If I understand correctly, the US have long been capable of a retaliatory strike against the USSR / Russia that is powerful enough to nearly completely destroy the target state. (If I'm wrong on that, could you point me to links that explain why?)

Why then does the US choose to place strategic nuclear forces in Europe? The value of the deterrent cannot increase much, once the near-destruction is assured. On the other hand, the risk to the US significantly increases, since the Russians/Soviets have a shorter warning for missiles launched from Europe, and therefore may be pressured to act quickly, leading to a higher risk of an accidental full-scale nuclear exchange. (E.g., the Russians may need to rely on the satellite instead of the radar detection, and the satellites have higher false positives.)

2 Answers 2


The US has aircraft-delivered nuclear bombs stored in Europe, not missiles. Those will take longer to Russia than ballistic missiles launched from the continental US, and they could not penetrate far.

It entangles NATO conventional forces in Europe with the US nuclear deterrent. Attacking the Luftwaffe or the Aeronautica Militare means attacking the delivery system for US nuclear weapons. A conventional attack on a nuclear delivery system, or nuclear command-and-control, is considered equivalent (or almost equivalent) to a nuclear attack. This increases the credibility of the US promise to escalate to a global nuclear war if that is what it takes to defend Europe.

Russia claims to worry that the conventional anti-missile missiles could be modified for a (conventional) attack against key Russian targets, similar to Prompt Global Strike. To understand why this is not completely absurd, see the Standard family of Navy missiles, from ABM to land attack. Personally I don't believe this is a valid concern, giving the Russian second-strike capability, but Russia might be genuinely concerned and not just posturing in this regard.

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    Ah that makes sense. DIdn't realize the missiles were all removed in 1990. I guess there's still a question of why the missiles were there for a couple decades. Does a conventional attack on Europe that might accidentally destroy a few bombers that carry nuclear weapons, really count as an almost equivalent to a nuclear attack?
    – MkV
    Feb 20, 2022 at 11:39
  • @MkV, fortunately we never had to find out. But consider how the US would have reacted to an attack on early warning sats.
    – o.m.
    Feb 20, 2022 at 11:55
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    @MkV back then, the idea was to use "smaller nukes" like the Pershings to gradually escalate step by step without launching an all out strike on Russia first. Say take out some high value military target backing a Soviet penetration. That would be a signal to back down without yet entering MAD territory. Now, of course that strategy has been picked apart "there's no such thing as a limited nuclear war" by some, which has equally little hard evidence as the "graduated escalation" camp. So conventional -> tac/short range nukes on troops -> strategic population strikes. See also SS20s. Feb 20, 2022 at 19:23

Most of the weapons are placed in Europe to help talk as if it were going some place important with the FSB military arm, one of the two main factions of the current Russian regime. The FSB military arm understands the language of diplomacy only when it is backed with a nuclear stick.

Not convinced, are you? This is evidenced by the Russian invasions of these nuclear free countries:

  • 1992: Moldova,
  • 1999: Chechnya,
  • 2008: Georgia,
  • 2014: Ukraine,
  • 2015: Syria,
  • 2022: "Gleiwitz 2.0" in Ukraine (in progress, references provided upon request),
  • 2022: Belarus (in progress, ibid.)

Further evidence comes from the absence of Russian invasions of nuclear armed NATO member countries. Perfect score there, not a single one invaded: language of force received and understood by the Russian CheKa.

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    Russia invaded Syria? The Russian forces were invited in by the official Syrian government. Russian involvement in Georgia is also disputed as it sent in "peacekeepers" following internal troubles in Georgia.
    – doneal24
    Feb 20, 2022 at 16:42
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    Sorry but this does not answer my question. You say that Russia, just like any other power, only understands the language of strength. That was already the assumption behind my question. Given that, I was asking why the US chose to increase the risk to the US security through the shorter flight-time missiles placed in Europe, instead of relying on the longer-flight-time but equally effective ICBMs.
    – MkV
    Feb 20, 2022 at 22:14
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    @doneal24 The criminal Putin regime invaded Syria in the exact same way the criminal Brezhnev regime invaded Afghanistan in 1979, a fact that few people by now dispute (see, for example, here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet%E2%80%93Afghan_War, but do Google that). Now that invasion was not an invasion, by the judicious application of such (faulty) logic. According to the war criminal Leonid Brezhnev, the "friendly" USSR forces entered Afghanistan after the "invitation" from the Afghani government. Ta-da! Invasion? Which invasion? Did anyone see an invasion? Same with Syria. Feb 20, 2022 at 23:32
  • @TimurShtatland : but this is not what the question asked. This is not a discussion forum. Although some degree of discussion is often tolerated, it has to be about directly answering the question. And the questions was not "is Putin evil or not?"
    – vsz
    Feb 21, 2022 at 7:50

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