The United States argued yesterday to its NATO allies that removal of tactical nuclear warheads from Europe should be contingent on Russian reductions of its own deployed nonstrategic arsenal, the New York Times reported (see GSN, April 22).
At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Tallinn, Estonia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was not against reducing the number of forward-deployed battlefield nuclear bombs.
However, she said such a move would be dependent on similar action by Moscow. Clinton also seemed to connect tactical nuclear cuts to the Kremlin's willingness to be more open about its corresponding armaments and to withdraw them from the borders of NATO members.
The United States is believed to have some 240 tactical weapons deployed at military bases in five European countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Deployed Russian tactical arms are thought to outnumber those of the United States by tenfold.
Today's tactical nuclear weapons are a remnant of Cold-War era deployments that encompassed roughly 8,000 U.S. bombs and more than 23,000 Soviet weapons.
"We should recognize that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance," Clinton said. "As a nuclear alliance, sharing nuclear risks and responsibilities widely is fundamental."
Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway have joined together to urge NATO to consider whether the tactical weapons should be removed from Europe. Many experts view the arms to be militarily unnecessary, too costly to secure and a potential threat for diversion to rogue actors.
However, some NATO states that include ex-Soviet republics and Turkey are not eager to see the weapons withdrawn, fearing they would be left exposed to a resurgent Russia that is modernizing its nuclear forces. Officials from each side of the debate worry that the issue could divide NATO.
"We view tonight as the beginning of this discussion," Clinton said, adding that final deliberations should wait until the November meeting of NATO heads of state in Lisbon, Portugal.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave his support to Clinton's stance, saying he thought "the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible deterrent."
Those who favor eliminating all tactical arms acknowledged that the move would not occur quickly and would necessitate full consensus among alliance members.
"We're not in a hurry," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said. "We don't believe in acting fast or unilaterally" (Mark Landler, New York Times, April 22).
NATO spokesman James Appathurai told journalists that the alliance's foreign ministers had decided that no tactical arms would be removed unless there was consensus from all 28 member states, Agence France-Presse reported.
"There will be no unilateral moves when it comes to NATO's nuclear policy or posture. All decisions will be taken together," Appathurai said.
"All ministers stressed that our unity, when it comes to nuclear policy, will remain rock solid," he said, noting that the states also were in agreement that "Russia should be engaged in reducing the number of nuclear weapons" (Agence France-Presse/Raw Story, April 22).
Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball was dismissive of the U.S. call to make tactical reductions contingent upon moves by Russia, the Associated Press reported.
"Linking removal of these militarily irrelevant weapons to Russian action on tactical nuclear reductions is naive and a recipe for inaction," Kimball said (Robert Burns, Associated Press/Google News, April 22).