Russia’s nuclear strategy exposes NATO’s deterrence problem

An infographic showing estimated inventories of nuclear warheads around the globe in April 2017
Strategic nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States are roughly symmetrical, but a dangerous imbalance has emerged on the tactical level (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • The threat of NATO-Russia nuclear conflict, dormant since the Cold War, has returned as Russia changed its defense strategy
  • Russia’s conventional forces are weaker than NATO’s, but its military seeks to close the gap with a hair-trigger nuclear strategy
  • NATO currently cannot respond to a low-yield, local nuclear attack without putting the whole world in peril

The end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago was supposed to have eradicated the threat of a nuclear war. Today, however, with increasingly hostile relations between Russia and NATO, that belief is beginning to look premature. While it remains unlikely that either side would willingly launch strategic nuclear weapons, the old standoff has acquired a new twist that places NATO at a serious disadvantage: the Russian military leadership appears to be cultivating a belief that it could get away with a limited nuclear strike.

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