The two of us have joined a number of our colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic in discussing a threatening development: the accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material. We now face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons and materials ever invented could fall in to dangerous hands.
We believe the United States and Germany, NATO and all of Europe, including Russia, have a special leadership role to play in support of global efforts to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world.
We are encouraged by a growing recognition that in order to deal decisively with the nuclear threat and stop nuclear proliferation, nations must embrace both the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and the urgent practical steps necessary to overcome the nuclear dangers that we all face.
Over the past few years, statesmen from several European countries have published articles in support of the “vision and steps” as originally set forth by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Governments are also embracing this approach. In September 2009, heads of state met at the U.N. Security Council and passed a strong resolution in support of this direction. The United States and Russia concluded a New Start treaty in 2010, and leaders from around the world met in Seoul in March 2012 to continue the work to secure nuclear materials begun at the 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit.
These efforts both inside and outside of governments are important, as the key to achieving these urgent near-term steps and realizing the long-term vision is cooperation.
In May, NATO leaders will meet in Chicago, preceded by a meeting of foreign and defense ministers this coming week in Brussels. The urgent question facing the alliance is how NATO can make a positive contribution to nuclear threat reduction in light of these converging developments. While America bears a special responsibility, nuclear policy must also be addressed within Europe, and NATO allies should strive to move together with a sense of urgency on core nuclear issues.
In this context, we believe the drafting of NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review tasked at the 2010 Lisbon summit provides an opportunity to set a solid foundation for NATO nuclear policy. Importantly, it would also provide a basis for a new process of engagement with Russia and other nuclear-weapons-capable states. Negotiations aimed at substantially reducing the number of nuclear weapons must continue, initially between the United States and Russia, in order to encourage and ensure that the other countries possessing such weapons will join this process.
In Chicago, NATO should state that it now believes the fundamental purpose of its nuclear weapons is to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others, and it should plan for further reductions of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The target of completing consolidation to the United States should be within five years, with the timing and pace determined by broad political and security developments between NATO and Russia, including but not limited to Russian tactical nuclear deployments near NATO’s border.
This can be accomplished in ways that ensure that NATO will remain a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist, and that America’s extended nuclear deterrent will continue — but in a form that is safer and more credible. The alternative — maintaining the nuclear status quo in Europe — runs a high cost and unacceptable risk.
Russia retains a large stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, estimated at about 2,000, and many of these are deployed in Europe. Russia, too, has a vital interest in the security of tactical nuclear weapons — its own and those of others. A dialogue among the United States, NATO and Russia focused on accountability, transparency, reductions and elimination should be a high priority and should not await formal agreements.
Global security and stability can only be achieved through stable and reliable cooperation among America, Russia, Europe and China. Thus, cooperation should become the keyword of this century on the way to a nuclear-weapon-free world.
A broader NATO-Russia discussion of Euro-Atlantic security is necessary if we are to make political and practical progress on nuclear threat reduction. Cooperation on missile defense is another long-overdue area where Russia, the United States and NATO can and should be working together rather than building separate and uncoordinated systems.
Failure to develop a cooperative approach to missile defense in Europe would fuel charges of unilateralism and contribute to the risk of returning to the era of confrontation with Russia, leading to a new arms race and new tensions. This must be avoided by an agreement on missile defense, including reliable arrangements or understandings necessary for cooperation.
One approach to framing a new process on European security that should also be endorsed in Chicago must be to deepen consultations aimed at reliable arrangements or understandings with Russia on the full range of Euro-Atlantic security issues, including missile defense and conventional and nuclear arms.
Steps to increase warning and decision time for political and military leaders should be central to this dialogue, so that no nation fears a short-warning conventional attack or perceives the need to deter or defend against such an attack with tactical nuclear arms. Progress including action on these issues can be made separately, as long as all issues are being seriously addressed in parallel and within a common framework. Military-to-military discussions mandated by political leaders are essential.
The common interests of the United States, Europe and Russia are more aligned today than at any point in modern history. We must seize this historic opportunity and act accordingly.
Helmut Schmidt served as chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Sam Nunn is a former chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.