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Tactical and Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Context: Russian President has stated plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. This is for the first time that Russia is deploying nuclear weapons outside its borders.

Decoding the News

  • The decision of the Russia comes after UK decided to supply armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukraine.
    • Depleted uranium munitions have the capability to overcome defences on tanks and have been described by the UNEP as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal”.
  • Russia says that its decision doesn’t violate any international agreements because the control over the weapons would remain with Russia.
    • Currently, there are no arms control agreements between the U.S. and Russia on tactical nuclear weapons unlike in the case of strategic nuclear weapons.

Strategic Importance of Belarus for Russia

  • Belarus has close military and political ties with Russia and is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), as well as the Eurasian Economic Union.
  • Belarus is positioned strategically between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and Poland, making it very important for Russia. It also borders three NATO membersLithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
  • Belarus has been used as a forward base by Russia, using it as a launchpad to send troops and launch strikes in the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • Belarus is also one such country that has resisted attempts by the West to isolate Russia in the region.
Strategic Importance of Belarus for Russia:
Strategic Importance of Belarus for Russia:

Categorizing Nuclear Weapons

Tactical Nuclear Weapons Strategic Nuclear Weapons
Tactical nuclear weapons refer to category of small nuclear warheads and delivery systems that will be used on the battlefield or for limited strikes. Strategic nuclear weapons are those nuclear weapons that cause greater, large-scale damage.
The smallest of a tactical nuclear weapon can be “one kiloton or less”. The largest can be as big as 100 kilotons. Strategic nuclear weapons are larger (~ 1,000 kilotons) and are launched from longer range.
Tactical nuclear weapons are launched through conventional short-range missile launchers Strategic nuclear weapons are usually launched through land- or submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Tactical weapons have never been limited by any pact between Russia and US. Strategic weapons are subject to arms control agreements between Russia and US.
As of 2023, tactical nuclear weapon has never been used in a combat situation. Strategic nuclear weapons were used by US during the World War II.

Nuclear Weapons Control Treaties

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

  • It is the first legally binding international treaty that comprehensively bans nuclear weapons.
  • The development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, stationing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons is completely prohibited by the treaty.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

  • The NPT is an international treaty that stops the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to achieve the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
    • Currently, four UN member states, India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan, have never signed the NPT.
  • The treaty defines nuclear-weapon states as those countries that have built and tested a nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967.
    • United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China are countries defined as nuclear-weapon states.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)

  • This multilateral treaty bans nuclear weapons test explosions and any other nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments.
  • Even though CTBT was adopted by the UNGA in 1996, it has not come into force, as eight nations have not ratified the treaty.

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