Whither Nuclear Weapons? NATO Takes Up the Challenge

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Whither Nuclear Weapons? NATO Takes Up the Challenge

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit starts on Sunday, May 20, in Chicago. The issues to be addressed at the summit are broad and include the war in Afghanistan, the future of alliance operations such as last year’s campaign in Libya and nuclear weapons policies. Attempts to move beyond obsolete Cold War deployments, and reverse the weapons’ spread worldwide, have led to global posturing. In Congress, conservatives are looking to buck a bipartisan consensus and have larded this week’s National Defense Authorization Act with billions of dollars in unnecessary nuclear projects, while demanding, against the Pentagon’s advice, an expensive missile defense system for the East Coast. Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to use a European missile defense shield aimed at countries like Iran as an excuse for refusing to engage in talks to phase out its thousands of vulnerable and outdated tactical nuclear weapons.  A pragmatic approach by the administration and our NATO allies prioritizes missile defense plans that are effective and backed alliance-wide; finding a common approach to achieve the alliance’s nuclear weapons goals; and using alliance decisions to foster further U.S.-Russia arms control talks.

U.S., NATO move ahead on missile defense that works to reassure NATO allies, protects from potential threats such as Iran. As the AP reports, in Chicago, “The alliance will declare that it has partly completed a missile defense shield for Europe. The system has achieved ‘interim capability,’ against possible missile threats from Iran or elsewhere, NATO claims. Russia opposes the system, and has rebuffed NATO efforts to form a partnership. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not attending the summit, largely because of the missile defense split.”

As Ambassador Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution notes, the Obama administration missile defense plan, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), is designed to protect against threats from countries like Iran, not Russian missiles. “The EPAA is based on the Aegis SPY-1 radar and Standard SM-3 missile interceptor, which is to be upgraded over the next decade to defend NATO Europe, and later to augment defense of the U.S. homeland, against prospective longer-range ballistic missiles from Iran (though NATO as a matter of policy does not publicly cite Iran).” Yet, as Pifer explains, Russia continues to voice opposition: “Initially, the Russians seemed to see the EPAA as less of a threat than the Bush administration plan that it replaced. The Russians agreed at the end of 2010 to explore a cooperative missile defense arrangement with NATO. In 2011, however, Russian officials attached priority to securing from Washington a ‘legal guarantee’ that U.S. missile defenses would not be directed against Russian strategic ballistic missiles, accompanied by a series of constraints. The Obama administration has offered a political assurance on this but could not agree to a legal guarantee.” Russian opposition has not stopped the U.S. and NATO from deploying the system – as NATO Secretary-General wrote in the Wall Street Journal – nor has it stopped American efforts to reassure Russia about the system. [AP, 5/17/12. Steven Pifer, 5/8/12. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 5/13/12]

Goals of NATO nuclear weapons policy remain steady: retain a deterrent nuclear capability, indicate willingness to consider nuclear reductions in Europe as part of negotiations that also reduce Russia’s stockpile. The Nuclear Threat Initiative outlines the underlying principle allies will reinforce in Chicago: “As long as potentially threatening states possess nuclear capabilities, the United States and its NATO allies will retain a deterrent capability.” NATO’s new Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) will showcase the Alliance’s ability to come together around how to achieve those goals while protecting diverse members’ needs. As a paper from several experts at the Carnegie Endowment notes, “The DDPR, to be completed for the Chicago Summit, offered a vehicle for resolving key questions about the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO policy that had not been resolved by the Alliance’s 2010 Strategic Concept. Some states, led by Germany, wanted to eliminate the estimated 200 Europe-deployed U.S. nuclear bombs and reestablish NATO decisively in the vanguard of nuclear disarmament. Some, particularly the Baltic and certain Central European states, wanted to retain at least some of these weapons for the foreseeable future. France wanted to avoid further questioning of the vital role of nuclear deterrence. For its part, the United States wanted the Alliance to live up to its responsibility to decide collectively.”

Administration officials tell NSN that the new DDPR will commit the Alliance to “consider” the reduction of those weapons in the context of negotiations with Russia that address the imbalance. [NTI, 5/11/12. CEIP, 4/12]

The way forward: Continuing talks with Russia and the U.S. that include further reductions for both tactical (short-distance) and strategic (inter-continental) nuclear weapons. As Radoslaw Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland, and Jonas Gahr Store, foreign minister of Norway, have written, “At the 2010 Lisbon summit, NATO committed itself to the goal of creating conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. NATO should honor this commitment and seize the opportunity of the upcoming Chicago summit to look at its nuclear policy — and engage with Russia.” The broad outlines of the way forward are clear. Sikorski and Store continue, “Tactical nuclear weapons are not covered by any existing arms control regimes. Thus, over two decades after the Cold War ended, thousands of tactical nuclear weapons remain in Europe. We have still not managed to establish any credible system of accounting for these weapons. We do not know the exact size of the U.S. and Russian arsenals, nor are we certain of their storage locations. It is high time to hold a meaningful dialogue between NATO and Russia on nuclear issues in general, and on tactical nuclear weapons in particular. Such talks could inject a positive note into NATO–Russia relations, bring about greater transparency and enhance mutual trust.”

To facilitate that mutual trust, the alliance should continue to implement European missile defense plans while simultaneously continuing to work with Russia to solve its ongoing concerns. As Ambassador Pifer writes, “Why does cooperation make sense for Washington and NATO? First, it would defuse missile defense from becoming a problem that would undermine broader U.S.-Russian and NATO-Russian relations. Second, involving the Russians would provide a better defense of Europe. Third, genuine cooperation could prove a game-changer in knocking down lingering Cold War stereotypes in Moscow.”

In addition, many alliance members continue to support nonproliferation efforts through their efforts in forums like the G8. As Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations explains, “Over the past decade, the G8 has become a hub of efforts to control and reverse the spread of nuclear weapons. Camp David will review progress. This includes evaluating implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 (which requires UN members to prevent WMD from falling into the hands of nonstate actors), as well as efforts to build on the 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits, in assisting nations in improving the security of their nuclear and radiological holdings. The G8 is unlikely, however, to achieve major progress to confront the challenge of Iran, despite increased concerns contained in IAEA reports of the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. Given Russia’s cool(ing) relations with the West, the final communiqué is unlikely to call for anything more than full Iranian compliance with its international obligations.” [Radoslaw Sikorski and Jonas Gahr Store, 5/14/12. Steven Pifer, 5/15/12. Stewart Patrick, 5/16/12]

What We’re Reading 

A confidential United Nations report shows Iran is selling weapons to Syria despite a ban.

The head of the Syrian opposition party, the Syrian National Alliance, will resign due to growing criticism as well as rifts within the party.

According to Turkey, an Israeli fighter jet violated Northern Cypriot air space.

North Korea is believed to have resumed construction of a nuclear reactor, according to a new report.

The Hague delayed the war crimes trial of a former Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic, for three months.

Greece’s caretaker Prime Minister appointed a temporary cabinet, expected to remain until a second general election next month.

France’s new government questioned the European Union’s fiscal pact.

A military court in the self proclaimed Somaliland has sentenced 17 citizens to death as a result of their role in an attack on a military base.

A U.S. federal judge blocked enaction of last year’s Congressional action to authorize indefinite military detention of suspected terrorists, claiming it fails to “pass constitutional muster.”

DEA agents joined counter narcotics efforts in Honduras during two firefights in the Honduran jungle.

Commentary of the Day

Ezra Klein reconsiders the notion that the United States of America has been in a decline.

Anne Izzillo discusses the financial strength of women in the male dominated workforce of the United Arab Emirates.

John Zogby suggests national security could be the tiebreaker for President Obama in this year’s election.

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