Atomic Accounting: A New Estimate of Russia’s Non-Strategic Nuclear Forces
As Russia’s strategic nuclear forces have been drawn down in parallel with those of the US, its stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons has begun to play a greater role in the arms-control policies of Western states. But do we know how many non-strategic warheads Russia actually has?
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While decades of verified strategic force reductions have given the US and Russia a relatively clear picture of each other’s strategic forces, non-strategic nuclear weapons have never been subject to any verifiable agreement or transparency regime. Furthermore, the sources and methods used to develop existing estimates are opaque.
To develop a new estimate of Russia’s non-strategic nuclear forces, this study draws from open-source information to derive assignment rules for operational warheads in military use. Applying these to available data regarding Russia’s nuclear-capable military systems suggests that, as of mid-2012, Russia maintains approximately 1,000 operationally assigned non-strategic nuclear warheads. This estimate represents a significantly lower number of operationally assigned and deliverable non-strategic nuclear warheads than previously thought. Other publicly available estimates, by contrast, have indicated that Russia maintains a stockpile of approximately 2,000 operationally assigned non-strategic nuclear weapons.
The findings of this paper challenge the assumption that Russia holds a large supremacy in non-strategic warheads: if the US and NATO wish to negotiate non-strategic nuclear reductions with Russia, this paper suggests that they will need to acknowledge the diverse elements and geographically dispersed tasks of Russia’s stockpile, and find a new way of prompting Russia to reassess its security needs.
Erratum: for copies downloaded before 16 November 2012, please note that there is an error in the table in Appendix 1. This has now been amended. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.
About the Author
Dr Igor Sutyagin is a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute. His research is concerned with Russian foreign policy, domestic politics, developments in strategic armament and nuclear arms control, anti-ballistic missile defence systems and policy, and the Russian armed forces.
Prior to joining RUSI, Dr Sutyagin worked on American and Canadian studies at the Russian Academy of Science as head of section in the Political-Military Studies Department. He participated as an off-site expert for the Soviet delegation at the Conventional Forces in Europe talks; worked extensively on US and Russian naval development programmes and US-Russian naval co-operation; US nuclear arsenal modernization; and US and Russian strategic armament and ballistic missile defence issues. He has authored over 120 articles and booklets published in the Soviet Union/Russia, United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland, including more than twenty-five articles in the specialist magazines of the Russian General Staff, Main Naval Staff, and the Ministry of Defence, and a number of articles and booklets published by the Center for Naval Analyses in the USA. He is also a co-author of Russian Strategic Nuclear Weapons (Moscow: IzdAT, 1998).
Dr Sutyagin has a PhD in Contemporary History from the Institute for US and Canadian Studies in Moscow and a Master’s degree in radio physics and electronics from Moscow State University. He is also a graduate of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Dr Sutyagin has previously held fellowships at the King’s College, London and Stanford University.