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U.S. Urged to Remove Tactical Nukes in Europe

(Apr. 22) -B-61 nuclear gravity bomb disarmament procedures are demonstrated in 2008 on a "dummy"  weapon at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, one site believed to house U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (U.S. Air Force/Federation of American Scientists). (Apr. 22) -B-61 nuclear gravity bomb disarmament procedures are demonstrated in 2008 on a "dummy" weapon at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, one site believed to house U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (U.S. Air Force/Federation of American Scientists).

The role that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons play in NATO's defense strategy is expected to be a key topic of discussion among alliance foreign ministers who began meeting today in Estonia (see GSN, March 15).

"It's time to make progress on disarmament. That includes on nuclear weapons," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, where the top diplomats from the 28-nation alliance are meeting, Agence France-Presse reported.

"We must take advantage of this window of opportunity for disarmament," Westerwelle added.

Five European nations -- Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway -- have joined together to call for the withdrawal of an estimated 240 U.S. gravity bombs that remain on the continent as a Cold War holdover. The weapons are thought to be located at bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Calls to pull the U.S. weapons from Europe could lead certain NATO states to seek corresponding action by Russia, which is believed to hold a significantly larger stockpile of tactical nuclear bombs within its borders.

A high-level U.S. official said it was important for NATO to come to a single position on the issue.

"Our principle, and most important guidepost for moving into this discussion is that we don't want to divide the alliance on this issue," the official said.

Some NATO members from Eastern Europe, such as Estonia, favor keeping the weapons in Europe as a safeguard against Russia, which has moved to modernize its own nuclear forces and has placed them at the center of its broader deterrence strategy (see GSN, Feb. 17).

"Nuclear deterrence based in Europe must remain , as it preserves close trans-Atlantic ties and allows for greater flexibility in deterrence," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said as the NATO summit began.

While not specifically touching on nuclear weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed Washington's commitment to providing a strong defense to its partners.

"Let me be clear," Clinton said to journalists in Tallinn, "our commitment to Estonia and our other allies is a bedrock principle of the United States and we will never waver from it."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested in an interview he believed the tactical arms should remain in Europe.

"If we look at today's world, then there is no alternative to nuclear arms in NATO's deterrent capability," Rasmussen said.

"My personal opinion is that the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe is part of deterrence to be taken seriously," he said (Agence France-Presse/Raw Story, April 22).

NATO hopes to finalize its nuclear position at a meeting next November in Portugal, Reuters reported.

On Monday, Rasmussen said, "No [nuclear] decision will be taken in Tallinn."

"But I do think the principles of NATO's nuclear discussion are already clear: first that no ally will take unilateral decisions and second that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will need a nuclear deterrent."

Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Patrick Deboeck said the alliance must be in full agreement on whatever is decided.

"We think it is important to maintain the credibility of nuclear deterrence, but we also see the possibility to go further" on nuclear arms reductions, he said. "NATO has a role to play on tactical nuclear weapons."

The Center for European Reform's Tomas Valasek said that some NATO members in Central Europe could see the removal of the U.S. gravity bombs as "a unilateral step taken by their big Western allies that puts Russia's concerns ahead of theirs ... so it will be a divisive question."

There are also concerns that such a pullout could lead Turkey to seek its own nuclear weapons as a hedge against potential nuclear arms held by other Middle Eastern states (David Brunnstrom, Reuters/Washington Post

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