Low-yield nuclear weapons have started to gain popularity among certain government officials. However, the impact that these would have on the international community is extensive.
Nuclear weapons, regardless of the yield, have only been used in 1945 against Japan to put an end to World War II. Since 1945, nuclear weapons have only been used as a deterrent. If the United States chooses to start using low-yield nuclear weapons, all other nuclear powers would potentially start using their nuclear arsenal as well under the same pretext as the United States. For instance, if the United States were to use a nuclear weapon to eliminate a terrorist threat, Russia could potentially start using similar weapons for purposes that could be deemed as equivalent before Russian eyes. This also could unchain an escalation when it comes to the yield of the weapons to be used. While the United States might start with a weapon as low as a kiloton, the next nuclear power could launch an attack with a nuclear weapon of one and a half kiloton, slowly increasing the power of the weapons used as powers perceive as acceptable the use of higher-yield weapons.
The target of such an attack is also relevant. If the target is a nuclear power, such a country would not know the yield of the weapon that is incoming and could potentially retaliate with a much bigger bomb in a disproportionate manner. However, if it is not a nuclear power, this would also have serious consequences. Countries might start to rethink their position regarding the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. While perhaps not a majority, some of the countries that pledged not to attempt acquiring nuclear weapons might perceive that without such, the next nuclear attack might be on their soil, and potentially without their consent. If the attack is carried out even without consent, this would encourage countries without nuclear weapons to acquire them in order to have a more convincing say in future scenarios.
With the use of low-yield nuclear weapons not only there is a great possibility of escalation and use of higher yield weapons, but the non-proliferation treaty would also be deemed useless. Increasing the number of nuclear powers, nuclear weapons produces, and nuclear weapons deployed. Therefore, it is in the United States’ interest to abstain from using these.