Bringing out the big guns: at a military parade in Moscow, September 2017

Talk to anybody in Washington (except, perhaps, the U.S. president), and you will hear an ominous mantra: the Russians are back. Moscow, resurgent, is sowing discord among Western states and trying to reestablish its sphere of influence in former Soviet countries and beyond. One development, in particular, has caused much hyperventilating in Western ministries and think tanks: the Russian Federation not only has more nuclear weapons than any other country in the world but also is investing in an arsenal of modern, low-yield nuclear weapons that could be used for limited nuclear warfare. 

These investments have many analysts worried that Russia would be the first to pull the nuclear trigger in a future war, and that it would do so early on, hoping to quickly bomb its adversary into submission and end the conflict—a strategy dubbed “escalate to de-escalate.” If military confrontation of any kind might push Moscow

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  • OLGA OLIKER is Senior Adviser and Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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