Caitlin Taber and Daryl G. Kimball
The foreign ministers of five NATO countries last month called for a discussion of what the alliance can do to advance nuclear arms control and said “the inclusion of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in subsequent steps towards nuclear disarmament” should be part of the discussion.
Steven Vanackere of Belgium, Guido Westerwelle of Germany, Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, Maxime Verhagen of the Netherlands, and Jonas Gahr Støre of Norway made the proposal in a Feb. 26 letter to NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. They said the NATO foreign ministers meeting next month in Tallinn, Estonia, provides “an opportunity to open a comprehensive discussion on these issues.” NATO’s “future policy requires the full support of all Allies,” they said.
The initiative follows several high-level calls for NATO to change its current nuclear sharing policy under which an estimated 150-250 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs are stationed in 87 aircraft shelters at six bases in five NATO countries.
Shortly after taking office, Germany’s coalition government said in an Oct. 24 statement that, in the context of upcoming talks on a new Strategic Concept for NATO, Berlin “will advocate a withdrawal of remaining nuclear weapons from Germany, both within NATO and vis-à-vis our American allies.” NATO states are scheduled to produce an updated Strategic Concept for the alliance by November.
Separately, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski called on the United States and Russia to achieve “early progress on steep reductions in sub-strategic nuclear weapons” in a Feb. 1 joint op-ed in The International Herald Tribune.
“We still face security challenges in the Europe of today and tomorrow, but from whichever angle you look, there is no role for the use of nuclear weapons in resolving these challenges,” Bildt and Sikorski wrote.
Russia is estimated to possess about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons in various states of readiness. Moscow has indicated that its willingness to discuss the matter depends on the removal of U.S. tactical warheads from NATO bases in Europe. In January 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state-designate, said the United States supports future nuclear arms talks with Russia addressing all types of nuclear weapons—deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic.
At a Feb. 23 press briefing in Washington, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said, “This is a discussion we want to have with allies…. [I]t is not something that we want to do unilaterally, and we don’t want any other ally to move in a direction unilaterally to try to change the NATO nuclear discussion.”