Russia (and before it, the Soviet Union) has built and maintained a large stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.
The initial thinking was that using a nuke on a battlefield gave leaders an option to make a decisive strike that could stave off defeat without resorting to the use of their biggest nuclear weapons, which after a counterattack would bring a “civilization-ending nuclear exchange,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
On its website, the organization calls that thinking “flawed and dangerous.”
“Tactical nuclear weapons … introduce greater ambiguity, raising the possibility that a country might think it could get away with a limited attack,” the organization said.
Some analysis supports that theory, but the reality is likely to be far from that.
“US war games predict that a conflict involving use of tactical nuclear weapons will quickly spiral out of control,” the Union of Concerned Scientists blog said.
“A Princeton University simulation of a US-Russian conflict that begins with the use of a tactical nuclear weapon predicts rapid escalation that would leave more than 90 million people dead and injured,” it said.
Responding to Putin’s threat last week, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) says the Europe of 2022 is a much more dangerous place to use nuclear arms than the Japan of 1945, which had a smaller population and was relatively isolated.
In Europe today, “a single nuclear detonation would likely kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and injure many more; radioactive fallout could contaminate large areas across multiple countries,” ICAN said on its website.
“Emergency services would not be able to respond effectively and widespread panic would trigger mass movements of people and severe economic disruption. Multiple detonations would of course be much worse,” it added.