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Tactical Nuclear Fantasists

one category of nuclear weapon has continued to mark a grey area, lending a disturbed, even lunatic’s legitimacy to the battlefield deployment of such weapons. The tactical nuclear weapon is deceptively seductive to military planners.

Australian Independent Media, October 27, 2022 by: Dr Binoy Kampmark

Bogeyman politics tends to be flatly unimaginative. The image of the nuclear-mad Russian President, counting his diminishing options, has caught the imagination of press and propaganda outlets across the West. Will Mad Vlad go the distance and deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine?

Certainly, his rhetoric suggests the possibility. Vladimir Putin has promised to “make use of all weapon systems available to us” in the event Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened. ………….

The moment the innocents of Hiroshima were incinerated in August 1945, a weapon of mass lethality became a political option, the means to extract concessions and terrify opponents. Even more disturbingly, it also created an incentive on the part of powers to prevent others from getting it, thereby creating an exclusive club equipped with special amenities and privileges.

During a number of teeth-chattering moments of the Cold War, the use of nuclear weapons was contemplated. Historians note Cuba, Berlin and the Middle East. That they were not actually unleashed was a matter of unalloyed dumb luck and faux theory. Over time, this spawned an accepted, if nonsensical literature about the merits of having such lethal means. Precisely because of their potency, such weapons would never be used. Possessing them would be, to use a modern comparison, much like having unconvertible digital currency of huge value, more a matter of impressing your rivals than drawing direct benefit from them.

Having said that, one category of nuclear weapon has continued to mark a grey area, lending a disturbed, even lunatic’s legitimacy to the battlefield deployment of such weapons. The tactical nuclear weapon is deceptively seductive to military planners. Being of lower yield than their strategic, all-killing counterparts, they are seen as, in the words of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “more militarily useful, and less politically objectionable, and thus more likely to be used.” This does little to dampen the awful reality that such weapons can have yields greater than that of the first atomic weapon ever used.

The nature of such weapons is disturbingly nebulous in the military argot. In 2018, James Mattis, as US Secretary of Defense, opined to the House Armed Services Committee that there was no “such thing as a ‘tactical nuclear weapon’. Any nuclear weapon used at any time is a strategic game changer.”

Tactical nuclear weapons can comprise any number of devices with yields ranging from 1 kiloton to 50 kilotons. Alistair Millar, writing for Arms Control Today, mentions a few, including nuclear landmines, nuclear artillery shells, and missile warheads dropped by air or launched by missiles.

The 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review does away with much of the sentiment of the 2010 NPR in stressing the need to improve capabilities against Russia in various areas, including nonstrategic nuclear options. Moscow is specifically blamed for embracing a “limited first use” policy involving low-yield weapons that might “provide coercive advantage in crises and at lower levels of conflict.”……………………..

Ambiguity when it comes to a prospective use of nuclear weapons is considered one of the great flaws of military and political planning. Each party should know what the other proposes to do in certain circumstances, be it in terms of command structure, control and communications. Who has the authority to launch what weapons and when? What are the safeguards to cope with error? ………………….

Opacity is another factor complicating the whole business of how we cope with nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Numbers regarding the world’s tactical nuclear stockpiles remain sketchy………..

Paradoxically, even as such measures as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons gather greater popularity, the old members of the nuclear club continue to make mischief, modernising and adjusting their arsenals with little intention of ever abolishing them. The sheer allure of such weapons is unlikely to dissipate till their political dividends diminish. In the Ukraine War, such dividends abound.

October 26, 2022 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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