Responding to the Russian Tactical Nuclear Threat

The evolution of a Russian tactical nuclear threat may necessitate a revision of US nuclear strategy, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva told Congress Wednesday. He told the House Armed Services Committee that, in the Russian rhetoric of “escalation to de-escalate,” he sees a “willingness to use nuclear weapons.” The doctrine in question seeks to legitimize the use of tailored nuclear strikes as a means of quickly de-escalating a conflict. Russia took a step beyond rhetoric in mid-February by deploying a land-based cruise missile system in violation of a 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Selva told the committee that the deployed system presents “a risk to most of our facilities in Europe, and we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO.” Selva also said that the US military had recently conducted “war games and exercises” related to the tactical nuclear threat and that options for response will be presented to President Donald Trump in the nuclear posture review currently under preparation. In his view, “Russia has no intent to return to compliance” with international treaties, and he said the US is “looking for leverage points” to compel them to do so. While objecting to the semantics of “tactical nuclear weapons,” US Strategic Command boss Gen. John Hyten told the committee that, in terms of stockpiles of such weapons, “the Russian numbers are huge and ours are small.”