Moving beyond the nuclear status quo in Europe


By Hans M. Kristensen, Director, Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists

Twenty years after the unilateral Presidential Nuclear Initiatives initiated bold and visionary reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons, the NATO Summit later this month is expected to endorse nuclear status quo in Europe. On that background, this new report - Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons (86 pages) - provides updates on the status and trends of U.S. and Russian non-strategic forces. It was briefed to reporters yesterday and hill staffers and government officials today. Briefing slides are here.
* Russia and the United States have significantly reduced their inventories of non-strategic nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. But significant inventories remain.
* Excessive and outdated secrecy about non-strategic nuclear weapons inventories, characteristics, locations, missions and dismantlements have created unnecessary and counterproductive uncertainty, suspicion and worst-case assumptions that undermine relations between Russia and NATO.
* Because arms control efforts have been focused on strategic nuclear weapons, the role and composition of non-strategic nuclear weapons have been allowed to retain an aura of relevance that is out of tune with today’s security environment.
* Overemphasis on general security concerns among some officials in a few eastern European NATO countries has been allowed to attribute an importance to U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe that is not credible. The security concerns of those countries are not about nuclear weapons.
* NATO’s new policy that any further reductions must take into account the disparity in the size of U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear warheads is inconsistent with post-Cold War policy and counterproductive because it grants Russian hardliners a veto against further reductions.
* Making additional reductions of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe conditioned on Russian steps and disparity of arsenals unnecessarily perpetuates a nuclear us-and-them relationship and grants non-strategic nuclear weapons an importance they neither have nor deserve.
* Unilateral reductions have been the most effective and only way to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. Imperfect as they may be, that is still the case today.
* Even without arms control agreements, the Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons inventory is likely to continue to decline significantly in the future.
* Russia and the United States should increase transparency of their non-strategic nuclear forces by disclosing overall numbers including how many of the total inventories have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. Similar to the 1991 presidential nuclear initiatives, this should include a statement of when the dismantlement of different categories of warheads will be completed.
* Russia and the United States should declare which types of delivery vehicles have the capability to deliver nuclear weapons that are not covered by the New START treaty.
* Russia and the United States should declare which of their storage facilities contain non-strategic nuclear warheads and which storage facilities no longer contain such weapons.
* Russia and the United States should begin formal negotiations on a treaty to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons.
* For its part, Russia should retire the SS-N-21 land-attack cruise missile in response to the U.S. decision to retire the nuclear Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile.
* Russia should complete elimination of nuclear warheads for ground forces and make a declaration to that effect.
* Russia should also clarify the status of the Kaliningrad district and declare whether there are nuclear warheads present. If they are present, they should be withdrawn immediately.
* For its part, NATO should immediately phase out the nuclear sharing mission where the United States equips and trains non-nuclear NATO allies to deliver U.S. nuclear weapons in wartime.
* The United States should declare, in consultation with its allies, that the mission of forward-deploying non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe has been completed with end of the Cold War and begin preparations to withdraw the remaining weapons.
* The United States and NATO should continue their previous practice of making unilateral reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons. In doing so, Russian reciprocity should be a goal but not a condition.
* The security concerns of eastern European countries should be addressed realistically and in ways that reduces the salience of nuclear weapons and decreases tension in general.
* In further reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons, NATO must be careful not to increase non-nuclear capabilities to such an extent that it reinforces Russian concerns over NATO’s conventional forces capability and perpetuates the Russian military reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons.