Publication details

Weapons as political symbolism: the role of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.



Year of publication 2014
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source European Security
Keywords tactical nuclear weapons; nuclear deterrence; NATO; trans-Atlantic relationship; Russian nuclear weapons
Description This study evaluates the role of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) for NATO today. Historically, TNWs fulfill five objectives. First, they provide a deterrent by denial capability. Second, TNWs serve to deter TNWs by other countries. Third, as the most ‘ useable ’ of nuclear weapons, they offer militaries solutions to a small target set of hardened targets. Fourth, they bridge the interface between nuclear and conventional forces, maintaining linkage up the ladder of escalation. Fifth, they serve as a powerful political symbol of an extended deterrent commitment. While the perception is that their utility for NATO in plausible European contingencies is low, we argue that there is variation in the political and military roles of TNWs. We submit that, in general, the first role has lost its significance but the other objectives remain relevant to NATO ’ s present political circumstances, especially as a symbol of the transatlantic relationship and as a safeguard against Russian belligerence. Accordingly, TNWs remain a significant part of NATO ’ s capabilities and should remain deployed in Europe.

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