A REALISTIC STRATEGY FOR CONTROLLING
TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS
More than ten years after the end of the Cold War, tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) retain their two essential roles: deterrence and warfighting. Only the context has changed. The 1991 Gulf War illustrated the important deterrent role of tactical nuclear weapons. Many observers estimate that the threat of nuclear retaliation dissuaded Saddam Hussein from using chemical and biological weapons against either the Allied troops or Israel. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September against the United States, there is talk about the possible role of TNWs in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the war against States that harbour terrorists. Under current circumstances, TNWs are being considered mainly as a military option. While I do not believe that TNWs will in fact be used, the United States administration is not going to forego this option, and nor ought it. The bottom line is that the deterrent value of a weapon is directly related to the credibility of the threat that it will be used.
Since the 1991 unilateral declarations by former Presidents Bush and Gorbachev, both the United States and Russia have eliminated a large number of TNWs. Nevertheless, the 1991 TNWs regime is still commonly portrayed as weak and inadequate, and there are calls for new and drastic measures to further reduce or perhaps completely eliminate the two countries' TNW arsenals, or for a new multilateral TNWs reduction treaty involving all nuclear-weapon States. I believe that there are substantial difficulties with all of these suggestions and that even if we proceed with the further reduction of TNWs, piling up treaty upon treaty is certainly not an appropriate path to follow.