NATO Powers Confer on Potential Tactical Nuke Curbs

(Apr. 22) -A U.S. B-61 gravity bomb trainer assembly used in Air Force and NATO drills in Europe. The United States has consulted with other NATO member nations on pursuing potential nonstrategic nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, a top State Department arms control official said on Wednesday (U.S. Sandia National Laboratories/Natural Resources Defense Council).
(Apr. 22) -A U.S. B-61 gravity bomb trainer assembly used in Air Force and NATO drills in Europe. The United States has consulted with other NATO member nations on pursuing potential nonstrategic nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, a top State Department arms control official said on Wednesday (U.S. Sandia National Laboratories/Natural Resources Defense Council).

The Obama administration is "intensively" pursuing potential tactical nuclear weapons reductions with Russia and conferring on the matter with other NATO member states, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said on Wednesday (see GSN, April 14).

Upon inking a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia last year, President Obama said "the United States intends to pursue with Russia additional and broader reductions in our strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons, including nondeployed nuclear weapons,” Gottemoeller noted in an address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

"Consistent with the president’s agenda to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, and the Senate’s call for pursuing negotiations with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons, we are working intensively throughout our government on these issues while also consulting with our NATO allies," she said in her prepared remarks.

Russia is thought to possess roughly 2,000 deployed tactical nuclear arms within its borders while the United States is believed to have about 200 battlefield nuclear weapons deployed in five NATO countries (see GSN, Feb. 14).

The New START pact requires Moscow and Washington to each limit their deployed strategic nuclear forces to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery vehicles. The treaty entered into force in February.

The Defense Department is set to carry out a strategic forces assessment to help identify possible trajectories for further U.S. nuclear-weapon cuts, Gottemoeller said. "This work will be guided by the policies set forth in the [2010 Nuclear Posture Review], including strengthening deterrence of potential regional adversaries, strategic stability vis-à-vis Russia and assurance of our allies and partners," she said.

In addition, NATO is carrying out a Deterrence and Defense Posture Review aimed at implementing the terms of a new "Strategic Concept" adopted at a summit last November in Lisbon, Portugal, Gottemoeller said (see GSN, Nov. 24, 2010).

"The NATO Lisbon Summit Declaration makes clear that the alliance will seek to create the conditions needed to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons assigned to NATO. As part of this effort, we will be working with NATO to shape an approach to reduce the role and number of forward-based U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe, as Russia takes reciprocal steps to reduce its nonstrategic nuclear weapons and relocate them away from NATO’s borders," the official said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in talks last week with top NATO diplomats addressed how the forthcoming alliance assessment might aid in the achievement of further nuclear-weapon curbs in keeping with five standards she had articulated in 2010, according to Gottemoeller. Those standards, described by Clinton at a ministerial meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, call for NATO to remain a "nuclear alliance" for "as long as nuclear weapons exist"; for NATO member states to widely assume associated nuclear-related obligations; for the alliance to pursue further curbs on the quantity and importance of nuclear weapons; for NATO to bolster its deterrence against new and emerging dangers; and for the alliance to pursue disclosures and redeployments of Russian tactical nuclear weapons. Such weapons should be addressed in future U.S.-Russian arms control talks, she said at the time.

Clinton last week "reiterated the U.S. commitment to addressing the disparity in nonstrategic weapons between the United States and Russia in the next arms control negotiation," Gottemoeller said.

"As a first step, the United States would like to increase transparency on a reciprocal basis with Russia, including on the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic weapons in Europe. We will consult with NATO allies on such reciprocal actions that could be taken by each side and invite Russia to join with us to develop this initiative.

"Another major challenge with regard to next steps is verification. As the numbers go lower, as the items to be limited and verified get smaller (e.g., warheads instead of delivery vehicles), the verification challenge becomes more complex and the margins for error become smaller. When we think about monitoring weapons in storage, or eliminating nuclear weapons, we must tackle verification tasks that have not been addressed before. So while we look at the policy issues surrounding the next agreement, we must also be equally focused on the technical issues. Addressing the technical challenges must be integrally linked to the negotiation of future agreements," Gottemoeller said (U.S. State Department release, April 21).

April 22, 2011
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The Obama administration is "intensively" pursuing potential tactical nuclear weapons reductions with Russia and conferring on the matter with other NATO member states, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said on Wednesday (see GSN, April 14).