Russia’s Plan to Deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Belarus and the European Security Architecture

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Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on March 26, 2023 that he plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus,[1] declaring that an important phase has begun in the renewed nuclear competition between the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia. Thus, the “New Cold War” that began with the United States’ withdrawal from the Missile Defense System Agreement in 2002 continues quietly and deeply every day, but in a much more dangerous dimension than the Cold War era and has become much more dangerous.

Putin’s decision demonstrates that an important phase has been reached in this dangerous process. In this sense, it is predicted[2] that both states will begin to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in the near future, following the expiration of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987, starting with Belarus; and it has now become inevitable for this process to continue.

In the post-Cold War period, Europe’s and hence the world’s security architecture has undergone a rapid change. In other words, the new security environment that began with the end of the Cold War did not last as long as expected. The close cooperation between the United States and Russia to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the early days of the Cold War, regulations regarding tactical nuclear weapons that were not subject to a legal process until then, and ultimately the signing of treaties on strategic nuclear weapons, increased hope for a more peaceful world and even laid the groundwork for President Barack Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world at the 2009 Prague Summit. However, this relative peace has also witnessed dangerous initiatives, although they have not attracted much attention.

As a matter of fact, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the 1972 ABM Convention in 2002 and the subsequent emphasis on the National Missile Defense Project to protect U.S. territory from nuclear attacks formed the foundations of the dangerous process taking place in the current situation.

The  United States, which has focused on the development of missile defense systems, has also  made significant progress  in hypersonic missile studies such as the “Global Sudden Strike”. On the other hand, by citing Iran’s threat to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, it has also established a comprehensive missile defense architecture within the framework of NATO in Europe.

The Moscow administration, which perceives these developments as a significant threat, alongside the expansion of NATO, has launched important projects regarding both missile defense systems and nuclear attack weapons systems. However, during this period, nuclear competition has been overshadowed by other issues. In particular, during periods when NATO-Russia relations were at their peak, both the public and officials in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, which hosted the tactical nuclear weapons of the United States in Europe, demanded their withdrawal from their countries, considering these weapons as remnants of the Cold War. However, these developments have not received the attention they deserve in the international public opinion.

During the period in question, the role and importance of tactical nuclear weapons began to be questioned and it was stated that they had no military significance. While the US and Russia are deeply armed; The hope of a world without nuclear weapons has been discussed.

Despite all expectations, this atmosphere of peace did not last long. Russia, which has long perceived NATO’s expansion as a threat to its national security and has defined Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO membership as a “red line” annexed Crimea in 2013 following the events in Ukraine, which changed Europe’s security concerns. The 2014 NATO Wales Summit and subsequent decisions accelerated the alliance’s reshaping, and thus the nuclear competition began to come to the forefront.

Indeed, former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 1987 INF Treaty on October 20, 2018, citing Russia’s violations, and the treaty became null and void. Thus, there is no longer any obstacle to the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons (with a range of 500-5500 km) by both countries, particularly in Europe and around the world.

Nearly 10 years after we talked about European states demanding the withdrawal of American tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, a completely different security architecture has emerged in Europe.  The dangerous process that began with  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has brought to light the nuclear danger, which has been silent and deeply advancing for far too long  . Russia, which introduced  its new strategic  nuclear weapons to the world   three years before the war, threatened to use nuclear weapons against Western  states if they intervened in  the Ukrainian conflict. It  suspended the New Start Treaty, the last remaining treaty  with the  United States, at the beginning of 2023, eliminating the last obstacle to the nuclear arms race.

As can be understood, Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, including Iskander missiles, to Belarus is a continuation of this process. These developments, which coincide with Finland’s NATO membership and the expansion of the NATO-Russia border, are reshaping Europe’s security architecture and leading to a more dangerous nuclear build up than the Cold War. The deployment of strategic non-nuclear weapons, or tactical nuclear weapons, to many points in Europe, which is symbolically important to many people, will not make Europe safer. In this process, it will not be surprising for NATO to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Finland, and in response, Russia will be likely to deploy more weapon systems. Similar developments are also possible in the Asia-Pacific region. In the end, the danger is increasing every day and there is no significant effort to reduce it.

[1] David Ljunggren, “Putin Says Moscow to Place Nuclear Weapons in Belarus, US Reacts Cautiously”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 11.04.2023).

[2] Mehmet Seyfettin Erol-Şafak Oğuz, “End of the INF Treaty: Are We Entering a New Cold War Era?”, Gazi Akademik Bakış, 14(28), 2021, s. 1-20.

Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
2019 yılında Doçentlik unvanını alan Şafak OĞUZ, Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri’ndeki (TSK) 23 yıllık hizmetinden sonra 2021 yılında emekli olmuştur. Görevi esnasında Birleşmiş Milletler (BM) ve Kuzey Atlantik Antlaşması Örgütü (NATO) bünyesinde de çalışan OĞUZ, Kitle İmha Silahları, Terörizm, Uluslararası Güvenlik, Uluslararası Örgütler ve Barış ve Çatışma Çalışmaları konularında çalışmalar yapmaktadır. OĞUZ, halen Kapadokya Üniversitesi İktisadi, İdari ve Sosyal Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde öğretim üyeliği görevini sürdürmektedir. İyi derece İngilizce ve Almanca bilmektedir.