world news US President Joe Biden warned last week that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is now the highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis as Russia and North Korea engage in sabre-rattling on the use of “tactical” nuclear weapons. Such weapons are less destructive than “strategic” weapons designed to wipe out entire cities. But analysts worry that this talk of tactical weapons risks normalising weapons of mass destruction.
Nuclear-armed authoritarian states are increasingly invoking the spectre of using “tactical” nuclear weapons. North Korea said on Monday that it had simulated a “tactical” nuclear attack on South Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly hinted at using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine as Moscow suffers heavy losses on the battlefield.
“Until this summer, people talked about nuclear weapons without really specifying what type they were – but then people started using this word ‘tactical’ increasingly often,” said Jean-Marie Collin, spokesman for the French branch of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Battlefield weapons?Tactical nuclear weapons differ from the more commonly known “strategic” weapons principally due to the “technicalities” of physics, noted Alexandre Vautravers, a defence analyst and editor of specialist publication the Swiss Military Review.
Whereas a nuclear ballistic missile hits hard on all front –including the force of the blast, thermal impact, radiation and electromagnetic disturbances – a tactical nuclear weapon seeks to “maximise the shock wave while minimising other undesirable effects”, Vautravers said, noting that such a weapon might be preferable if the country deploying it later “needs to get its troops across the affected area”.