As the war in Ukraine escalates, Russian President Vladimir Putin has begun to make threats about the use of nuclear weapons. To be clear, it remains incredibly unlikely with these weapons would actually be used. Their use would mark an unprecedented escalation in a conflict that is more likely to stay contained in a region where is taking place.
In the incredibly unlikely scenario that these weapons were used, how worried would citizens of the Bay Area need to be? As West Coasters, we are physically closer to Russia than much of the United States. Could Russia’s offensive nuclear weapons reach us in the event of an escalation of war?
Russia's Long-Distance Capabilities
The short answer is yes. Russia has the most nuclear weapons of any country, with approximately 6000 weapons. Most of these are on reserve status. But experts believe that at least 1,500 weapons are in a ready status and could be used.
Many of these are tactical weapons. That means that they would be used over a shorter distance. Many of Russia’s nuclear weapons, however, were designed to strike across continents. This is part of the legacy of the Soviet Union and the Cold War when the possibility of a global-scale nuclear war seemed imminent.
Russia’s arsenal includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could be launched from Russian soil and could reach nearly any target in the world. They also likely have nuclear-armed bombers and submarines with nuclear missiles for use of a shorter range. In the worst-case scenario of a nuclear strike, this is more than sufficient firepower to reach most parts of the United States, including the Bay Area.
If a strike were launched, could the United States defend itself? A recent study indicated that America does not have any realistic defense against Intercontinental ballistic missiles. The department of Defense disputes the study, however. It’s also possible that the United States has developed secret defenses that are not disclosed to the public. Defending against a threat from an arsenal as large as Russia's, however, would be tactically challenging.
Again, it’s incredibly unlikely that such a strike would be launched. It would almost certainly be met with counterstrikes from America and its NATO allies. Even Putin is unlikely to provoke such an attack. But make no mistake: if nuclear weapons were used, the impact would be global. It would impact the Bay Area, and nearly everywhere else in the world.
That’s why de-escalation, diplomacy, and other tactics are seen as the best move forward. People on both sides of the conflict presumably would hope that these measures can bring about peace, and nuclear weapons remain only a theoretical threat.
For more analysis, visit the Bay Area Telegraph.