Speaking at the NPT-Review Conference

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is Underway in New York


By Hans M. Kristensen

I gave two talks at the review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, both on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The first was an FAS/BASIC panel on May 10 on Prospects for a shift in NATO’s nuclear posture.

The second was a panel organized by Pax Christi on May 12 on NATO’s nuclear policy.

My prepared remarks follow below:

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Which Way Forward?

Hans M. Kristensen
Director, Nuclear Information Project
Federation of American Scientists
Presentation to FAS/BASIC Panel on Shifting NATO’s Nuclear Posture
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, New York, May 10, 2010

I’ve been asked to talk about the status of the deployment in Europe and about the Obama administration’s policy. There are of course many other issues affecting the status and future of the deployment, but let me focus on those two here.

There are currently about 200 U.S. nuclear bombs deployed in Europe. That is a far cry from the peak of 7,300 tactical nuclear weapons that were deployed there in 1971.  But comparing with the Cold War is no longer relevant; the issue is how the posture fits the security challenges of today.

The deployment currently is about as big as the entire Chinese arsenal, or nearly as much as India, Pakistan, and Israel have combined. That’s a lot for an arsenal that NATO says is not targeted or directed against anyone.

Yet for an alliance that officially emphasizes the importance of continued and widespread deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, the past two decades have been a contradiction: since 1993 when the withdrawal of ground-launched and naval weapons was completed, these “essential” bombs have been reduced from 700 to 200, the number of nuclear bases reduced from 14 to 6, and the number of countries participating in the NATO strike mission reduced from six to four.

The burden sharing principle has been reduced to a shadow of it former self: out of NATO’s 28 members, only five (18 percent) have nuclear weapons on their territory, and only four (14 percent) have the strike mission. Most recently, three of the remaining four asked NATO to formally discuss the future of the mission.

The practice of equipping and training non-nuclear NPT signatories in NATO with U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities was largely tolerated by the NPT community during the Cold War. But this arrangement is untenable in an era where the focus is on nonproliferation because it muddles the message, condones double standards, and is – plain and simple – in contradiction with the intention of the NPT. It is not a standard NATO or the United States should defend today.

So although some officials cling to Cold War arguments for maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, the reality is that it is entirely in line with post-Cold War NATO policy and actions to reduce, curtail, and phase out the nuclear mission. It’s not going the other way. So NATO’s focus should not be whether to withdraw the weapons but how.

The top of the new American administration supports a withdrawal from Europe. You might be surprised to hear that given Hillary Clinton’s statements in Tallinn last month and what some defense officials are saying inside. But those statements are part of a strategy intended to avoid triggering a backlash from some Eastern European NATO countries and Turkey that could lock NATO’s Strategic Concept into decades of nuclear status quo.

The strategy reflects that a clear priority of the Obama administration is to reassure allies and partners and repair the rift that began to open during the previous administration. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR), and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) all emphasize this, and all hint of changes to come in the European deployment.

The QDR states: “To reinforce U.S. commitments to our allies and partners, we will consult closely with them on new, tailored, regional deterrence architectures that combine our forward presence, relevant conventional capabilities (including missile defenses), and continued commitment to extend our nuclear deterrent. These regional architectures and new capabilities, as detailed in the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review, make possible a reduced role for nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” (Emphasis added.)

The BMDR is a little more explicit, stating: “Against nuclear-armed states, regional deterrence will necessarily include a nuclear component (whether forward-deployed or not). But the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in these regional deterrence architectures can be reduced by increasing the role of missile defenses and other capabilities.” (Emphasis added.)

Although the NPR states that the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe and the nuclear sharing arrangement “contribute to Alliance cohesion and provide reassurance to allies and partners who feel exposed to regional threats,” it also reminds that extended deterrence relies less and less of nuclear weapons and that the role will continue to decrease as the new, regional, deterrence architecture matures.

This new, tailored, regional deterrence architecture includes all components of U.S. military capabilities, ranging from effective missile defense, counter-WMD capabilities, conventional power-projection capabilities, and integrated command and control – all underwritten by strong political commitments. The missile defense, the NPR states explicitly, is “part of our extended deterrent and a visible demonstration of our Article 5 commitment to Europe.”

So it is important to understand that the Obama administration sees its security commitments as much more – and increasingly other – than forward deployment of nuclear bombs in Europe. In fact, the forward deployment is the least relevant today, and many U.S. officials privately make no attempt to conceal that they would like to withdraw the weapons and for NATO to move out of the Cold War.

Not only does the NPR retire the nuclear Tomahawk that supported NATO, there are subtle hints that the nuclear bombs may be withdrawn. The NPR reminds that even if the bombs were withdrawn from Europe, the United States will “retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers (in the future, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) and heavy bombers (the B-2 and B-52H).” In addition, the NPR promises, the United States will “continue to maintain and develop long-range strike capabilities that supplement U.S. forward military presence and strengthen regional deterrence.”

The subtle point, I think, is that forward deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe is not very suitable for today’s security challenges, that regional deterrence and reassurance of allies are better served by a new regional security architecture that relies less on nuclear weapons, and that there are plenty of other nuclear capabilities to provide the nuclear umbrella anyway. But none of those changes to U.S. extended deterrence capabilities will be made, the NPR promises, without close consultations with allies and partners.

So I don’t think it’s matter of if but when and how the remaining U.S. weapons will be withdrawn from Europe. The problem with additional gradual unilateral reductions is that it’s hard to cut much more without looking increasingly silly when arguing that the few that will remain are still essential for NATO.

Well aware of this dilemma, opponents of withdrawal have proposed linking further cuts to reductions in Russian tactical nuclear weapons; they know full well that such a link would means nothing will happen anytime soon.

But making further reductions conditioned on Russia reducing its non-strategic nuclear weapons seems insincere because NATO for the past two decades has been perfectly capable of and willing to reduce unilaterally without any demands on Russia. Insisting on reciprocity now, when NATO has been insisting for years that the weapons are not directed against Russia, seems like a step back to the 1980s and intended to shield the last weapons against withdrawal.

Another reason why it makes little sense to link further reductions to Russian reductions is that the improved conventional and missile defense capabilities that are required by the new, tailored, regional deterrence architecture likely will deepen Russian concerns about NATO conventional capabilities. Even though Russia’s non-strategic forces are expected to decline significantly during the next decade, this will probably increase the importance of the remaining weapons in Russian thinking even more.

Fortunately, none of this prevents a unilateral withdrawal of the remaining U.S. weapons from Europe. Indeed, it seems that the way forward is perhaps a two-step process beginning with ending the nuclear sharing mission followed by complete withdrawal a little later. Whatever the schedule is, the good news is that reducing the deployment in Europe is both consistent with NATO history and security interests.

Thank you.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Status and Issues

Hans M. Kristensen
Presentation toPax Christi Panel on Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, New York, May 12, 2010

I’ve been asked to talk about the status of the deployment in Europe and what some of the implications are for NATO.

The 200 U.S. nuclear bombs currently deployed in Europe are a far cry from the peak of 7,300 tactical nuclear weapons in 1971, but comparing with the Cold War is no longer relevant; the issue is how the posture fits the security challenges of today. The current deployment is about as big as the entire Chinese arsenal, or nearly as much as India, Pakistan, and Israel have combined. That’s a lot for an arsenal that NATO says has no military mission.

Yet for an alliance that officially emphasizes the importance of continued and widespread deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, the past two decades have been somewhat of a contradiction: since 1993 when the withdrawal of ground-launched and naval weapons was completed, these “essential” bombs have been reduced from 700 to 200, the number of nuclear bases reduced from 14 to 6, and the number of countries participating in the NATO strike mission reduced from six to four countries that now appear to have serious doubts about continuing the mission. And burden sharing in NATO is actually not very widespread: out of NATO’s 28 members, only five (18 percent) have nuclear weapons on their territory, and only four of those (14 percent) have the strike mission. So nuclear burden sharing is the exception, not the rule, in NATO.

There are several issues that need to be addressed. The first is the mission. NATO is fond of saying that the forward deployment no longer has any military mission. It only serves as a symbol of the U.S. commitment to defend NATO, and without this forward symbol, so the argument goes, the U.S. security interest in Europe would weaken. Whether one agrees with this argument – and I for one believe it is absolutely nonsense – the last thing Europe should look to as the Atlantic glue is a deployment that the United States itself no longer thinks is important. There is a view forming back in Washington that it’s kind of silly for some of the NATO governments to continue to put so much emphasis on this deployment and you only have to look to the NPR report to see how much effort it makes to signal to Europe that extended deterrence and Article V do not depend on deploying nuclear bombs in Europe.

NATO is currently reviewing the nuclear mission, of which the forward deployment is a sub-issue. I think the deployment constrains the review and limits NATO’s ability think anew about the appropriate contribution of nuclear weapons to NATO security. No matter how the forward deployment has been adjusted and what one might otherwise think about the virtues of the deployment, it is at its core a Cold War posture.

Related to the mission review is the question of resources. The forward deployment requires special personnel, special equipment, special command and control, special inspections, special security arrangements, special emergency plans, special political and legal agreements, and special funding, all of which compete with conventional missions and place unnecessary burdens on people, equipment, and institutions. The weapons were withdrawn from Lakenheath and Ramstein partly because those bases needed to focus their mission on real-world contingencies. Those who insist that the deployment is still necessary need to demonstrate what the net benefit is to NATO.

The mission review is closely related to how the deployment affects relations with Russia and other potential adversaries. NATO has insisted for two decades that the weapons in Europe are not aimed at Russia or any country. That may or may not be true, but the deployment is frequently used by Russian officials as an excuse to reject constraints on their own non-strategic nuclear weapons. And Russian military planners will necessarily have to plan contingencies against potential NATO attacks with the weapons deployed in Europe. This ties NATO and Russia to a deterrence relationship that they don’t need to have, and that works against closer relations.

We now see some proposing that further reductions in the U.S. deployment should be linked to reductions in Russian non-strategic weapons. That would of course be one way to make sure the U.S. weapons are not withdrawn anytime soon, but making further reductions conditioned on Russia reducing its non-strategic nuclear weapons is misguided for several reasons. First, because NATO for the past two decades has been perfectly capable of and willing to reduce unilaterally without any demands on Russia. Second, the United States has unilaterally reduced its nonstrategic arsenal far more than Russia because these weapons are no longer seen as important to national security. Insisting on reciprocity now, when NATO has been insisting for years that the deployment is not linked to Russia, seems a step back that would give the European deployment an importance it doesn’t deserve and risk complicating prospects for Russian reductions.

Then there is the issue of safety.  This is more significant than people generally think. The 200 weapons are scattered in 87 aircraft shelters at six bases in five countries. Ten years ago, the U.S. Air Force discovered that weapons maintenance procedures at the shelters under specific conditions could lead to accidents with a nuclear yield. Two years ago, the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review determined that security at the host country bases did not meet U.S. security standards. And just a few months ago, peace activists at Kleine Brogel demonstrated loudly and clearly that despite extensive security arrangements unauthorized people can get deep into a nuclear base and very close to the weapons. The widespread deployment was designed to survive a Soviet attack, but in today’s world widespread deployment is out of sync with nuclear weapons storage in the age of extreme terrorism.

Finally there is the issue of NATO’s nonproliferation standard. The practice of equipping and training non-nuclear NPT signatories in NATO with U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities was largely tolerated by the NPT community during the Cold War. But this arrangement is untenable in an era where the focus is on nonproliferation because it muddles the message, creates double standards, and is – plain and simple – in contradiction with the intention of the NPT. It is not a standard that NATO or the United States should defend today. The nuclear sharing is simply not important enough to justify this contradiction.

The top of the new American administration supports a withdrawal from Europe. You might be surprised to hear that given Hillary Clinton’s statements in Tallinn last month and what some defense officials are saying inside. But those statements are, I think, part of a strategy intended to avoid triggering a backlash from some Eastern European NATO countries and Turkey that could lock NATO’s Strategic Concept into another two decades of nuclear status quo.

Not only does the NPR retire the nuclear Tomahawk that supported NATO, there are subtle hints that the bombs may be withdrawn. The NPR reminds that even if the nuclear bombs were withdrawn from Europe, the United States will “retain the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers (in the future, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) and heavy bombers (the B-2 and B-52H).” In addition, the NPR promises, the United States will “continue to maintain and develop long-range strike capabilities that supplement U.S. forward military presence and strengthen regional deterrence.”

The subtle message to NATO, I think, is that the Obama administration does not believe that forward deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe is necessary for today’s security challenges, that regional deterrence and reassurance of allies are better served by a new regional security architecture that relies less on nuclear weapons, and that there are plenty of other nuclear capabilities to provide the nuclear umbrella to the limited extent that that is necessary. Such a posture has been in effect in Northeast Asia since 1992, and many U.S. officials privately make no attempt to conceal that they would like to withdraw the weapons from Europe too and for NATO to move on.

So I don’t think it’s matter of if but when and in what form the U.S. weapons will be withdrawn from Europe. A way forward might be a two-step process beginning with ending the nuclear sharing mission followed by complete withdrawal a little later. Whatever the schedule is, the good news is that reducing the deployment in Europe is both consistent with NATO history and security interests and the views of the new American administration.

Thank you.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

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