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Former British Defense Secretary Blasts NATO Nuclear Stance

A former top British defense official has criticized a new assessment of NATO's deterrence posture as an "indecisive" document that offers no measures to curb nonstrategic nuclear-weapon deployments in Europe, the Press Association reported on Tuesday (see GSN, May 23).

A move to sustain and update the U.S. armaments would probably bolster the position of Russian conservatives and "worsen" ties with Moscow, one-time British Defense Secretary Des Browne added.

"The [NATO Deterrence and Defense Posture Review] avoided the challenge of resolving differences amongst the allies on the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO. Instead, it opted for the maintenance of the status quo," Browne told lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament.

The United States is believed to keep close to 200 B-61 gravity bombs at bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. The posture review issued during last week's summit in Chicago commits the alliance to “create the conditions … for further reductions of nonstrategic nuclear weapons assigned to NATO” and to “ensure that all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective.”

NATO members in possession of the U.S. arms would maintain varying policies on the bombs, as the 28-nation alliance failed to establish consensus on the "basic purpose of nuclear weapons," Browne said.

"No tangible progress was made on the U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons stationed in Europe," he added. "On the contrary, NATO will maintain and upgrade these weapons in Europe, and doing so, is likely to worsen the relationship with Russia."

An initiative to extend the service life of B-61 bombs "may prove to be a welcome excuse to Russia to continue investing in the upkeep of its own tactical nuclear arsenal, playing directly into the hands of hard-liners in the Russian Federation who refuse to discuss reductions in Russia's tactical nuclear weapons unless the U.S. withdraws its own arsenal from Europe," he said (see GSN, May 11).

The NATO strategy document would affect alliance security planning for 10 years or longer, Browne said.

"These decisions have major implications for Euro-Atlantic security and, importantly, create the environment which will determine our relationship with Russia. If we do not get them right we are at risk of sleepwalking back into the Cold War," Browne said. "I believe that NATO has missed this crucial opportunity for change, for overcoming post-Cold War thinking, for a new beginning as a security organization of the 21st century and for enhancing the overall European security."

The alliance review received backing from an acting British official.

The document incorporates an "evolutionary, ongoing element'' enabling "future work in NATO on its nuclear posture, on supporting nonproliferation, disarmament and arms control," Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister David Howell said.

"Since 1991, NATO has reduced the types and numbers of its short-range nuclear forces by over 85 percent," Howell said. "So there is a strong, long-term, record on disarmament in the alliance which I don't think can be completely brushed aside.''

"NATO will continue to develop our partnership with Russia. We are committed to continuing our dialogue on missile defense," he added (see GSN, May 24). "The United States in particular has been clear with Russia that NATO missile defense is not intended, nor designed, nor capable, of undermining the Russian strategic deterrent" (David Hughes, Press Association, May 29).

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