So, Russia’s got a substantially larger inventory of tactical nukes than we, and have been increasingly cavalier about brandishing them. That can’t be good. Gabriel Schoenfeld writes fairly persuasively on the topic in today’s WSJ:
Yet matters are very different at the tactical, or short-range, level. Here, the U.S., acting unilaterally and with virtually no fanfare, sharply cut back its stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear warheads. As far back as 1991, the U.S. began to retire all of its nuclear warheads for short-range ballistic missiles, artillery and antisubmarine warfare. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, not one of these weapons exists today. The same authoritative publication estimates that the number of tactical warheads in the U.S. arsenal has dwindled from thousands to approximately 500.
Russia has also reduced the size of its tactical nuclear arsenal, but starting from much higher levels and at a slower pace, leaving it with an estimated 5,000 such devices — 10 times the number of tactical weapons held by the U.S. Such a disparity would be one thing if we were contending with a stable, postcommunist regime moving in the direction of democracy and integration with the West. That was the Russia we anticipated when we began our nuclear build-down. But it is not the Russia we are facing today.
If Russia—however fading a power in the medium-to-long term—keeps staggering around like a belligerent drunk, punching those who strike him as enemies, we may have to do a major strategic reappraisal of our military and go back to buying large-scale conventional systems, like lots more F-22s, a whole hell of a lot more surface ships, and other very expensive systems that will cause the predictable domestic political convulsions, last seen in the Reagan Administration. This go-around, maybe we’ll insist the Europeans foot their bills and get invested in their own defense.