Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans yesterday said it would be a "long haul" to remove U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, March 4).
Five NATO states -- Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway -- successfully pressed for consideration of the matter at an alliance meeting next month in Estonia. The debate would be "the first major task for disarmament" but is unlikely to produce immediate results, said Evans, co-leader of the International Commission on Nonproliferation and Disarmament.
The United States is believed to keep roughly 200 nonstrategic weapons at bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. They are a remnant of a much larger force deployed during the Cold War.
"The argument is very well made that these weapons have no deterrent utility or military usability," Evans said after meetings with NATO officials in Brussels.
Nonetheless, Eastern European states that were once part of the Soviet Union should be expected to oppose any moves to withdraw the weapons, he added.
"I don't think the Americans, or those who will be responsible for negotiations with Russia about its tactical nuclear weapons, (will see) much virtue in a unilateral gesture when there is a heavy negotiation ahead," Evans told reporters."They want these weapons to be a negotiating coin."
More recent entrants into the European Union and NATO "are still not persuaded that these weapons have no deterrent value," according to Evans. "It's a long haul ahead on this one."
Added a European diplomat: "Eastern European countries, and all the Russia-phobes, (still) see these arms as a security guarantee, as a deterrent."
Evans also might be misreading the five European nations' combined conviction on removing U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, according to the diplomat. Their drafted letter, which requested that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen commission the nuclear policy talks, "did not ask for removal of the warheads," he said.
"I don't think it's necessarily (even) clear the five all agree the warheads should be removed," the European diplomat said. "Eventually, yes. But the time is not necessarily opportune to ask for it now" (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, March 11).