utilization and modernization of nonstrategic nuclear weapons within the Russian military, particularly within the navy, play a significant role in Russia’s strategic defense capabilities. This article delves into the intricate details surrounding the sea-based nonstrategic nuclear arsenal, its evolution, and ongoing modernization efforts.

As of recent estimations, the Russian navy stands as the primary user of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, boasting approximately 835 warheads for a variety of purposes including land-attack, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-aircraft operations. These weapons are deployed across a range of naval vessels, including submarines, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and naval aircraft. However, it’s noted that the actual count of sea-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons may vary due to potential assignment discrepancies across vessels equipped with dual-capable weapon systems.

A focal point of the Russian naval modernization efforts revolves around the development of the next-generation nuclear attack submarines, known as Project 885/M or Yasen-M. Despite progress, the program has faced delays, exemplified by the prolonged construction period of the lead ship, Severodvinsk, which entered service in 2015 after 16 years of construction. Subsequent vessels, notably Kazan and Novosibirsk, have undergone trials and entered operational service, albeit with delays and technical issues along the way.

Furthermore, there are plans for the construction of six additional Yasen-M nuclear-powered guided missile submarines (SSGNs), with the Krasnoyarsk being the most recent addition to undergo sea trials. Reports also suggest the potential construction of two more Yasen-M SSGNs, although formal confirmation is pending.

Notable enhancements in the Yasen-M class submarines include improved reactor systems and sonar capabilities, potentially bolstering their stealth capabilities. These submarines are designed to carry a diverse array of weaponry, including the Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles, SS-N-27 Sizzler anti-ship cruise missiles, SS-N-26 Strobile anti-ship cruise missiles (potentially nuclear-capable), SS-N-16 Veteran nuclear anti-submarine rockets, nuclear torpedoes, and the recently tested hypersonic 3M-22 Tsirkon missile.

In addition to the Yasen-M class, upgrades are planned for existing naval platforms such as the Sierra class, Oscar II class, and Akula class submarines, aiming to enhance their nonstrategic nuclear capabilities. Speculation also surrounds the possibility of a new cruise missile submarine, Borei-K, based on the Borei SSBN design, which could potentially carry nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Overall, the evolution and modernization of sea-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons in the Russian navy underscore the nation’s commitment to maintaining a robust and versatile maritime defense posture. These developments hold implications for regional and global security dynamics, warranting close monitoring by international observers and stakeholders.

Evolution and Proliferation of Air-Based Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in the Russian Military

The Russian Air Force stands as a formidable wielder of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, boasting an arsenal encompassing approximately 500 such weapons designed for delivery by a variety of aircraft. Among these aircraft are the Tu-22M3 (Backfire) intermediate-range bombers, Su-24M (Fencer-D) fighter-bombers, the Su-34 (Fullback) fighter bomber, and the MiG-31K. These versatile platforms collectively serve as integral components of Russia’s nuclear deterrence strategy.

As of recent data from 2023, the Russian Air Force has undergone significant modernization efforts, particularly with the induction of the Su-34, which has gradually replaced its predecessor, the Su-24. With over 145 Su-34 aircraft delivered, and an additional 76 units of the upgraded Su-34M slated for acquisition, Russia’s air capabilities have received a substantial boost (Scramble Citation2023; Lavrov and Krezul Citation2020). The Su-34M enhancements, primarily in avionics, promise to augment the aircraft’s effectiveness in nuclear delivery missions.

Furthermore, ongoing upgrades to the Tu-22M3 and Su-24M further underscore Russia’s commitment to modernizing its air-based nuclear capabilities. The introduction of the Tu-22M3M, featuring a significantly revamped avionics suite and communication systems shared with the Su-57 fighter, signals a leap forward in technological sophistication (United Aircraft Corporation Citation2018; TASS Citation2020j). Flight tests of the Tu-22M3M prototypes, including assessments of supersonic resilience, reflect meticulous efforts to ensure operational readiness and reliability (TASS Citation2020k).

A pivotal development in Russia’s air-based nuclear arsenal is the integration of hypersonic technology. The forthcoming Tu-22M3M, alongside the Tu-160M and the prospective PAK-DA strategic bombers, is slated to be equipped with the Kh-95 hypersonic missile. Notably, reports suggest that a prototype of the Kh-95 has already undergone testing, indicating progress towards realizing hypersonic capabilities within Russia’s air force (RIA Novosti Citation2021b).

In addition to conventional nonstrategic nuclear weapons, Russia has pioneered the development of novel systems such as the 9-A-7760 Kinzhal. This long-range, dual-capable air-launched ballistic missile system represents a paradigm shift in aerial warfare, boasting ranges of up to 3,000 kilometers when deployed from platforms like the Tu-22M3 bomber (TASS Citation2018f). The Kinzhal’s combat debut in March 2022 during the conflict in Ukraine underscores its operational significance, with Russian authorities affirming its deployment on multiple occasions (TASS Citation2022h). President Putin’s announcement in February 2023 regarding the acceleration of Kinzhal mass production further highlights its strategic importance (TASS Citation2023g).

Moreover, the induction of the Su-57 (PAK-FA) fighter jets into the Russian Aerospace Force signifies another milestone in the evolution of air-based nuclear capabilities. These advanced aircraft, characterized by their nuclear-capable status and planned integration of hypersonic missiles akin to the Kinzhal, exemplify Russia’s pursuit of cutting-edge military technology (TASS Citation2020l; US Department of Defense Citation2018).

Looking ahead, Russia’s ambitious plans to equip its military districts with Kinzhal missiles by 2024 and the scheduled delivery of additional Su-57 aircraft by 2028 underscore the nation’s unwavering commitment to bolstering its air-based nonstrategic nuclear arsenal (Izvestia Citation2021; Suciu Citation2021). As Russia continues to refine its aerial capabilities, the global strategic landscape is bound to witness significant shifts, underscoring the imperative for nuanced assessments and strategic responses among international stakeholders.

The Evolution and Expansion of Air-Based Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in the Russian Military

The Russian Air Force stands as a significant operator of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, boasting an arsenal of approximately 500 such weapons allocated for delivery by various aircraft, including the Tu-22M3, Su-24M, Su-34, and MiG-31K. This formidable array of platforms underscores Russia’s commitment to maintaining a robust nuclear deterrent across multiple fronts.

Beginning with the Su-34, which has seen a rapid integration into the Russian Air Force, the transition from older Su-24s to the newer Su-34s marks a substantial modernization effort. With over 145 Su-34 aircraft delivered thus far and plans for an additional 76 upgraded units, Russia is enhancing its aerial nuclear delivery capabilities significantly. The Su-34M variant, featuring improved avionics, underscores the nation’s dedication to staying at the forefront of technological advancements in military aviation.

Simultaneously, upgrades to existing platforms such as the Tu-22M3 and Su-24M further bolster Russia’s air-based nuclear capabilities. The introduction of the Tu-22M3M, boasting advanced avionics and synergies with the Su-57 fighter, showcases Russia’s commitment to modernizing its strategic bomber fleet. Notably, the incorporation of the new Kh-95 hypersonic missile into future strategic bombers underscores Russia’s pursuit of cutting-edge weaponry.

Beyond traditional bomber platforms, Russia has expanded its arsenal to include the 9-A-7760 Kinzhal, a long-range, dual-capable, air-launched ballistic missile system. Deployable via modified MiG-31K aircraft, the Kinzhal provides Russia with a versatile and potent weapon system with ranges of up to 3,000 kilometers. Its utilization in combat during the conflict in Ukraine highlights the operational readiness and significance of this weapon in Russia’s military strategy.

Plans to equip additional military districts with Kinzhal missiles by 2024 reflect Russia’s intent to enhance its strategic reach and deterrence capabilities. President Putin’s announcement regarding the acceleration of Kinzhal’s mass production underscores its strategic importance in Russia’s defense doctrine. Moreover, the incorporation of hypersonic missiles on platforms like the Su-57 further exemplifies Russia’s pursuit of next-generation weaponry.

The integration of Su-57s into the Russian Aerospace Force marks another milestone in the evolution of air-based nuclear capabilities. With the Su-57’s nuclear-capable status confirmed by the US Department of Defense, Russia expands its aerial nuclear delivery capabilities to include advanced stealth fighters. Coupled with the reported inclusion of hypersonic missiles akin to the Kinzhal, the Su-57 represents a formidable addition to Russia’s nuclear triad.

Russia’s investment in air-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons underscores its commitment to maintaining a credible and diversified nuclear deterrent. The modernization of existing platforms, alongside the introduction of advanced systems like the Kinzhal and Su-57, reflects Russia’s efforts to adapt to evolving strategic challenges while asserting its military prowess on the global stage. As geopolitical tensions persist, the role of air-based nuclear weapons in Russia’s defense strategy remains pivotal, shaping the dynamics of modern warfare and strategic deterrence.

The Evolution of Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russian Missile Defense

In the complex landscape of international security, the utilization of nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) within missile defense systems presents a multifaceted and often opaque challenge. The intersection of technological advancements, strategic doctrines, and geopolitical considerations underscores the evolving nature of this issue, particularly evident in the case of Russia’s air and missile defense capabilities.

Over a decade ago, Russian officials disclosed that a substantial portion of the country’s 1991 stockpile of air defense nuclear warheads remained within its nuclear arsenal. Alexei Arbatov, a former member of the Russian Federation State Duma defense committee, provided insights in 1999, indicating an inventory of approximately 3,000 air defense warheads. However, subsequent assessments suggested a decline in numbers, with US intelligence officials estimating a figure closer to 2,500 by the late 1980s. Despite promises to reduce stockpiles, Russia acknowledged in 2007 that a significant portion, around 60 percent, of these warheads remained intact. This revelation raised concerns regarding the actual size and disposition of Russia’s NSNW inventory, hinting at potential implications for strategic stability (Arbatov, 1999; Cochran et al., 1989; Pravda, 2007).

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review brought renewed attention to Russia’s continued integration of nuclear warheads into its air and missile defense systems. While specifics were lacking, the document highlighted the persistent dual-capability of certain systems without explicitly identifying them. Moreover, the US Defense Intelligence Agency underscored Russia’s potential deployment of warheads for surface-to-air and aerospace defense missile systems in its March 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment. This acknowledgment underscored the evolving dynamics of missile defense strategies in an era marked by technological advancements and geopolitical tensions (Ashley, 2018).

Presently, Russia operates a diverse array of missile defense complexes tailored to address various tiers of threats. The A-135 antiballistic missile defense system, encircling Moscow, stands out with its complement of 68 nuclear-tipped 53T6 Gazelle interceptors. Additionally, mobile systems like the S-300 and S-400 serve theater air and missile defense roles. While details on specific dual-capable systems remain elusive, private US government sources suggest that both the S-300 (SA-20) and S-400 (SA-21) possess such capabilities, further complicating the strategic landscape (Ashley, 2018).

Anticipating future threats and technological advancements, Russia is actively developing next-generation air and missile defense systems. The anticipated upgrade from the A-135 to the A-235 Nudol, slated for completion by the end of 2023, raises questions about the role of nuclear warheads in emerging defense paradigms. Speculation surrounds the potential adoption of conventional warheads or kinetic hit-to-kill technology, signaling a potential shift away from reliance on nuclear payloads (Krasnaya Zvezda, 2017; Starchak, 2023c).

Similarly, forthcoming systems like the S-550 and Aerostat, along with the S-350 replacing the S-300, are expected to prioritize conventional warheads, albeit with enhanced capabilities targeting satellites in orbit. These developments underscore a broader trend towards precision and versatility in missile defense strategies, reflecting the evolving nature of modern warfare and strategic deterrence (Hendrickx, 2021; TASS, 2021k).

Estimating the current inventory of nuclear weapons assigned to Russian air and missile defenses presents inherent challenges. While technological advancements and retirement of excess warheads likely contribute to a shrinking inventory, limited transparency complicates accurate assessments. Current estimates suggest approximately 290 nuclear warheads available for air defense forces, with an additional 90 for the Moscow A-135 system and coastal defense units, totaling around 380 warheads. However, this estimation comes with a caveat, as uncertainties persist due to the lack of authoritative sources and transparency (Arbatov, 1999; Cochran et al., 1989; Pravda, 2007).

The evolution of nonstrategic nuclear weapons within Russian missile defense systems underscores the intricate interplay between technology, strategy, and geopolitics. As Russia continues to modernize its defense capabilities, the role of nuclear warheads in missile defense remains subject to flux, reflecting broader shifts in strategic thinking and doctrinal priorities. Amidst these developments, the imperative for transparency and dialogue becomes increasingly pronounced, highlighting the need for cooperative approaches to mitigate the risks associated with nuclear proliferation and strategic ambiguity.

The Evolution and Deployment of Ground-based Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia

In December 2019, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a significant announcement, stating that the upgrade of all army missile brigades to the 350-kilometer range SS-26 (Iskander) short-range ballistic missile had been completed. However, despite this declaration, construction activities persist at several bases across Russia, indicating that not all of them have fully operational missile depots. This ongoing construction notably involves approximately 12 brigades, distributed as follows: four in the Western Military District, two in the Southern Military District, two in the Central Military District, and at least four in the Eastern Military District. Each of these brigades is equipped with 12 launchers, each carrying two missiles, totaling to 24 missiles, with at least one reload stored. Reports from 2019 suggested plans to expand each brigade’s capability by adding an additional battalion, aiming for a total of 16 launchers equipped with 32 missiles per brigade.

Estimates suggest the presence of approximately 70 warheads intended for short-range ballistic missiles within these brigades. Additionally, there are unconfirmed rumors regarding the nuclear capability of the SSC-7 (9M728 or R-500) ground-launched cruise missile, indicating potential diversification within Russia’s ground-based nuclear arsenal.

In February 2023, Belarusian military officials claimed autonomous operation of Russian-supplied nuclear-capable SS-26 Iskander missile systems, particularly highlighting their use in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. Observations of training activities at a base near Osipovichi further corroborated these claims. Concurrently, Russia allegedly initiated the construction of a nuclear storage site for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, raising questions about potential deployment plans or infrastructure preparation for future deployments in the region.

Beyond the Iskander missiles, Russia’s development and deployment of the dual-capable ground-launched cruise missile, identified as the 9M729 (SSC-8), has drawn international attention. This deployment notably violated the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Initial reports indicated the deployment of two 9M729 battalions in late 2017, followed by US intelligence sources revealing the presence of four battalions in various military districts by December 2018, totaling nearly 100 missiles.

However, the extent of Russia’s 9M729 battalion deployments beyond the reported four remains uncertain. While there is no public confirmation of additional deployments, events such as the “electronic launches” of the 9M279 in the Leningrad region in February 2019 suggest potential expansion. Furthermore, reports from December 2019 outlined plans to add a fourth battalion to each existing Iskander brigade, raising questions about the integration of 9M729 launchers into all 12 Iskander brigades across Russia.

These developments underscore the evolving landscape of ground-based nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Russia, reflecting both modernization efforts and strategic considerations amid geopolitical tensions. The intricate interplay between arms control agreements, regional dynamics, and military modernization initiatives necessitates continued scrutiny and analysis to comprehend the implications for global security.

Figure 4. Comparison of garrisons housing the Iskander SRBM

The U.S. Government’s Assessment of Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons

The strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals of Russia have been subjects of significant analysis and concern globally, given their implications for international security and strategic stability. The United States government, alongside various independent analysts and policymakers, has focused extensively on evaluating the size and composition of these arsenals, especially in light of evolving geopolitical tensions and arms control challenges.

Recent Evaluations and Concerns

Recent assessments suggest that Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed for use on the battlefield as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons aimed at broader targets potentially across continents, number up to 2,000. These weapons include a variety of delivery systems such as short-range ballistic missiles, air-dropped gravity bombs, torpedos, and artillery shells, with reports even suggesting the existence of nuclear land mines​​.

The Russian arsenal is also believed to include approximately 1,912 non-strategic warheads in reserve, alongside its larger strategic nuclear forces which feature intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)​​. This diverse array underscores the breadth of Russia’s nuclear capabilities, which extend beyond strategic deterrence to include tactical options for regional conflict scenarios.

Strategic Framework and Arms Control

The strategic underpinnings of Russia’s nuclear policy, as publicly outlined in 2020, emphasize a defensive posture aimed at ensuring national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This doctrine does not advocate for the first use of nuclear weapons but does not categorically rule it out in response to conventional attacks under certain conditions. The debate among Western analysts continues regarding whether the concept of “escalate to de-escalate” is a central tenet of Russian nuclear strategy​​.

Arms control efforts, particularly those related to the New START treaty, have aimed at providing transparency and limiting the deployment of strategic nuclear weapons by both the United States and Russia. However, tactical nuclear weapons have remained outside the scope of such treaties, leading to calls for their inclusion in future arms control negotiations.

Modernization and Global Context

Russia has been actively modernizing its nuclear arsenal, with an emphasis on developing new capabilities intended to counteract U.S. missile defense systems. This modernization effort includes the deployment of hypersonic missiles and glide vehicles, highlighting a commitment to maintaining a formidable nuclear force amidst global security challenges​​.

The broader context of nuclear arms development and proliferation reflects a dynamic where other countries are also enhancing their missile capabilities and defense systems, driven by security concerns and strategic considerations. This global arms landscape underscores the importance of continued dialogue and efforts towards arms control and nuclear disarmament​​​​.

The assessment of Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal forms a critical component of understanding global nuclear deterrence dynamics and the challenges of strategic stability. As the international community navigates these complexities, the importance of transparency, dialogue, and negotiated arms control measures becomes ever more apparent, highlighting the need for a concerted effort to address the full spectrum of nuclear threats and ensure a stable international security environment.

The Evolution of Tactical Nuclear Weapon Reductions: A Historical Analysis (1980s-1990s)

The period spanning the 1980s to the 1990s witnessed a significant evolution in the global nuclear landscape, characterized by a series of strategic arms control initiatives and the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons. Against the backdrop of escalating tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, this era saw concerted efforts to mitigate the risks associated with nuclear proliferation and to enhance international security.

The rise of arms control measures gained momentum in the 1970s, with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) emerging as a cornerstone of global nuclear governance upon its entry into force in 1970. However, initial efforts primarily focused on curbing the proliferation of strategic nuclear weapons, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), due to the complexities associated with verifying tactical systems.

Amidst growing concerns over the deployment of ground-launched missiles with short and intermediate ranges, both the Soviet Union and the United States grappled with the implications of tactical nuclear weapons in the European theater. A declassified U.S. intelligence assessment from 1983 underscored Soviet plans for massive tactical nuclear strikes in Central Europe, heightening apprehensions within NATO nations.

The deployment of advanced Soviet SS-20 Saber missiles in the late 1970s and early 1980s further exacerbated tensions, prompting NATO to approve the stationing of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Western Europe. This tit-for-tat escalation fueled an arms race dynamic, raising concerns about the stability of the nuclear balance.

Efforts to address the proliferation of intermediate-range and tactical nuclear weapons culminated in the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in 1987. The landmark agreement mandated the elimination of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles within specified ranges, marking the first instance of eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons.

The implementation of the INF Treaty coincided with the geopolitical upheavals triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ensuing transition to the Russian Federation and the emergence of newly independent states prompted a reassessment of nuclear postures and security doctrines.

Against this backdrop, the United States, under President George H.W. Bush, initiated a series of unilateral steps aimed at reducing nuclear tensions and risks. The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) of the early 1990s resulted in the removal and destruction of ground-launched tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, signaling a shift towards a post-Cold War nuclear posture.

France, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation also embarked on significant reductions in their tactical nuclear arsenals during this period. France retired its Pluton short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) system in 1993, while the United Kingdom phased out its WE.177 gravity bombs by 1998, becoming the first nuclear-armed nation to reduce its arsenal to a single weapon system.

The Russian Federation, inheriting the nuclear legacy of the Soviet Union, announced the removal and dismantlement of tactical nuclear weapons, contributing to the broader trend of nuclear disarmament.

The strategic stability achieved through the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons paved the way for further progress in arms control and confidence-building measures between major nuclear powers. The recognition of the unpredictable nature of nuclear escalation underscored the imperative for continued efforts to limit nuclear proliferation and mitigate the risks of nuclear conflict.

In conclusion, the extension of tactical nuclear weapon reductions during the 1980s and 1990s represents a pivotal chapter in the history of nuclear disarmament. Amidst shifting geopolitical dynamics and technological advancements, concerted international efforts were instrumental in fostering strategic stability and enhancing global security.

The Crossroads of Nuclear Strategy: Assessing the Resurgence of Tactical Nuclear Weapons

In the contemporary landscape of global security, the resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons has emerged as a contentious issue, posing significant implications for international stability and strategic deterrence. Amidst escalating tensions and evolving geopolitical dynamics, the debate surrounding the role and utility of tactical nuclear capabilities has garnered renewed attention from policymakers, defense experts, and military strategists worldwide.

The period following the Cold War witnessed concerted efforts by several nations to reduce and eliminate tactical nuclear weapons from their arsenals, driven by the recognition of the destabilizing effects of these weapons on deterrence dynamics. However, recent developments suggest a potential reversal of this trend, raising concerns about the resurgence of tactical nuclear capabilities and its implications for global security.

The UN Secretary General’s call for an end to tactical nuclear weapons in 2023 highlighted growing international concerns over the proliferation and deployment of these weapons. Simultaneously, Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus and threats of their use in Ukraine underscored the precarious nature of the current geopolitical landscape.

Amidst these developments, there is a discernible shift in the discourse surrounding tactical nuclear weapons, with some advocating for their expansion as a means of enhancing deterrence and strategic flexibility. Proponents of this view argue that the acquisition of tactical nuclear capabilities would address perceived gaps in deterrence and increase pressure on potential adversaries.

However, such arguments are not without contention. Critics of the resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons warn of the inherent risks and uncertainties associated with their deployment. They argue that the proliferation of these weapons could exacerbate arms racing dynamics and increase the likelihood of nuclear escalation in regional conflicts.

The debate surrounding the resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons is further complicated by divergent views on Russia’s nuclear posture and doctrine. While some analysts suggest that Russia has adopted a more restrained approach to the use of tactical nuclear weapons, others warn of the continued ambiguity surrounding Russia’s escalation strategies.

Central to the debate is the question of whether the pursuit of tactical nuclear capabilities enhances or undermines strategic stability. Proponents argue that tactical nuclear weapons provide additional options for deterrence and crisis management, while critics warn of the dangers of nuclear brinkmanship and unintended escalation.

The controversy surrounding the proposed reintroduction of the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) by the United States exemplifies the complexities of the current debate. While proponents cite the need to restore parity with Russia and enhance strategic flexibility, critics caution against the risks of destabilizing arms competition and miscalculation.

As nations navigate the complexities of the contemporary security landscape, the resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons represents a critical inflection point in the evolution of nuclear strategy. The decisions made in the coming years will shape the future trajectory of global security and have far-reaching implications for international stability and peace.

The resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons poses significant challenges and uncertainties for the international community. As policymakers and defense officials grapple with the complexities of nuclear strategy, it is imperative to carefully assess the risks and implications of pursuing tactical nuclear capabilities in an increasingly uncertain world.

Navigating the Perils of Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Call to Preserve Global Stability

Amidst growing debates surrounding the resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons, the international community faces a critical juncture in its efforts to safeguard global stability and prevent the proliferation of these inherently destabilizing weapons. While the world has made significant strides in reducing and eliminating tactical nuclear capabilities, recent developments underscore the urgent need to address emerging challenges and reinforce commitments to arms control and disarmament.

At the forefront of these concerns is the disproportionate possession of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia, which maintains a diverse arsenal encompassing ground- and submarine-launched cruise missiles, anti-ship weapons, and surface-to-air missiles. Despite its isolation in this regard, Russia’s continued reliance on tactical nuclear capabilities raises serious questions about the trajectory of global security and the potential for renewed arms competition.

Moreover, the emergence of Pakistan as a nuclear-armed state with its own arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons adds a new dimension to the debate, amplifying fears of nuclear proliferation and the heightened risk of miscalculation leading to nuclear escalation. The international community must remain vigilant in addressing these concerns and upholding the principles of nuclear non-proliferation.

While the current resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons remains relatively contained, it underscores the need for concerted action to prevent their further proliferation and reinforce existing norms against their use. The risks associated with the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons are manifold, ranging from increased ambiguity in crisis situations to the erosion of longstanding taboos against the use of nuclear weapons.

In light of these challenges, policymakers must heed the lessons of history and recognize the dangers posed by the normalization of tactical nuclear capabilities in conflict scenarios. Rather than succumbing to Cold War-era thinking, there is an urgent need to explore alternative pathways that prioritize diplomacy, arms control, and disarmament as means of promoting global security and stability.

As the debate surrounding tactical nuclear weapons continues to evolve, it is imperative that nations act in concert to address the underlying drivers of insecurity and reduce the risks of nuclear escalation. By embracing a comprehensive approach that emphasizes dialogue, transparency, and confidence-building measures, the international community can lay the groundwork for a future free from the specter of nuclear conflict.

The resurgence of tactical nuclear weapons presents a formidable challenge to global stability, requiring a concerted and coordinated response from the international community. By seizing the opportunity to halt a reversal of progress and reinforce commitments to arms control and disarmament, nations can chart a course towards a safer and more secure world for generations to come.

Strengthening NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture: Responding to Russia’s Aggression

In recent years, the security landscape in the Euro-Atlantic region has grown increasingly complex and volatile, with Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine posing one of the most significant threats in decades. In response to this evolving security environment, NATO Allies have embarked on a comprehensive effort to bolster the Alliance’s deterrence and defense capabilities, setting a new baseline for collective security.

The 2022 Strategic Concept, a pivotal document for NATO, underscores the Alliance’s commitment to significantly enhance its deterrence and defense posture to counter any potential aggression effectively. At the Madrid Summit, held in the aftermath of Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, Allies took concrete measures to fortify NATO’s capabilities and readiness.

Central to NATO’s updated posture is a 360-degree approach, which aims to strengthen the Alliance’s defenses across multiple domains, including land, air, maritime, cyber, and space. This comprehensive approach reflects the recognition that modern security threats are multifaceted and require a holistic response.

Key to this new baseline is the ongoing military adaptation efforts, which include the full implementation and operationalization of two critical military concepts: the Concept for the Deterrence and Defense of the Euro-Atlantic Area and the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept. The former focuses on immediate force employment to deter and defend against present threats, while the latter provides a strategic vision for the Alliance’s long-term military development, ensuring its continued strength and relevance.

Furthermore, NATO’s response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been characterized by concrete actions to enhance the Alliance’s forward presence and capabilities. This includes the deployment of additional multinational battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance, effectively doubling the number of troops on the ground and extending NATO’s forward presence from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. These forward defenses serve as a visible demonstration of Allies’ solidarity and determination to protect Alliance territory.

In addition to bolstering forward defenses, NATO Allies are significantly increasing the number of high-readiness forces and improving the Alliance’s ability to reinforce rapidly in times of crisis. This involves pre-positioning equipment, enhancing infrastructure, and stockpiling military supplies to ensure a swift and effective response to any potential aggression.

The decisions taken by NATO Allies reflect a collective commitment to defending the Alliance’s territory and populations against evolving security threats. Moreover, they underscore NATO’s adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity, reaffirming the Alliance’s role as a cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security.

NATO’s Unprecedented Defence Spending Surge: A Decade of Progress and Challenges

On Wednesday, February 14, 2024, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO unveiled the latest defense spending figures, marking a significant milestone in the alliance’s commitment to bolstering collective defense capabilities. The figures showcased an extraordinary surge in defense expenditures among European Allies and Canada, underlining a steadfast dedication to fortifying NATO’s defense posture in an increasingly complex global security landscape.

Since the inception of the Defence Investment Pledge in 2014, European Allies and Canada have demonstrated an unwavering commitment by injecting over $600 billion into defense initiatives. Secretary General Stoltenberg, in a statement previewing the upcoming meetings of Defense Ministers, emphasized the remarkable trajectory of defense spending, noting a substantial real increase of 11% in 2023 across European Allies and Canada. This surge, he asserted, constitutes an unprecedented rise in defense investment, indicative of a collective determination to reinforce NATO’s capabilities.

In his address, Secretary General Stoltenberg projected an optimistic outlook for 2024, anticipating that 18 Allies would meet the long-standing 2% of GDP defense spending target—an ambitious feat considering that in 2014, only three Allies achieved this milestone. The anticipated 2% of GDP investment in defense by European Allies in 2024, totaling $380 billion, marks a historic juncture for NATO, symbolizing a tangible manifestation of their commitment to collective security.

Stoltenberg’s remarks underscored the substantial progress made over the past decade, with defense spending among NATO Allies in Europe steadily increasing from 1.47% of collective GDP in 2014 to the projected 2% in 2024. This upward trajectory reflects a concerted effort to address emerging security challenges and reaffirm NATO’s core principle of collective defense.

Table – Defence expenditure in 2015 prices and as a % of GDP NATO Europe

TABLE – GDP and defence expenditures in 2015 prices (billion USD)

However, amidst the optimism surrounding the surge in defense spending, Secretary General Stoltenberg also highlighted persistent challenges. While acknowledging the significant strides made by European Allies in boosting defense budgets, he cautioned that some Allies still lag behind in meeting the 2% of GDP target. The commitment reaffirmed at the Vilnius Summit underscores the imperative for all Allies to uphold their obligations, as 2% of GDP represents the minimum threshold necessary to ensure NATO’s collective defense capabilities remain robust and effective.

The journey towards achieving and sustaining the 2% of GDP defense spending target has been marked by concerted efforts and incremental progress. The 2024 projections signify a culmination of these endeavors, with NATO poised to reach a historic milestone in its defense expenditure commitments. Nevertheless, the road ahead remains fraught with challenges, necessitating continued vigilance and commitment from all NATO Allies to fortify the alliance’s collective defense capabilities amidst evolving security threats.

As NATO embarks on this new phase of enhanced defense spending, the alliance reaffirms its unwavering commitment to safeguarding the security and stability of its member states, thereby ensuring a safer and more secure future for generations to come.

NATO’s Military Presence in the East of the Alliance

8 Multinational Battlegroups (BG):

Mission: Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence

  • Multinational BG Bulgaria. Framework nation: Italy
  • Multinational BG Estonia. Framework nation: United Kingdom
  • Multinational BG Hungary. Framework nation: Hungary
  • Multinational BG Latvia. Framework nation: Canada
  • Multinational BG Lithuania. Framework nation: Germany
  • Multinational BG Poland. Framework nation: United States
  • Multinational BG Romania. Framework nation: France
  • Multinational BG Slovakia. Framework nation: Czechia

Multinational Headquarters (HQ):

Mission: Command and control of deployed NATO troops

  • HQ Multinational Corps-NE. Host nation: Poland
  • HQ Multinational Division-North. Host nation: Latvia
  • HQ Multinational Division-NE. Host nation: Poland
  • HQ Multinational Division-Centre. Host nation: Hungary
  • HQ Multinational Corps-South. Host nation: Romania
  • HQ Multinational Division-SE. Host nation: Romania
  • HQ Multinational Brigade-SE. Host nation: Romania

Contributing nations:

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Türkiye, United Kingdom, United States

Tailored Forward Presence

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence
  • Location:         Bulgaria, Romania
  • Contributors: Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Türkiye

NATO Force Integration Units

  • Mission:            Facilitating the rapid deployment of NATO forces
  • Location:         Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia

Air Defence

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s air defences
  • Location:         Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia
  • Contributors: France, Germany, Spain, United States

Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

  • Mission:            Supporting decision-makers with timely information and intelligence
  • Contributors: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Türkiye, United Kingdom, United States, NATO (Alliance Ground Surveillance system, AWACS aircraft)

AWACS Patrols

  • Mission:            Patrolling the skies over eastern Europe for early detection of air threats
  • Contributors: France, Türkiye, NATO AWACS aircraft

Air Policing

  • Mission:            Fighter jets at high alert, 24/7. Protecting the airspace of the eastern flank of the Alliance
  • Location:         Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania
  • Contributors: Belgium, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, United Kingdom, United States

Carrier Strike Groups

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence at sea and in the air
  • Location:         The Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic, Mediterranean and North Seas
  • Contributors: France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States

Amphibious Task Force

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence at sea and on land
  • Location:         The Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic, Mediterranean and North Seas
  • Contributors: United Kingdom, United States

NATO Enhances Command and Control Capabilities

The 2022 Madrid Summit marked a pivotal moment for NATO as Allied Heads of State and Government convened to chart the course for the organization’s command and control adaptation. With the overarching goal of fortifying a robust, resilient, and integrated command structure for deterrence and defense, as well as swift crisis response, significant developments unfolded throughout the year, reshaping NATO’s operational landscape.

In June 2022, a significant milestone was achieved when the Supreme Allied Commander Europe officially declared Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium, as having attained full operational capability in its capacity as a strategic warfighting headquarters. This declaration underscored the command’s readiness to lead and coordinate warfighting processes and functions at the strategic level, showcasing NATO’s commitment to maintaining a formidable defense posture.

A pivotal aspect of NATO’s evolving strategy is its embrace of an all-domain approach to warfare. In line with this vision, Allies collectively decided to incorporate the multinational Joint Electronic Warfare Core Staff into the NATO Command Structure. This strategic move not only ensures adequate resourcing by all member states for this critical capability but also consolidates electronic warfare expertise within the Cyberspace Operations Centre in Mons, Belgium. This integration signals NATO’s recognition of the indispensable role of electronic warfare in modern conflicts and underscores its determination to stay ahead of emerging threats in the cyber domain.

In November 2022, another significant development unfolded with the declaration of full operational capability by Allied Maritime Command in Northwood, United Kingdom. Tasked with executing control over NATO maritime assets and serving as the theater maritime advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, this command center represents a vital component of NATO’s maritime strategy. Achieving full operational capability reaffirms NATO’s commitment to maritime security and underscores its capability to effectively respond to threats and challenges in the maritime domain.

The adaptation of NATO’s command and control structure reflects a proactive approach to addressing evolving security challenges. By consolidating expertise, enhancing interoperability, and integrating new capabilities, NATO seeks to bolster its readiness to counter emerging threats effectively. These developments underscore NATO’s continued relevance in an ever-changing security landscape and its unwavering commitment to collective defense and deterrence.

As NATO continues to adapt and evolve, it remains imperative for member states to uphold their commitments to collective defense and contribute actively to the alliance’s capabilities. Through sustained investment in defense capabilities, cooperation in joint operations, and commitment to shared strategic objectives, NATO stands poised to confront present and future security challenges with strength and unity.

The adaptation of NATO’s command and control capabilities represents a pivotal step in ensuring the alliance’s readiness to address contemporary security challenges. By leveraging technological advancements, enhancing interoperability, and consolidating expertise, NATO reaffirms its position as a cornerstone of international security and a bulwark against emerging threats. As the geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, NATO’s ability to adapt and innovate will be essential in safeguarding the collective security of its member states and promoting stability in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond.

Evolution of NATO’s Tasks, Missions, Operations and Activities

Safeguarding Strategic Interests: Enhancing Deterrence and Defense in Space

In 2022, the importance of space as a critical domain for defense and security became increasingly evident to the members of the Alliance. With the proliferation of satellites and their indispensable role in various military and civilian operations, NATO accelerated its efforts to bolster its capabilities in space. The reliance on satellite-enabled services for intelligence, early warning systems, navigation, and communication underscored the imperative for NATO to safeguard its space assets against emerging threats.

During the 2022 Madrid Summit, Alliance members highlighted the escalating risks in the space security environment. Strategic competitors and potential adversaries were identified as investing in technologies aimed at restricting NATO’s access to space, degrading space capabilities, and targeting both civilian and military infrastructure. Recognizing these challenges, NATO emphasized the necessity of maintaining secure access to space and cyberspace for effective deterrence and defense.

The adoption of the 2022 Strategic Concept reiterated NATO’s commitment to enhancing its operational capabilities in space and cyberspace. Leaders pledged to bolster resilience in space capabilities and to employ all available tools to prevent, detect, counter, and respond to threats. Central to this commitment was the decision to integrate space considerations into NATO’s exercises and operations comprehensively.

The NATO Space Centre, situated at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany, underwent significant upgrades in 2022. Strengthening its capacity and connectivity with national space centers, the Centre played a pivotal role in supporting Alliance operations, particularly during Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. By providing essential situational awareness, intelligence, and decision-making support, the Centre demonstrated its critical function in managing crises and conflicts.

Satellite imagery, furnished by Allied nations, proved invaluable in facilitating timely intelligence gathering and monitoring of unfolding situations. This real-time data was instrumental in informing strategic decision-making and bolstering NATO’s response capabilities. Moreover, NATO’s commitment to integrating space considerations into exercises such as Loyal Leda 2022, Neptune Strike 2022, Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise 2022, and Dynamic Mongoose 2022 showcased its proactive approach to maintaining operational superiority and resilience against potential disruptions.

In parallel with operational enhancements, NATO embarked on establishing a Space Centre of Excellence in Toulouse, France. The Centre aims to serve as a hub for developing space doctrine, standardization efforts, education, training, and experimentation. By fostering collaboration and innovation, the Centre is poised to advance NATO’s capabilities in space and ensure its readiness to confront evolving threats.

Emphasizing responsible behavior in space, Allies rallied behind the United States’ decision to refrain from conducting destructive anti-satellite missile tests in April 2022. This unilateral commitment underscored NATO’s collective commitment to promoting security and sustainability in space. Allies also pledged support for international initiatives within the United Nations aimed at establishing norms, rules, and principles to mitigate space threats and enhance transparency and confidence-building measures.

NATO’s concerted efforts to enhance deterrence and defense in space reflect its recognition of space as a vital domain for safeguarding strategic interests. By bolstering operational capabilities, fostering cooperation, and promoting responsible behavior, NATO is poised to navigate the complexities of the evolving space security landscape and uphold its commitment to collective security in the 21st century.

NATO Response Force / Very High Readiness Joint Task Force

  • Mission:            Ready to deploy at short notice for crisis management or collective defence
  • Commanding HQ:  Allied Joint Force Command Naples
  • Contributors:                NATO Response Force (NRF): 26 Allies – Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF): 26 Allies

Standing Naval Forces / VJTF (Maritime)

  • Mission:            Providing the Alliance with a continuous naval presence
  • Location:         The Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic, Mediterranean and North Seas
  • Contributors: Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG1 & 2), Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups (SNMCMG1 & 2). Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Türkiye, United Kingdom, United States

Ballistic Missile Defence

  • Mission:            Protecting NATO’s populations, territory and forces
  • Location:    Germany, Poland, Romania, Spain, Türkiye
  • Contributors: United States (US Aegis BMD-capable ships, Aegis Ashore, BMD Tracking sensor, Aegis Ashore -under construction), NATO (Allied Air Command)

Regional Hub for the South

  • Mission:            Improving regional understanding and anticipation of threats emanating from the south
  • Location:         Allied Joint Force Command Naples
  • Contributors: 22 Allies provide Voluntary National Contributions and reassigned JFC Naples staff

Support and Assurance for Türkiye

  • Mission:            Reinforcing air defences and providing tailored assurance measures for Türkiye
  • Location:         Türkiye
  • Contributors: Spain (surface-to-air missile batteries), Poland (maritime patrol aircraft), NATO (AWACS aircraft). Allies also contribute through increased Standing Naval Forces port calls, participation in exercises and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance activities.

Iceland Peacetime Preparedness

  • Mission:            Protecting Iceland’s airspace
  • Location:         Iceland
  • Contributors: Denmark, Italy, Portugal

AWACS Patrols

  • Mission:            Patrolling the skies over eastern Europe for early detection of air threats
  • Contributors: France, Türkiye, NATO AWACS aircraft

Forward Presence Forces and Multinational Headquarters

  • 8 Multinational Battlegroups (BG):
    • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence
    • Location:         Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia
  • Multinational Headquarters (HQ):
    • Mission:            Command and control of deployed NATO troops
    • Location:         Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania
    • Contributing nations: See detailed map on page 30

Tailored Forward Presence

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence
  • Location:         Bulgaria, Romania
  • Contributors: See detailed map on page 30

NATO Force Integration Units

  • Mission:            Facilitating the rapid deployment of NATO forces
  • Location:         Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia
  • Contributors: 27 Allies and partner nations

Air Defence

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s air defences
  • Location:         Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia
  • Contributors: Germany, France, Spain, United States

Air Policing

  • Mission:            Protecting the airspace of the eastern flank of the Alliance
  • Location:         Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania

Carrier Strike Groups

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence at sea and in the air
  • Location:         The Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic, Mediterranean and North Seas
  • Contributors: France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States

Amphibious Task Force

  • Mission:            Strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence at sea and on land
  • Location:         The Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic, Mediterranean and North Seas
  • Contributors: United Kingdom, United States

Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

  • Mission:            Supporting decision-makers with timely information and intelligence
  • Contributors: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Türkiye, United Kingdom, United States, NATO (Alliance Ground Surveillance system, AWACS aircraft)

Ensuring Safe, Secure and Effective Nuclear Deterrence

In the realm of global security, NATO stands as a bulwark against coercion and aggression, with its nuclear capability serving as a cornerstone for preserving peace. Emphasized within NATO’s Strategic Concept is the indispensable role of strategic nuclear forces in safeguarding the Alliance’s security. Particularly notable are the contributions of US nuclear weapons deployed in Europe and the vital support provided by dual-capable aircraft to NATO’s nuclear deterrence mission. Undeniably, as long as nuclear weapons endure, NATO remains committed to its role as a nuclear alliance, while simultaneously aspiring towards a world free from such weapons. Throughout the year 2022, NATO undertook comprehensive measures to uphold the credibility, effectiveness, safety, and security of its nuclear deterrent mission, as reaffirmed in the new Strategic Concept.

A pivotal event in this endeavor was the convening of NATO Defence Ministers for a meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group in February. This gathering, which serves as NATO’s principal body on nuclear affairs, was instrumental in assessing concerning nuclear developments globally, with a particular focus on Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Discussions during this session underscored the evolving security landscape and the imperative for NATO to adapt its deterrence strategies accordingly.

September witnessed the convening of the annual Nuclear Policy Symposium, hosted by the NATO Nuclear Policy Directorate in collaboration with Belgium. This symposium served as a platform for Allied policymakers and leading experts to engage in substantive discourse on nuclear-related matters amidst a significantly altered security environment. Of notable concern were Russia’s expanding capabilities and belligerent actions, the rapid proliferation of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal, and developments pertaining to nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Such forums play a critical role in fostering collective understanding and shaping NATO’s response to emerging threats.

The Nuclear Planning Group reconvened in October at the level of Defence Ministers, against the backdrop of escalating tensions fueled by Russia’s aggressive actions in its conflict with Ukraine. Of particular concern was Russia’s provocative nuclear sabre-rattling, which posed a direct challenge to regional stability. This session also provided a platform for NATO to receive briefings on the meticulously planned annual nuclear exercise, Steadfast Noon 2022. The exercise, spanning across 14 participating countries, involved the deployment of up to 60 aircraft of diverse types, including fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, alongside surveillance and tanker aircraft. Training activities were conducted over Belgium, the host nation, as well as over the North Sea and the United Kingdom. Such exercises are integral to maintaining the readiness and interoperability of NATO forces in the realm of nuclear deterrence.


The emergence of the leaked classified Russian military files has brought into sharp focus the evolving nature of nuclear strategy and its profound implications for global security. While the authenticity of these documents remains a subject of scrutiny, their contents have ignited intense debate and raised critical questions about the future of strategic stability in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.

The revelations contained within these files underscore the urgent need for enhanced transparency and dialogue among nations to address the challenges of nuclear proliferation, deterrence, and arms control. In an era marked by persistent tensions and geopolitical rivalries, the specter of nuclear conflict looms large, casting a shadow over diplomatic efforts to maintain peace and security.

As policymakers and experts grapple with the implications of these revelations, it is clear that the status quo is no longer tenable. The traditional paradigms of deterrence and escalation control must be reexamined in light of evolving threats and technological advancements. Moreover, the imperative to strengthen arms control mechanisms, crisis communication protocols, and confidence-building measures has never been more pressing.

At the same time, the leaked Russian military files serve as a stark reminder of the existential risks posed by nuclear weapons and the imperative of collective action to prevent their use. Diplomatic initiatives aimed at fostering greater understanding, cooperation, and trust among nuclear-armed states are essential to averting the catastrophic consequences of nuclear conflict.

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