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Arms Control Groups Accuse NATO of Keeping Nuclear Status Quo
CHICAGO -- Nuclear disarmament advocates on Monday voiced frustration with what they saw as a missed opportunity for NATO to use its summit here to declare it would reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in the defense of the military bloc’s membership (see GSN, May 21).
The Deterrence and Defense Posture Review approved on Sunday reaffirms that “nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence.” It does not call for changing the role that nuclear weapons play in dissuading hostile entities from launching attacks.
“NATO did what it did best, it kicked the can [down the road] as it’s done in the past,” Ploughshares Fund senior policy analyst Ben Loehrke said in a telephone interview. “Essentially this is the same nuclear posture that they’ve had in previous [Strategic] Concepts going back to the 1990s.”
Arms control proponents pointed to two areas in the DDPR document where they believe the 28-nation alliance passed up an opportunity to signal its commitment to the goal stated in the 2010 Strategic Concept “of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.”
The posture review did not declare that the sole purpose of atomic arms within the alliance was to deter nuclear strikes on NATO countries. Nor did it call for the reduction, withdrawal, or consolidation of U.S. tactical weapons deployed in five European states.
Rather, the organization for the first time recognized “the independent and unilateral negative security assurances offered by the United States, the United Kingdom and France.” Such assurances are broadly defined as pledges by the formal nuclear powers not to employ their arsenals against nations in good standing with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapons states. France, though, "has resisted giving any such guarantees," according to a analysis issued on Monday by the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
“It does not represent a clarification of NATO’s strategy for the role of nuclear weapons in the defense of the alliance and I think it leaves it in a muddle,” ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball said in an interview. “It would have been far better if NATO had made it clear that for the purposes of the alliance, the fundamental purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack. That is not what the document does.”
However, a NATO official at the summit insisted to Global Security Newswire that the posture review, by recognizing the negative security assurances of the three nuclear powers, offered an “important message” to the world.
“This is much more substantial than anything that has been published before,” said the staffer, who was not authorized to speak on the record regarding delicate diplomatic matters.
Loehrke was dismissive of that contention. “This is literally acknowledging the status quo as it has been for the past two years.”
The United States, through its strategic nuclear triad of ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers, provides the bulk of NATO nuclear capabilities; it has specifically assigned roughly 180 nonstrategic weapons deployed in Europe to the defense of the alliance. The United Kingdom has also committed its ballistic missile submarines to the alliance’s Nuclear Planning Group. France has declined to integrate its submarines and bombers into NATO planning, opting instead for its nuclear arsenal to play a broader deterrent role.
France is broadly seen as the chief NATO country to oppose the alliance reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in its defense posture.
Requests to the French delegation at the Chicago summit for comment on the issue were not returned by press time.
“One thing that NATO doesn’t do is very overtly call out a member state’s distance from whatever is close to NATO consensus” so as to present a united front to the world, Loehrke said.
The new posture review says “that the states [the United Kingdom and the United States] that have assigned nuclear weapons to NATO apply to these weapons the assurances they have each offered on a national basis.”
“With very muddled, comma-laden language [NATO] managed to make it so that most of the nuclear weapons given a role in the alliance’s security strategy don’t threaten non-nuclear [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] members in compliance with their obligations,” according to Loehrke. “However, they also gave France an out.”
Loehrke and Kimball also faulted NATO for failing to declare that U.S. nonstrategic weapons deployed in Europe are no longer needed in the alliance’s deterrence posture. The document instead affirms the soundness of the current mix of defense capabilities, which encompass tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, conventional arms and missile defenses, “and the plans for their development.”
“DDPR makes some vague statements that there is a requirement for nonstrategic nuclear weapons assigned to the alliance but it fails to explain what that requirement actually is,” Kimball said. “It’s past time for the alliance to be explicit that the forward-deployed U.S. weapons in Europe no longer serve any meaningful military function.”
The U.S. B-61 gravity bombs are understood to be fielded in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey as leftovers from the Cold War. President Obama has voiced his willingness to see the tactical arms removed from Europe as part of a new bilateral nuclear forces reduction treaty with Russia.
Some NATO members, particularly Germany, are supportive of seeing the gravity bombs withdrawn. Other countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe, feel the weapons still offer an important deterrent signal to Russia.
“We would like to see the salience of nuclear weapons reduced for NATO … but other allies have different views so we will see how it goes,” the NATO official said.
Kimball said he was pleased that NATO in the posture review voiced its openness to discussing tactical weapons control and transparency measures with Russia, but he disagreed with the explicit linkage made in the document to reciprocal arms reduction by Moscow.
“It could even give Russia a perverse excuse to delay meaningful talks because Russia understands that these weapons are ultimately on their way out,” he said.
“I think that was the biggest can they kicked,” said Loehrke, adding that the assumption at the 2010 NATO gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, was that the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review would address the future role of tactical weapons in the alliance.
“That was kind of the biggest opportunity missed in my view because they really could have defined what these weapons are in the alliance. Instead in a study on what the needs are they agreed to do another study,” he said, referring to the alliance’s agreement in the posture review to have the appropriate committees examine concepts “in case NATO were to decide to reduce its reliance on nonstrategic nuclear weapons based in Europe.”
Kimball and other arms control advocates in the Monday analysis faulted the posture review for implicitly supporting the modernization of U.S. tactical weapons in Europe. The document notes that “allies … will ensure that all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective for as long as NATO remains a nuclear alliance.”
The United States is pursuing a multibillion-dollar program to refurbish its B-61 arsenal. Arms control advocates say some of the proposed modifications would equip the gravity bomb with enhanced precision targeting abilities, which they argue would amount effectively to a nuclear arms buildup in Europe.
“The life-extension program for the B-61 and upgrades to the dual-capable [European] aircraft that can deliver them will come at significant financial cost. And because the B-61 modernization program would increase the military capabilities of weapons deployed in Europe by improving accuracy on target, Russia might use this as an excuse to continue investing in the upkeep of its own tactical nuclear arsenal,” the analysis states.
Loehrke said the alliance did take the useful step of distinguishing strategic arms as “the supreme guarantee of the security of the allies.” This explicit preference of long-range nuclear weapons could be a building block for later arguments against the continued retention of tactical bombs in Europe.
Also noteworthy in the DDPR document was the decision to extend the life of the NATO Weapons of Mass Destruction Control and Disarmament Committee, which was formed last year to support development of the posture review. Its official new mandate is to be decided on and approved by the North Atlantic Council, the principal alliance decision-making body, after the Chicago summit, which ended on Monday.
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