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NATO nuclear thinking seems frozen in time.

US Nukes Needed in Europe Because of Invisible Enemy and Russia, NATO Says

Nuclear Brief October 6, 2005

U.S. nuclear weapons need to continue to be deployed in Europe as defense against unknown future enemies and because of Russia's non-strategic nuclear weapons.

This justification was provided by Ed Kronenburg, director of the NATO General Secretary's Private Office, in response to a joint letter signed by Ian Davis (British American Security Information Council), Daryl Kimball (Arms Control Association), John Sloboda (Oxford Research Group), and myself. On June 6, 2005, we asked NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer begin the process of removing all non-strategic nuclear weapons from Europe. Specifically, we asked that NATO:

  • facilitate a dialogue among NATO member states on the process by which such weapons may be permanently withdrawn to the United States.
  • make a withdrawal process verifiable and transparent by confirming the location and number of non-strategic nuclear weapons in NATO member states.

Withdrawing the weapons would be in tune with U.N. General Assembly resolution 59-75 from October 2004, which called for further reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons. This resolution was supported by all NATO member states except the United States.

No Policy Change

NATO DPO Ed Kronenburg uses old and unknown adversaries to rule out any changes in NATO's nuclear policy.

The Answer Is No!

Unfortunately, but not entirely surprisingly, Ed Kronenburg rejected any reduction in NATO's nuclear posture due to "a wide range of future challenges, which cannot be predicted with certainty." Moreover, he said, while NATO reduced its non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe in the early 1990s, "there is no evidence of equivalent reductions in the Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons stockpile."

In rejecting changes to NATO nuclear posture in Europe, Kronenburg called NATO strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons "an indivisible whole." Specifically, he claimed that:

  • While overall developments in the evolving strategic environment have been generally positive, uncertainties and risks remain which could develop into acute crisis and present new security challenges. In this context, Allies believe that the Alliance's long-term security continues to require an appropriate mix of conventional and nuclear forces for the foreseeable future to sustain deterrence.
  • NATO nuclear policy must serve a long-term perspective in order to preserve peace and security against a wide range of future challenges, which cannot be predicted with certainty.
  • The Alliance's strategic and sub-strategic forces provide an indivisible whole, with the latter providing an enduring political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance, while permitting collective sharing of nuclear risks and responsibilities -- thereby demonstrating the common commitment of all Allies to deterrence and collective defense.
  • Allies see nuclear reductions as a continuing step-by-step process which must be achieved in a prudent, gradual manner. While NATO has significantly reduced its stockpile of sub-strategic weapons in Europe, there is no evidence of equivalent reductions in the Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons stockpile.
  • Under the auspices of the NATO-Russia Council, NATO continues to work with Russia to progress the development of nuclear confidence and security building measures (CSBMs) with the ultimate aim of improving security in the Euro-Atlantic area. As these develop, the Alliance hopes that Russia will feel able to respond positively to its commitments under the Presidential Initiatives of 1991 and 1992.
Ever since HMS Victorious sailed on its first patrol in December 1995, British strategic submarines have also had a "sub-strategic" mission, presumably against some of the same targets covered by U.S. non-strategic bombs deployed in Europe.

All of these justifications are well known and have been used frequently by NATO since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, some date as far back as to the height of the Cold War itself. None of them, however, are very good anymore. They show an alliance that is surprisingly stuck in the past and hasn't thought very carefully about the future.

  • First, although "uncertainties and risks" certainly exist (as they always have and always will), forward deployed U.S. nuclear non-strategic bombs in Europe provide no unique deterrence effect that cannot be achieved with other long-range nuclear weapons deployed in the United States. Moreover, since December 1995, British ballistic missile submarines on patrol have performed a "sub-strategic" mission (in addition to their strategic mission) in support of NATO, presumably covering the same potential targets that the U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs in Europe would be used against.
  • Second, "future challenges, which cannot be predicted with certainty" cannot and should not serve as the basis for nuclear planning. Nuclear planning must be directed against known and tangible adversaries, not phantoms. Planning against threats that "cannot be predicted with certainty" result in inadequately tested policies, poorly planned missions, and maintenance of forces that could otherwise be retired or transferred to real-world non-nuclear missions.
  • Third, while it is true that strategic and non-strategic forces provide "an indivisible whole," this is because all the nuclear weapon states in NATO since 1991 have sought to erase a distinction between strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons. Today, all nuclear weapons are "strategic" due to their unique ramifications. And if strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons truly provide an "indivisible whole," as Kronenburg argues, then the non-strategic weapons are no longer needed in Europe because strategic weapons can just as well fulfill the same mission.
  • Fourth, U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe do not provide an "enduring" political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance. Rather, they appear to represent a temporary delay in the drawdown of the Cold War in Europe. The aura of the weapons is fading rapidly, with several allies having curtailed or ended their nuclear strike role altogether (nuclear weapons were even removed from Greece in 2001), and others such as Germany and Belgium likely to follow in the future. Moreover, one of the two North American member states -- Canada -- gave up its nuclear strike role in 1984, does not want nuclear weapons on its territory, and has advocated changing NATO nuclear policy. To base NATO's long-term cross-Atlantic link on the fading status of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe is a serious miscalculation. Rather, NATO would be better off basing its hopes and aspirations for an enduring cross-Atlantic link on the real-world non-nuclear missions that are important to the alliance.
  • Fifth, "permitting collective sharing of nuclear risks and responsibilities" seems to be the wrong emphasis for an organization whose member states are trying to make non-proliferation of nuclear weapons the core pillar of post-Cold War security. How credible is that message, for example, when Germany sends its diplomats to Iran to persuade Teheran not to pursue nuclear weapons capability, while German fighter bombers back at Büchel Air Base and Nörvenich Air Base are equipped -- and German fighter pilots practice -- to deliver U.S. nuclear bombs in times of war? Nonproliferation will fail without universal standards, and nuclear sharing in NATO undercut those standards.
  • Sixth, that the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe somehow demonstrates "the common commitment of all Allies to deterrence and collective defense" glosses over the reality that most of NATO's member states do not have nuclear weapons on their territory, don't what any, and have no aircraft serving a NATO nuclear strike role. On the contrary, the trend in NATO is that non-nuclear member states -- and especially the new member states -- do not want nuclear weapons on their territories. There may be a common commitment within the alliance to deterrence and collective defense in general, but not necessarily to U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.

The Russian Factor

Kronenburg's final justification, the number of Russia's non-strategic nuclear weapons, is not new either but is presented in a new way. While military planners have raised the issue numerous times during the 1990s, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker accused the Russians during a visit to Moscow in October 2004 for not having met fully a pledge from 1991 to reduce their tactical nuclear weapons. Back then, Russia pledged:

  • All nuclear artillery ammunition and nuclear warheads for tactical missiles will be destroyed;
  • Nuclear warheads of anti-aircraft missiles will be removed from the army and stored in central bases. Part of them will be destroyed. All nuclear mines will be destroyed;
  • All tactical nuclear weapons will be removed from surface ships and multipurpose submarines. These weapons, as well as weapons from ground-based naval aviation, will be placed in central storage areas. Part of them will be destroyed.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Stephen G. Rademaker, says Russia has not met its 1991 pledge to cut non-strategic nuclear weapons

The occasion for raising the issue in 2004 appears to have be the U.S. completion in 2003 of its own nuclear weapons dismantlements in accordance with former President George Bush's Presidential Nuclear Initiatives from 1991 and 1992.

Following Rademaker's remarks, the Russian Foreign Ministry quickly fired back saying that it had announced in May 2004 that, "more than 50% of the total nuclear ammunition for sea-based tactical missiles and naval aviation, antiaircraft missiles and nuclear aviation bombs has been liquidated." Moreover, the ministry said, "the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons is continuing."

During the Non-Proliferation Review Conference in 2000, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov stated that Russia was about to complete implementation of the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives. Two years later, in April 2002, the work was still not done, as the Russian government said that it had "practically implemented all the declared initiatives to reduce [non-strategic nuclear weapons] with the exception of elimination of nuclear weapons of the Army." They would be eliminated by 2004, depending on funding, the ministry promised. In April 2004, Russia repeated this assessment, but the 2004 deadline was missing.

The U.S. has not specified which portion of the Russian Presidential Nuclear Initiatives that has not been fully met, but the Russian statement in April 2002 suggests that it may concern Army weapons. If so, it means that Kronenburg is using Russian ground-launched army weapons as an excuse for not changing NATO's deployment of air-delivered bombs.

Kronenburg's letter even goes a step further, saying that "While NATO has significantly reduced its stockpile of sub-strategic weapons in Europe, there is no evidence of equivalent reductions in the Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons stockpile." Yet Russia's Presidential Nuclear Initiative did not pledge "equivalent" reductions, but elimination of nuclear artillery, tactical missiles, and mines. Other weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles and naval weapons, would be reduced.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Neither Russia nor the United States has permitted verification of their reductions under the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives. During most of the 1990s it was possible to verify the number of U.S. warheads dismantled at the Pantex Plant, but in 1999 the Department of Energy decided to classify dismantlement numbers. Neither country provide information about the status of their non-strategic nuclear forces.

When Rademaker expressed the U.S. concern about Russia's implementation of the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiative, he also claimed that it was Russia's non-strategic nuclear weapons -- not NATO's -- that concerned people in Europe:

"I can assure you that when European audiences talk about the problem of
tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, their concern is directed toward the
Russian tactical nuclear weapons and what countries they might be
targeted on rather than the relatively small number of tactical nuclear
weapons that remain in the NATO arsenal."

While this may have been the mood during the Cold War, it no longer seems to be the case. It is not a Russian attack people fear as much as poor security at the nuclear weapons storage sites which may one day result in loss of control of a nuclear weapon. Contrary to Rademaker's assertion, this concern does not make people favor NATO's deployment. In Germany, for example, more than two-thirds of the population (across the political spectrum) favor a removal of U.S. nuclear weapons despite the Russian situation. People seem to be concerned about both Russian and NATO nuclear weapons.

Clearly, both the United States and Russia need to move beyond Cold War bickering and provide verifiable access to the status of their non-strategic nuclear weapons stockpiles. And NATO needs to update its analysis of the pros and cons of deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.

» See also: U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe.


© Hans M. Kristensen | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2005

download documents:

» Letter, Ed Kronenburg, Director of the Secretary General's Private Office, to Ian Davis, July 1, 2005.

» Letter, Ian Davis, et al., to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, June 6, 2005.

background information:

» Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe," Natural Resources Defense Council, February 2005.

» Joshua Handler, "The 1991-1992 PNIs and the Elimination, Storage, and Security of Tactical Nuclear Weapons," in Brian Alexander and Alistair Millar (ed.), Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Emerging Threats in an Evolving Security Environment (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's. 2003), pp. 20-41.

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  © Hans M. Kristensen