Today, the United States retains about 500 tactical weapons, according to the figures released this year, and experts say about 180 of them are still stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Russia has between 3,000 and 5,000 of them, depending on the estimate, and American officials have said Moscow moved more of them closer to NATO allies as recently as last spring in response to the deployment of American missile defense installations closer to its territory.
In the 21st century, there is no plausible military, political or deterrent justification for the Russian government to deploy several thousand such weapons,” said Frank Miller, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush and now now at the Scowcroft Group in Washington.
Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation believes that any deal to withdraw tactical nukes from Europe would ultimately benefit Russia in the Great Game that is war. And of course, neither belief here is entirely true. Given that Russia has a rather weak conventional military force, it relies on tactical nuclear weapons as a defensive measure to discourage any ideas of invasion or border challenges. As Matt notes, it's all in the context of general military operations and strategy.
Without getting into the specifics of where tactical nuclear weapons are deployed, or the minutae of their operation, I'd simply point out that, for all the well-intentioned efforts to depict nuclear war as its own ballgame with its own rules, war is war. People are killed just as dead by conventional weapons as by nuclear ones. Thus, the balance of conventional forces needs to be considered when assessing the wisdom of a given nuclear deal. In other words, NATO presumably relies less on tactical nukes than the Russians because NATO's conventional forces are more capable than those of Russia. Even if a deal with Russia allowed Russian tactical nukes to be more readily deployable than American ones, that would not ipso facto give Russia an overall strategic advantage. It may be that, even with Russian tactical nukes more easily deployed, NATO forces would still prevail in a ground war. And in the meantime, there would be far fewer tactical nukes overall, reducing the (far more plausible) likelihood of theft or unauthorized use.
We don't need US tactical nukes in Europe, nor do we really need US military forces in terms of Army brigades and Air Force fighter/bomber wings in Europe. Both are there for "security assurance" reasons, so European nations can continue to underfund their defense programs and not worry about the Russian bear coming across the border. It's so indicative of a twen-cen mindset. And what will become an ironic satire of the New START talks, all the Republicans who were moaning about how tac nukes weren't addressed in the treaty will be sure to argue vehemently that we cannot afford to take any out of Europe in the near future.