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U.N. Disarmament Chief Calls for NATO to Study Eliminating Nukes

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

Personnel at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri prepare nuclear-capable B-2 bombers for operations in Libya in March 2011. The United Nations' top disarmament official this week called on NATO to consider preparing a document laying out steps toward nuclear disarmament (U.S. Air Force photo).

Personnel at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri prepare nuclear-capable B-2 bombers for operations in Libya in March 2011. The United Nations' top disarmament official this week called on NATO to consider preparing a document laying out steps toward nuclear disarmament (U.S. Air Force photo).

WASHINGTON – The United Nations’ top disarmament official this week called on NATO to look at setting a clear pathway for giving up its nuclear deterrent.

“The time may have come for NATO to consider adopting a Strategic Concept paper devoted just to nuclear disarmament,” according to Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs.

Officials with the military alliance by press time on Friday had not responded to comments Kane made on Monday at a NATO arms control conference in Split, Croatia. The organization, though, in recent years has highlighted the importance of nuclear weapons in the defense of its 28 member nations.

The last Strategic Concept document, issued in 2010, declared that “deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element” of NATO’s broad security operations.

Leaders delivered a similar message during their 2012 summit in Chicago, stating in a defense posture review that “nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defense alongside conventional and missile defense forces.”

The alliance encompasses three formal nuclear powers -- France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Washington has close to 2,000 fielded strategic and tactical warheads, with thousands more in reserve. London and Paris, respectively, were believed as of 2012 to hold about 160 and 290 deployed weapons.

The three nations are required as member states to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to undertake “good faith” negotiations toward eventual elimination of their atomic arsenals. That goal has been reaffirmed in various U.N. and NPT forums, Kane said.

“There is no doubt there is a need for them to put some meat on the bone, to be more specific” about how they will carry out the commitment, said Hans Kristensen, who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project.

He noted that nuclear-armed governments publicly acknowledge their NPT obligation to disarmament even while spending billions of dollars to modernize their weapons.

The powers say they have made significant strides on drawing down their stockpiles since the heart of the Cold War, when the United States alone had about 31,000 warheads. Even while expressing hopes for global nuclear disarmament, President Obama has pledged that the United States will keep its weapons as long as other nations hold corresponding arms.

Kane argued that the “elimination of all threats of proliferation must never be viewed as a precondition for the achievement of nuclear disarmament, just as the achievement of a nuclear weapon-free world must not become a prerequisite for progress in nonproliferation.”

NATO and the United Nations should “rekindle a sense of our shared interests,” which would include eliminating nuclear arms from the globe, she said.

Nations create obstacles to nonproliferation through different means, including modernization of nuclear weapons, delivery systems and atomic complexes; keeping short-range warheads in foreign states; allowing for first strikes; and setting missiles for rapid launch, according to Kane.

The U.N. official did not name names, but the United States was clearly among the targets of her message.

The Pentagon keeps close to 200 tactical nuclear bombs at military installations in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Washington has failed to lead a push for U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear arms drawdowns, instead emphasizing lesser steps such as transparency and confidence-building, Kristensen told Global Security Newswire on Thursday.

The Obama administration has also pledged $85 billion over 10 years for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arms complex; its fiscal 2014 budget plans includes nearly $8 billion for weapons activities, a $654 million jump from two years ago.

“It is not sufficient simply to note the existence of a goal and to subject its achievement to numerous conditions,” Kane said. “A world free of nuclear weapons is in fact not just a normative goal – it must also be a strategic goal, in the highest national security interests of each member of this alliance, and each member of the world community.”

A strategic goal, she added in her speech, must include specific measures for reaching that new reality, a plan to carry out those steps, and a system for assessing advances and dealing with setbacks.

Strategic Concept documents are intended broadly to address “NATO’s enduring purpose and nature and its fundamental security tasks.” The 2010 document “equips the alliance for security challenges and guides its future political and military development.”

Having completed the 2010 paper and the 2012 Defense and Deterrence Posture Review, NATO officials might not want to step into another major analysis that covers similar ground, Kristensen said.

“I can imagine a lot of NATO officers will react by saying they have done a lot of this,” he said.

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