Despite its largely unproven history of nuclear war, Russia has continued its “comprehensive modernisation” programme, replacing old Soviet-era weapons with new types. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that Russia’s nuclear arsenal will reach the size of the Hiroshima bomb by early 2022. It is not known how many nuclear weapons Russia actually has, but some Russian delivery vehicles near the Ukraine are dual-capable, making them more vulnerable than ever to being used in an attack.
The Russian government has put its nuclear forces on “special alert” to demonstrate its military might. This move has raised concerns around the world, as many countries view nuclear weapons as a necessary deterrent and guarantee of national security. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads, with about 1,500 of those warheads set to be decommissioned. However, there is a growing concern about Russian escalation.
There are two kinds of tactical nuclear weapons. The smaller ones have a much lower warhead, and they only have limited potential to threaten life across Europe. Depending on where the strike occurs, tactical nuclear weapons are smaller and less lethal than their larger counterparts. And because they are used to kill people in one area, a nuclear strike on that area would be less likely to damage a large area. A large tactical nuclear weapon would probably be used in a city or a seaside area. If used, a single missile could reach all of Europe.
Russia’s nuclear arsenal is large and versatile. Its missiles, submarines, and aircraft are capable of launching nuclear weapons. The country has spent approximately US$8 billion since 1990 to build up its nuclear force. The former Soviet Union tested nearly seven hundred nuclear weapons between 1949 and 1990. These tests took place in Semipalatinsk, modern-day Kazakhstan. It did not participate in the TPNW negotiations in 2017, and it is still not clear what the exact number is.
While the Russian government is keen to avoid a nuclear war, its military has warned that it could use nuclear force to deter Western meddling in Ukraine. In response, Putin’s atomic forces have been put on high alert and the military has even targeted nuclear power plants. With these new moves, the Russians have broken a 76-year-old taboo that was put in place to prevent nuclear war.
NATO must not attack Ukraine, as this could provoke an attack by Russia. It could also be perceived as an act of aggression or pre-emptive defense, resulting in a nuclear war with Russia. If NATO attacks Russia, it leaves Ukraine vulnerable to a Russian attack that could cause hundreds of thousands of casualties. And that is not to mention the damage that would be done to the NATO and US strategic assets. If Russia does choose to use its nuclear weapons, it will be at the mercy of the United States.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty requires states to reduce or eliminate their nuclear arsenals, but India and Pakistan have yet to join. Israel, on the other hand, never formally acknowledged its nuclear programme. The UK has no record of how many nuclear warheads it has deployed. Ukraine, meanwhile, does not have any nuclear weapons. However, President Putin has accused Ukraine of trying to acquire them. There is no clear answer to this question.