Sometimes, maybe, the status quo is something we need to safeguard, not disrupt. That may be the case when it comes to a new push to abandon the US-Russian mutual prohibition on the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapon systems as part of theater warfighting doctrine.
Since the late 1980s both US and Soviet, now Russian, policy has been to not develop and deploy ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons, including theater-range missiles, because it was agreed that it would be very difficult to prevent a ‘tactical’ exchange in a regional conflict from progressing rapidly to a civilization-ending ‘strategic’ exchange.
But new doubts are arising about the credibility of a strategic deterrent in the case of a local or regional conflict: one which, for example, the US could be involved in, even though the stakes may not put essential US security at risk. In such cases, some US warfighters would like to have the option of threatening counterforce and intermediate range strikes using low-yield nukes. Or, they argue, what if an adversary uses a tactical nuke to “escalate to de-escalate”? Some want to be able to respond in kind. These doubts about classical deterrence, along with a ‘multipolar’ landscape of nuclear-armed states, are the basis for the nuclear boosters’ meme of “The Second Nuclear Age”).