"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004

NATO On Nuclear Weapons: Opportunities Missed and Next Steps Forward

By Daryl G. Kimball, Oliver Meier, and Paul Ingram At their May 20-21 summit in Chicago, NATO leaders missed an important opportunity to change the Alliance's outdated nuclear policy and open the way to improving European security by the removal of the remaining 180 U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe, which serve no practical military value for the defense of the Alliance. The Alliance's Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) was launched at NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010 primarily to resolve differences among allies on the future role of nuclear weapons. The result is an indecisive...

Experts Available to Comment on NATO Nuclear Policy Review, Tactical Nuclear Arms Control



For Immediate Release: May 14, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) At the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago, the alliance is expected to approve and release its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) report. The DDPR was launched following the previous NATO summit to determine the proper mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defense assets for the alliance.

Unfortunately, the DDPR report will not directly lead to changes in the deployment of some 180 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs in five European NATO countries. Senior U.S. officials have stated that "whatever military mission" tactical nuclear weapons serve "could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe."

However, the DDPR may provide some refinement of NATO's policy for when and why those nuclear weapons might be used, outline concepts for working with Russia to account for U.S. and Russian tactical bombs left over from the Cold War, and establish a body for future NATO deliberations on arms control. The document has been described by one official familiar with the deliberations as the foundation for change, but not the change itself.

Arms Control Association and other NGO experts will be available to comment on these and other issues:

Daryl G. Kimball
, ACA Executive Director (202) 463-8270 x107

Oliver Meier
, ACA International Representative (in Berlin) +49-171-359-2410

Paul Ingram
, Executive Director, British American Security Information Council +44-790-870-8175

Additional Resources:

"The NATO Summit: Recasting the Debate Over U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe", by Oliver Meier and Paul Ingram, Arms Control Today, May 2012.

"NATO's DDPR: What to Expect and What Needs to Be Done After the Chicago Summit," by Paul Ingram and Oliver Meier, ArmsControlNow, May 3, 2012.

"NATO's Incredible Nuclear Strategy: Why U.S. Weapons in Europe Deter No One,"by Edmund Seay (former principal arms control adviser to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2011), Arms Control Today, November 2011.

"Strategic Choices on Tactical Weapons," Daryl G. Kimball, editorial, Arms Control Today, November 2011.





The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.


(Washington, D.C.) At the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago, the alliance is expected to approve and release its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) report. The DDPR was launched following the previous NATO summit to determine the proper mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defense assets for the alliance.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

NATO's DDPR: What to Expect and What Needs to Be Done After the Chicago Summit

By Paul Ingram and Oliver Meier NOTE: This post follows up on an article published in Arms Control Today , May 2, 2012 To the surprise of many, NATO foreign and defense ministers agreed on a draft text of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) report during their April 18-19 Brussels meetings . The agreement on the 3½-page draft was possible because Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States presented other allies with a compromise proposal, which was adopted with only minor revisions. Even though the document still has to be approved by heads of state and government...

The NATO Summit: Recasting the Debate Over U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe

By Oliver Meier and Paul Ingram

During their April 18-19 meeting, NATO foreign and defense ministers agreed on the draft text of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review report. According to diplomatic sources, the draft contains several elements to enable continued discussion toward a new consensus on the role of nuclear weapons within the alliance.

For example, the allies are prepared to offer Russia a substantive dialogue to increase transparency with regard to tactical nuclear weapons. NATO also is likely to revise its nuclear doctrine to make it more consistent with the postures of the United Kingdom and the United States. The report—provided that the heads of state and government at the May 20-21 Chicago summit approve it—could therefore establish important guidance for future debate over NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements and for a stronger role for the alliance in nuclear arms control and disarmament.

Yet, some still maintain that the forward deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe should not be reconsidered, citing worsening relations with Moscow, the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis, and the constraints on defense budgets as a result of the global economic and financial crisis. In reality these developments only highlight the need for a long-overdue revision of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements and for further reductions in the role of nuclear weapons.

In October 2009, the German government triggered an unprecedented debate within the alliance on the value of nuclear sharing arrangements by expressing a desire for withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany. For political, technical, and financial reasons, maintenance of the nuclear status quo is not feasible. Yet, consensus solutions to this problem were elusive at NATO’s Lisbon summit in November 2010 when a new Strategic Concept was adopted. The allies therefore agreed to conduct the posture review. The underlying debate continues, clearly exposing the problems and contradictions associated with NATO’s current nuclear weapons policy. The report that is to be adopted at the summit covers “the range of NATO’s strategic capabilities required, including NATO’s nuclear posture, and missile defence and other means of strategic deterrence and defence.”[1]

As observers have pointed out, the review for some time had been “proceeding with little real political engagement from national capitals and with almost no reference to the wider conditions of economic crisis and reduced defence resources.”[2] If the review were simply to reconfirm the formulaic compromise agreed at Lisbon, NATO would appear inflexible and stagnant, and the alliance would have fallen short of its self-proclaimed goal of encouraging the “creat[ion of] the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.”[3] Certainly, one recent paper argued, NATO could consider options to evolve its nuclear policy in the interests of NATO cohesion and contribution to global disarmament.[4] The leaders in Chicago need to demonstrate their leadership by moving in that direction.

NATO would be well advised not to skirt a debate over its nuclear posture. Below are some proposed elements for an agreement in Chicago to frame a meaningful discussion of nuclear issues within the alliance beyond the summit.

A Good Time to Talk

Some observers argue that “[t]he time has now come to reaffirm and for the time being [leave] alone” the conclusions reached in the Strategic Concept.[5] Yet, none of the arguments that “[t]his is not the right time to let down the nuclear guard”[6] stands up to scrutiny.

Deepening conflicts with Russia. Under NATO’s new Strategic Concept, changes in the alliance’s nuclear policy must be reciprocated by Russia. Reflecting particularly the concerns of central and eastern European countries, the document states that “[a]ny further steps” on NATO tactical nuclear weapons “must take into account the disparity with the greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons.”[7]

Since the Lisbon summit, NATO-Russian relations have deteriorated. One year later, in November 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed exasperation at the lack of progress by NATO and Russia in exploring cooperation on missile defense. Seeing NATO’s developing strategic missile defense plans as an emerging threat to Russia’s nuclear strategic deterrent, he said that Russia would have to respond, possibly by deploying “offensive weapons systems” such as the Iskander short-range missile in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.[8] He again voiced his displeasure just prior to meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2012.[9] Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency may reinforce this uncooperative approach.

Some believe that, in such an environment, cuts in arsenals would show weakness. From this perspective, nuclear sharing shows forthright unity of purpose and continuing faith in nuclear deterrence, thus reassuring NATO members. Removing U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe therefore would be a “concession” to Russia “that would put U.S. and allied interests in Europe and around the world at risk.”[10]

Yet, even without the 180 or so tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, NATO will keep its vast military, political, and economic supremacy vis-à-vis Moscow. The military disparity will widen despite Russian intentions to increase defense spending and the implications of the financial crisis for NATO defense budgets. In 2010 the combined military spending of NATO countries was 20 times higher than Russia’s. Roughly the same ratio exists for procurement of military equipment and military research and development.[11] Russia’s declared intention to close the gaps with the West will remain an illusion.

NATO hedging against a resurgent Russia reinforces a confrontational NATO-Russian relationship and is self-fulfilling. At the most basic level, “tactical nuclear arms at military combat bases on both sides create uncertainty and concern about possible intentional use under unforeseen circumstances.”[12] This will be intensified by the planned modernization of NATO forces in the coming years. The new B61-12 smart bombs delivered by stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters represent a significant improvement in the alliance’s nuclear war-fighting capabilities that could be seen by the Russians as intentional or used as an excuse to modernize its own tactical nuclear weapons.[13]

The presence of Russian nuclear weapons near NATO borders makes it easier for central and eastern European states to veto a more cooperative NATO approach toward Russia. Conversely, the continued presence in Europe of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on foreign soil—a unique situation today—hands Russia a diplomatic advantage when it demands U.S. nuclear withdrawal as a precondition for including tactical nuclear weapons in talks for a follow-on agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The two sides are trapped in a deterrence relationship characterized by implicit threat.

Dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. Some observers question the wisdom of withdrawing tactical nuclear weapons from Europe when Iran appears to be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.[14] U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe could deter a nuclear-armed Iran, according to this line of thinking. In addition, it is argued that Turkey’s involvement in nuclear sharing reduces the temptation for Ankara to develop its own nuclear weapons capability. Yet, Ankara has already retired its own dual-capable aircraft, indicating a lack of commitment to nuclear sharing. In any case, Turkey “would have enormous political problems in being seen as going along with” a NATO decision to employ nuclear weapons against Iran or Syria.[15] Turkish objections at the Lisbon summit in November 2010 even to referencing the Iranian missile threat as a justification for NATO’s missile defense plans suggest a preference for engaging its neighbor Iran rather than dropping into a deterrence posture.

The Turkish elite and public appear to be split on the security value of nuclear sharing arrangements. Turkish analysts and officials themselves argue that unless there is a breakdown in Turkey’s security relationship with the United States, “[n]ot even the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is likely to push Ankara to develop its own nuclear weapons.”[16] A recent opinion poll, however, suggests that around half of the Turkish public believes that Turkey should consider developing its own nuclear weapons if Iran does, rather than relying on NATO for protection.[17]

Moreover, U.S. nuclear weapons based in Turkey under NATO nuclear-sharing arrangements could become an issue at the international conference to be held in December on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. States in the region might be less willing to sign on to legally binding prohibitions of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons if potential competitors on their borders continue to host U.S. nuclear bombs.

The new Strategic Concept correctly finds that NATO “is affected by, and can affect, political and security developments beyond its borders” and states that the alliance wants to contribute “actively to arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament.”[18] It is precisely because of this impact beyond the alliance’s borders that NATO’s continuing commitment to nuclear deterrence undermines its nonproliferation objectives. Justice arguments play strongly in the debate about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iranians challenge what they see as double standards practiced by the nuclear-weapon states and within NATO, in particular, in seeking the benefits of nuclear deterrence while denying that presumed comfort to others. Even proponents of nuclear deterrence concede that as long as Iran has not developed nuclear weapons, “visibly putting Iran on the NATO agenda might reinforce [Iranian] hard-liners’ rhetoric that ‘the West is after us.’”[19]

Nuclear sharing and the financial crisis. The U.S. military footprint in Europe will shrink, both to rebalance the U.S. “global posture and presence, emphasizing the Pacific and the Middle East,”[20] and as a result of budgetary pressures. At the same time, European allies are contemplating their own reductions in defense spending. Worrying about Russia’s intentions, central and eastern European leaders are made uneasy by these two factors. Some observers argue that U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe offer good value for money because they are already deployed and “[t]he cost for the U.S. Air Force of the European nuclear mission, and of a nuclear capability for the successors to the fighter-bombers currently in service in European air forces will be limited.”[21]

Twenty years after the Cold War, these arguments are likely to gain little traction in those parliaments debating the necessary funds, in part because NATO itself has avoided public debate on the wisdom of further investment in nuclear sharing. Development of the F-35, assigned to replace most of the aging nuclear-capable aircraft in Europe, has run into serious delays and cost overruns, also affecting the nuclear version of the aircraft. The total cost estimate for the life extension program (LEP) of the 500 or so remaining B61 bombs has also recently grown from $4 billion to $5.2 billion, a considerable portion to be spent on the B61s deployed in Europe. Even the U.S. Congress is conducting a review of whether the scope of the B61 LEP is appropriate.[22]

The Obama administration has repeatedly stated its desire to increase reliance on non-nuclear means to accomplish regional deterrence. Consequently, some European governments in NATO also believe that advanced conventional capabilities and missile defenses “imply a reduced salience of nuclear weapons in the overall range of NATO capabilities.”[23] European NATO allies who share this view would expect their contribution to NATO’s emerging strategic missile defenses to be “balanced” by reduced spending on the nuclear elements in NATO’s defense posture. A curtailed debate on how spending for conventional weapons, missile defense, and nuclear elements of NATO’s defense posture should be balanced is likely to result in unnecessary investments in nuclear sharing arrangements that might be phased out in a few years anyway.

Implications for the Review

NATO leaders meeting in Chicago will be preoccupied with discussions on how to contain the quickly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan before, during, and after the pullout of NATO forces and with managing NATO-Russian relations against the background of Putin’s decision to stay away from Chicago. Yet, it would be a mistake to sweep the nuclear issues under the carpet. The posture review presents an important opportunity to put NATO’s nuclear policies on a sound footing by revising those aspects of NATO’s nuclear posture that are particularly divisive and chart the way into the future. Three principles should serve as a yardstick for a continuing review of NATO’s nuclear posture beyond Chicago.

Do no harm. A reaffirmation of the continued value of nuclear sharing for alliance cohesion and defense is not only unnecessary but also potentially harmful to alliance cohesion and to the current diplomatic round of the NPT. As former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) recently argued, “[M]aintaining the nuclear status quo in Europe…runs a high cost and unacceptable risk.”[24] A repetition of the pledge contained in the Strategic Concept to “ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defense planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements” would ignore the broad opposition to current nuclear practices in a number of NATO states, including the ones in which some of the weapons are deployed, and is bound to provoke future conflicts over the modernization of nuclear hardware. Instead, to defuse such conflicts, NATO leaders at the Chicago summit should declare a moratorium on the modernization of the B61 bombs deployed in Europe and the procurement of new dual-capable aircraft.

Be coherent. NATO should declare that it will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. NATO’s current declaratory policy resembles that of France, which does not restrict the possibility of nuclear retaliation against any state. Yet, Paris is the only NATO nuclear-weapon state that does not contribute any nuclear forces to the alliance’s integrated nuclear posture. By contrast, the two states that do assign nuclear forces to NATO—the United Kingdom and the United States—announced in 2010 that they would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that comply with their nonproliferation obligations. “For most member states,” this situation “makes a new NATO declaratory policy necessary, so that the policies of the Alliance reflect those already adopted by these two states.”[25]

Because France is increasingly isolating itself within the alliance by opposing any changes to NATO nuclear policy, some in Paris have suggested that only those NATO members that participate in the alliance’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), that is, the 27 members other than France, should declare “at 27” a more restrictive nuclear posture. This would only highlight French isolation, undermine cohesion, and weaken the nonproliferation benefits of strengthened negative security assurances while failing to satisfy proponents of change, such as Germany. Berlin openly supports “the transfer of the principles contained in the [British and U.S.] negative security assurance to the Alliance context and will continue to do so, including in the context of the current NATO Deterrence and Defence Posture Review” and views the U.S. assurances as “an important step towards strengthening non-proliferation.”[26]

Be forward-looking. Most importantly, the nuclear posture arising from the review has to be sustainable and has to support NATO’s goal of “reinforcing arms control and…promoting disarmament.”[27] At a minimum, NATO should give its explicit blessing to U.S. negotiators as they propose reductions or elimination of tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe in their talks with Russia, but NATO can do more. The alliance’s new arms control body, the WMD Control and Disarmament Committee, has developed a set of potential transparency measures on tactical nuclear weapons, and the Obama administration would like “to use these ideas as the basis for detailed discussions with Russia on concrete steps we can take in this area.”[28] As a concrete transparency measure, NATO could unilaterally declare its total arsenal of nuclear weapons deployed in Europe and in which countries they are deployed. Going one step further, releasing information on all weapons assigned to NATO, including British and U.S. strategic warheads on submarines, could help “to convince those NATO members looking for nuclear reassurance that NATO has a credible, flexible and survivable nuclear posture beyond the heavily disputed B-61 arsenal.”[29] NATO also should be more ambitious with regard to withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. Nunn has recently proposed “[t]o proceed with further reductions of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, with the announced target of completing the consolidation of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the United States within five years, with the final timing and pace to be determined by broad political and security developments between NATO and Russia, including but not limited to their tactical nuclear posture.”[30]

Finally, institutional issues matter. As Acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller recently pointed out, “the process of adapting the Alliance to a changing world will be on-going,”[31] and the political review of nuclear policy therefore should not be terminated in Chicago on the basis that agreement is elusive. If the issue is simply sent back to the NPG and its senior advisory body, the High Level Group (HLG), for implementation, officials will let the issue drift. The guardians of the arsenal at NATO headquarters in Brussels certainly cannot be expected to be a force for change. A continual review of NATO nuclear policies beyond Chicago must take place at the political level and include clear milestones for decision-making. The Chicago summit could decide that the North Atlantic Council, meeting at the level of foreign and defense ministers, should annually receive a report based, for example, on contributions from the new WMD committee and the NPG/HLG on possible changes to NATO’s nuclear posture. The meeting could take place in conjunction with a public seminar on NATO nuclear policy to which major stakeholders are invited and where findings of the reports are debated.

The indications are that NATO leaders in Chicago will be agreeing on a text that frames a continued debate on the role and posture of nuclear weapons within the alliance, based on the principles outlined by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2010, and opens up the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Russians. The leaders would do well to recognize that it is not discussion of nuclear issues that causes rifts and strains but resistance to change and evolution. Even if the posture review does not live up to the hopes many have had for it, it can create the framework for a constructive process that takes into account opinion from across the spectrum and helps the alliance break free from the Cold War legacy holding it back.

Oliver Meier is a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and international representative of the Arms Control Association.

Paul Ingram is executive director of the British American Security Information Council. The authors would like to thank the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its support, which made research for this article possible.


1. NATO, “Lisbon Summit Declaration,” November 20, 2010, para. 30 (adopted November 19, 2010).

2. Simon Lunn and Ian Kearns, “NATO’s Deterrence and Defence Posture Review: A Status Report,” ELN NATO Policy Brief, No. 1 (February 2012), p. 22.

3. NATO, “Active Engagement, Modern Defence,” 2010 (hereinafter 2010 Strategic Concept).

4. George Perkovich et al., “Looking Beyond the Chicago Summit: Nuclear Weapons in Europe and the Future of NATO,” The Carnegie Papers, April 2012.

5. George Robertson, “The Chicago Summit Has More Urgent Priorities Than Nuclear Theology,” ELN Chicago Forum Papers, March 21, 2012.

6.  Bruno Tertrais, “Defining the Right Mix of Capabilities: The Irreplaceable Role of NATO Nuclear Arrangements,” in Managing Change: NATO’s Partnerships and Deterrence in a Globalized World (2011), p. 9.

7. NATO, 2010 Strategic Concept, para. 26.

8. Dmitry Medvedev, “Statement in Connection With the Situation Concerning the NATO Countries’ Missile Defence System in Europe,” November 23, 2012, http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/3115.

9. Dmitry Medvedev, “Speech at a Conference Organised by the Russian Council for International Affairs, Euro-Atlantic Security Community: Myth or Reality?” March 23, 2012.

10. Baker Spring and Michaela Bendikova, “The United States Must Not Concede the Russian Position on Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo, No. 3491 (February 8, 2012).

11. Michael Brzoska et al., “Prospects for Arms Control in Europe,” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, November 2011, p. 6, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id/ipa/08718.pdf.

12. Global Zero NATO-Russia Commission, “Removing U.S. and Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons From European Combat Bases,” February 2012, p. 3.

13. The B61-12’s accuracy is secret, but its tail kit is similar in design to that of the Joint Direct Attack Munition, which has an internal navigation system that is aided by a global positioning system. See www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2011/06/b61-12.php.

14. Oliver Thränert, “Raketentest: Atommacht Iran? Der Preis wäre hoch” [Missile test: Nuclear power Iran? The price would be high], Tagesspiegel, January 3, 2012, http://www.tagesspiegel.de/meinung/raketentest-atommacht-iran-der-preis-waere-hoch/6013448.html.

15. Edmond Seay, “NATO‘s Incredible Nuclear Strategy: Why U.S. Weapons in Europe Deter No One,” Arms Control Today, November 2011.

16. Sinan Ülgen, “Turkey and the Bomb,” The Carnegie Papers, February 2012, p. 1.

17. “Turks Favor Nukes If Iran Have Them Too, Reveals Poll,” Al Arabiya News, March 28, 2012, http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/28/203822.html. In the poll, only 8 percent appeared to have faith in the NATO strategic umbrella for Turkey in relation to Iran, calling into question the commonly held assumption that the presence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Turkey discourages Turkey from developing its own nuclear weapons program.

18. NATO, 2010 Strategic Concept, para. 4c.

19. Bruno Tertrais, “A Nuclear Iran and NATO,” Survival, Vol. 52, No. 6 (December 2010-January 2011), p. 57.

20. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, “Statement on Defense Strategic Guidance,” January 5, 2012, www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1643.

21. Tertrais, “Defining the Right Mix of Capabilities,” p. 6.

22. Project on Government Oversight: “POGO to Panetta: U.S. Taxpayers Shouldn’t Bear the Cost of B61 Bombs Deployed in Europe,” February 1, 2012, http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/letters/nuclear-security-safety/nss-dod-20110201-pogo-panetta-taxpayers-shouldnt-bear-cost-of-b61-bombs-europe.html.

23. Rolf Nikel, “The Future of NATO’s Nuclear Weapons,” Nuclear Policy Paper, No. 9 (November 2011), p. 2, http://tacticalnuclearweapons.ifsh.de/pdf/Nuclear_Policy_Paper_No9.pdf, p. 2.

24. Helmut Schmidt and Sam Nunn, “Toward a World Without Nukes,” The New York Times, April 13, 2012.

25. Malcolm Chalmers, “Words That Matter? NATO Declaratory Policy and the DDPR,” in Reducing Nuclear Risks in Europe: A Framework for Action, ed. Steven Andreasen and Isabelle Williams (Washington, D.C.: Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2011), p. 57.

26. “Further Developing German Nuclear Disarmament Policy—Strengthening and Developing Germany’s Role in Non-proliferation,” Bundestag printed paper No. 17/7226, February 29, 2012, http://tacticalnuclearweapons.ifsh.de/pdf/BT%20120228%20Drs%20177226%20English.pdf.

27. NATO, 2010 Strategic Concept, para. 26.

28. Rose Gottemoeller, “European Security and the Next Steps in Arms Control,” February 29, 2012, www.pism.pl/files/?id_plik=9611.

29. Karl-Heinz Kamp, “NATO‘s Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Beyond ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” NATO Defense College Research Paper, No. 61 (September 2010), p. 12.

30. Sam Nunn, “The Race Between Cooperation and Catastrophe” in Reducing Nuclear Risks in Europe: A Framework for Action, ed. Steven Andreasen and Isabelle Williams (Washington, D.C.: Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2011), pp. 21-22.

31. Gottemoeller, “European Security and the Next Steps in Arms Control.”

Oliver Meier is a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and international representative of the Arms Control Association. Paul Ingram is executive director of the British American Security Information Council. The authors would like to thank the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its support, which made research for this article possible.

NATO to Declare Missile System Ready

Tom Z. Collina

NATO allies plan to announce at their May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the European missile interceptor system has reached an “interim capability,” a senior U.S. official said on March 26.

Meanwhile, Russian officials said in March that President-elect Vladimir Putin is not expected to attend the summit because a year-long effort to reach agreement on NATO-Russian missile defense cooperation has not succeeded.

Speaking at a Washington, D.C., missile defense conference, the U.S. official, Department of State Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense Ellen Tauscher, said that the Aegis-equipped ship USS Vella Gulf “is providing our at-sea Phase 1 missile defense presence” along with the AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey. “We expect NATO to announce that it has achieved an ‘interim capability,’” she said, according to a text of her remarks released by the State Department. “That basically means that Allies will start operating under the same playbook.” Although a Navy ship and the radar have been deployed for months, this would mark their integration with NATO’s existing systems. (See ACT, November 2010.)

The European missile interceptor program is being deployed in phases. The first phase is now operating, with ship-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in the Mediterranean Sea and a tracking radar in Turkey. Subsequent phases include the stationing of land-based SM-3s of increasing capability and number in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018) and the 2020 deployment of the SM-3 IIB, which is advertised to have some capability against long-range ballistic missiles.

NATO and Russia agreed at the alliance’s Lisbon summit in November 2010 to seek ways to cooperate on a Europe-wide missile interceptor system, such as by sharing information on missile threats. Russian leaders, however, are concerned that the latter phases of the system would have the ability to intercept Moscow’s long-range missiles, possibly undermining its nuclear deterrent. Russia has asked for a legally binding agreement that would prevent the United States from aiming its interceptors at Moscow’s offensive missiles. The United States has refused, and no cooperation agreement has been reached.

Last November, Moscow openly threatened to boycott the NATO summit and take other retaliatory measures, such as deploying short-range missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave to destroy NATO interceptors and withdrawing from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). U.S. and NATO officials said their plans to deploy a missile interceptor system in Europe under the Phased Adaptive Approach would proceed regardless of Moscow’s concerns. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

U.S. Rejects Limits

In her remarks at the missile defense conference, Tauscher said that Russia has “raised the issue of a legal guarantee with a set of ‘military-technical criteria’ that could, in effect, create limitations on our ability to develop and deploy future missile defense systems.” She said that Moscow wants “a piece of paper they can point to when a U.S. ship enters certain waters or when an interceptor has a certain speed.”

Tauscher said the United States could not “accept limitations on where we deploy our Aegis ships,” as they are used for a variety of missions around the world in addition to missile defense. “We also will not accept limitations on the capabilities and numbers of our missile defense systems,” she said.

Tauscher said the United States would agree to a political statement that “our missile defenses are not directed at Russia.” She also said that building cooperation with Russia may require the United States to be more transparent about its missile interceptor systems. Responding to congressional criticisms that the administration might provide classified information to Moscow, Tauscher said that the United States “would not give away ‘hit to kill technology,’ telemetry, or any other types of information that would compromise our national security.”

The United States has offered Russia the opportunity to view ship-based SM-3 flight tests in international waters, giving Moscow the time of launch of the target, which is typically provided to the public. Such transparency would be a good first step with Russia, “allowing them to see for themselves, what we are saying about our system is accurate,” said Tauscher, who led a U.S. delegation to Moscow on March 13.

Putin, who currently is prime minister, is to be sworn in as president on May 7. He will travel to the United States 11 days later to attend the Group of Eight summit at Camp David, but does not plan to go to the NATO summit that takes place immediately afterward in Chicago, the Interfax news agency reported March 23.

Open Mic Slip

There had been speculation that Putin’s March victory in Russia’s presidential election might increase the odds that Moscow would agree to cooperate with the United States on the European missile interceptor system. Similarly, there is speculation that Obama might be more open to compromise after the U.S. elections in November. Obama turned speculation into controversy March 26 at the nuclear security summit in Seoul when a private conversation with outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was caught on a live microphone.

Obama said that the missile defense situation “can be solved” but that it would be important for Putin, once in office, to give him “space.” “This is my last election,” Obama said, adding, “After my election, I have more flexibility.”

After Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the incident was “an alarming and troubling development,” Obama told reporters March 27 that he meant that the current political environment is not conducive to bipartisan compromise. “The only way I get this stuff done is if I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support, and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama said.

NATO allies plan to announce at their May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the European missile interceptor system has reached an “interim capability,” a senior U.S. official said on March 26.

Germany pushes for changes in NATO's nuclear posture

A German Luftwaffe Tornado fighter-bomber. By Oliver Meier As NATO works to revise its nuclear and deterrence strategy in time for its May 2012 Summit in Chicago, Germany is pushing for changes in the Alliance's declaratory policy and for a stronger role of NATO in arms control and disarmament. Yet at the same time, Berlin is trying to dodge a debate about the deployment of new types of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. The recent replies by the German government to a set of more than 100 questions asked by the Social Democrats in the Bundestag on Germany's nuclear arms control, disarmament and...

Conventional Arms Control in Europe: Is There a Last Chance?

By Wolfgang Zellner

European security policy currently is characterized by a striking contradiction between declarations and deeds. The November 2010 NATO Strategic Concept says the alliance is striving for “true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia”;[1] in the Astana Commemorative Declaration, the 56 member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) even commit themselves to the “vision of a free, democratic, common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”[2]

According to Karl Deutsch, one of the fathers of this concept, a “security-community…is one in which there is real assurance that the members of that community will not fight each other physically, but will settle their disputes in some other way.”[3] This means nothing less than a community without the threat or use of warfare.

The reality is quite different. The reset of U.S.-Russian security relations so far has produced scarcely any concrete results for Europe. Admittedly, relations with Russia are better than in 2008. There is more discussion, and the whole situation is not as highly charged as it was then. However, none of Europe’s security problems have been resolved, be they the protracted conflicts in Moldova (where official negotiations were resumed in November 2011), in Georgia, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan; possible future rounds of NATO enlargement; missile defense; or tactical nuclear weapons. The situation in the field of arms control is characterized at best by stagnation, if not by backward steps.

The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty is almost dead. Russia suspended its implementation of the treaty in December 2007. A CFE Treaty review conference on September 29, 2011, ended without a final declaration. In November 2011, NATO stopped the CFE Treaty-related data exchange with Russia.[4]

New consultations on a “framework for negotiations to strengthen and to modernize the conventional arms control regime in Europe,” which had been started at NATO’s initiative in June 2010, were broken off in May 2011 without agreement on a follow-up meeting. These consultations were held in the format “at 36,” the 30 CFE Treaty states-parties plus the six new NATO member states that are not parties (Albania, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia). Aimed at a mandate for new negotiations on conventional arms control in Europe, the consultations failed because of disagreement on the interpretation of the principle of host-nation consent, which foresees explicit prior agreement by a host state to the deployment of foreign forces on its territory. Russia agreed with the principle as such, but it disagreed with the addition of the phrase “in its internationally recognized borders”―a reminder about Georgia demanded by the United States and other NATO countries. In addition, Russia was not willing to provide additional transparency measures prior to the opening of negotiations, as requested by NATO. As a result, the consultations have failed for the moment, and many participants have resumed a wait-and-see attitude.

The lack of success in revitalizing the CFE Treaty process already has harmed the efforts to modernize the Vienna Document 1999 of the Negotiations on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures. The proposals of the NATO states sought primarily to lower the thresholds for prior notification of certain military activities and to raise the quota for inspections and evaluation visits. These proposals were rejected by Russia for two major reasons. First, Russia does not want to provide additional transparency as long as its current military reform is under way. Second, Russia perceived additional inspections as a way for the NATO countries to politically circumvent its CFE Treaty suspension. Although a revision of the Vienna Document 1999, known as the Vienna Document 2011, was adopted at the 2011 Vilnius OSCE ministerial council meeting,[5] the progress achieved is limited to purely technical and procedural matters. This poor outcome is aggravated by difficulties with implementation. In early 2012, Russia rejected two demands for evaluation visits under the Vienna Document 2011 with reference to force majeure. The Russian delegation explained that a governmental decision would be needed for providing funds necessary for implementing the Vienna Document 2011 and that the decision-making process could last weeks or even months.[6] This left Western delegations uncertain as to whether the case represented only bureaucratic difficulties or something more.

In addition, since January 2011 the agenda of the Open Skies Consultative Commission has been blocked by a dispute between Greece and Turkey on the admission of Cyprus to the Open Skies Treaty. Greece used to put this question on the agenda of each meeting until Turkey blocked consensus on the agenda. Exceptionally, a meeting on October 24, 2011, “decided on the assignment of flight quota in 2012 as well as on prolongation of previously established rules for certification methodology.”[7] This was crucial for safeguarding the further implementation of the Open Skies Treaty. The blockage has continued since then. Thus, the functioning of another arms control treaty is endangered by disputes on unresolved subregional conflicts, this time between two NATO member states.

The famous European arms control regime, once praised as a paradigm for the world, has been seriously undermined; some elements are collapsing, and others are losing their relevance because of a lack of adaptation and modernization. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller put it bluntly: “[T]he CFE Treaty simply is not relevant anymore to the current security situation in Europe.”[8]

Reasons for the Stalemate

One more-general reason for the current stagnation of European security policy issues is their neglect by the political leaders in light of more important crises such as the Arab Spring, Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria, not to mention the financial and debt crisis. Although each of these topics is more challenging than any European security problem, the latter’s continued neglect can have and has had dire consequences; Georgia in 2008 is a case in point. In addition, the legacy of a decade of unilateral approaches during the Bush era together with the relative restrengthening of Russia with correspondingly tougher attitudes has led to deep mutual distrust.

More specifically, in terms of arms control, the most important element that has blocked progress over the last decade has been the link made by NATO between subregional conflicts and the ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty, commonly known as the Istanbul commitments. When Russia took on the obligation to withdraw its armed forces from Georgia and Moldova at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit, NATO at first only requested the fulfillment of the Russian flank obligations[9] as a precondition for ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty. The link between the withdrawal of the Russian forces and ratification of that treaty was not made until the 2002 NATO Prague summit, at which the member states “urge[d] swift fulfillment of the outstanding Istanbul commitments on Georgia and Moldova, which will create the conditions for Allies and other States Parties to move forward on ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty.”[10] Thus, the United States managed to include its position that goes back to some of the 14 conditions attached by the U.S. Senate to the ratification of the adapted flank agreement in May 1997.[11] The first condition states that “nothing in the CFE Flank Document shall be construed as altering the policy of the United States to achieve the immediate and complete withdrawal of any forces and military equipment under the control of the Russian Federation that are deployed on the territories of the independent states of the former Soviet Union.”[12] The link to subregional conflicts remains a key obstacle for any future conventional arms control regime in Europe.

A second impediment is that subsequent rounds of NATO enlargement have been less and less linked to arms control. The first round of NATO enlargement was still partially embedded in cooperative arms control solutions with Russia. This is true for the 1997 CFE adapted flank agreement mentioned above, which made substantial concessions to Russia; NATO’s intention not to deploy “substantial combat forces” in newly admitted member states, contained in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act;[13] and the Adapted CFE Treaty, which was signed in 1999. Although not all of these elements have become effective—the Adapted CFE Treaty has not entered into force and the term “substantial combat forces” has not yet been defined—they nevertheless represent a more or less coherent effort to adapt conventional arms control arrangements to the political realities changed by NATO enlargement. In the context of the second NATO enlargement in 2004, however, no such efforts were made, although it took place in a substantially worse political atmosphere and involved three former Soviet republics and two flank states. This exacerbated an already sensitive situation. These shortcomings can be rectified and already have been at a symbolic level with the introduction of the “at 36” format, but any further rounds of NATO enlargement that include former Soviet republics would probably mean the final termination of conventional arms control in Europe, at least under the current political conditions.

Third, an interruption of adaptation and modernization for more than a dozen years has led to a situation in which the CFE Treaty has become completely outdated and the Adapted CFE Treaty partially outdated. Some elements of necessary modernization still can be addressed within the traditional parameters of the CFE Treaty regime, such as the inclusion of the Baltic states or, in principle, Russian requests for some form of “balance” or “equilibrium” with NATO in terms of equipment limited by the CFE Treaty. Other issues, such as Russia’s emerging perception of a threat from U.S. long-range conventional missiles,[14] are much more difficult to address, if only because they are of a strategic nature and go beyond a European framework.

The Need for Arms Control

As conventional arms control has become more difficult and costly in political terms, it might be worthwhile to reaffirm the need for and value of a conventional arms control regime in Europe.

First, a “true strategic partnership” between NATO and Russia is difficult to imagine when, at the same time, arms control agreements break down because of unresolved disputes. The key symptom in relations between Russia and the West is deep mistrust. One of the most relevant instruments for building trust is military transparency, something that some experts see as the most important achievement of European arms control. However, the level of transparency has decreased over the last 10 years.

Second, the CFE Treaty regime has so far not achieved very much in terms of subregional stability. It provides for equal ceilings among the three South Caucasus states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), and it served as the role model for the 1996 Florence Agreement among Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia. However, conventional arms control could do much more in this respect. In particular, it could build stability between one large state and small states in specific subregions. This applies primarily to the Baltic region and Georgia. In the Baltic region, stability could be achieved by asymmetric “safety zones,”[15] that is, militarily thinned-out or nondeployment zones. In this context, the term “substantial combat forces” has to be defined. In a specific Istanbul commitment, Russia already has taken on the obligation not to “station substantial additional combat forces” in the Kaliningrad and Pskov oblasts.[16] Abkhazia and South Ossetia cannot be left out of arms control. As one observer recently wrote, “Limits on the number, nature, and role of Russian forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia might—indeed, should—be part of any reconstruction of a conventional arms control regime, but framed in a status-neutral fashion.”[17] This would include the exchange of information and inspections. Stability through arms control in critical subregions can also decrease the pressure for deployments of foreign armed forces and infrastructural elements there. Such deployments would be politically counterproductive and are financially unrealistic in times of defense budget cuts in the United States and elsewhere and further U.S. troop withdrawals from Europe.

The United States has declared that it will seek to include tactical nuclear weapons in the next round of nuclear arms control negotiations. Some European governments also have raised this issue. Yet, it is unlikely that the Russian government will embrace the idea of controlling tactical nuclear weapons if the conventional superiority of the West, which Russia wants to balance through its large tactical nuclear arsenal, remains untouched. As Andrei Zagorski points out, the problem is that the conventional balance contains elements that go beyond the CFE Treaty regime:

The Russian defense establishment appears increasingly concerned with the advanced conventional capabilities of the NATO states, and the US in particular, that are not covered by the CFE regime. Thus any openness towards reducing [tactical nuclear weapons] is more likely to be tacitly or explicitly linked by the Russian defense establishment not only to progress in re-negotiating the CFE regime, but, rather to progress in controlling advanced conventional warfare capabilities under relevant arms control accords.[18]

If this is true, there needs to be not only a revitalization of the CFE Treaty process, with its traditional treaty limits on equipment, but also the inclusion of new categories of military equipment that have been developed over the last 20 years. The problem is that many of these new weapon categories are of a global nature and can scarcely be limited in a regional arms control regime such as the CFE Treaty.

Elements of a New Framework

Although there might be sufficient reasons for revitalizing conventional arms control in Europe, the barriers are high. The CFE Treaty states-parties would have to remove obstacles that they have not been able to be overcome for the last 12 years. The following elements seem to be necessary for building a new framework for conventional arms control in Europe.[19]

First, although transparency is essential and transparency-only approaches are currently fashionable, one will need both elements: transparency and limitations, as well as inspections. Mutual assurance between NATO and Russia is necessary, and Russia probably will not accept a pure transparency approach. In addition, subregional regimes do not work without limitations. Limitations do not necessarily need a legally binding framework; they also can be set by mutual declarations. This has the additional advantage that the CFE Treaty flank rule could be replaced by “security zones” on both sides in border regions.[20] Bilateral security zones can be defined in a more flexible manner than can the flank rule. Dealing with limitations does not mean a return to old bipolar balance concepts as still requested by Russia.[21] However, as the holdings of most NATO states are substantially lower than their ceilings, they could decrease their ceilings without difficulties.

Second, the link between arms control and subregional conflicts should be replaced by political efforts to resolve these conflicts, on the one hand, and status-neutral solutions for arms control, on the other. Russia’s recent admission to the World Trade Organization shows that status-neutral solutions, in this case for the border crossings between Russia and Abkhazia and between Russia and South Ossetia, are possible. Giving up this link might be particularly difficult for the United States, but it is necessary for avoiding a possible Russian link between conventional arms control and missile defense that Moscow never has declared explicitly but at times seemed to be implying.

Third, although a number of governments prefer a legally binding agreement, it might be unachievable because the U.S. Senate most probably will not ratify any agreement that builds on a status-neutral solution. In this situation, it might be preferable to switch to a politically binding agreement. The overall experience with the Vienna Document 1999 has shown that this kind of multilateral agreement can work.

Fourth, although it is true that the “fate of missile defense cooperation and conventional arms control is also inter-linked with developments in other military spheres…in particular, outcomes surrounding non-strategic nuclear weapons,”[22] both sides should be careful to avoid new linkages.

Fifth, the negotiations should take place under the umbrella of the OSCE in the “at 36” format. Because a number of non-NATO states will participate in the negotiations, the NATO-Russia Council might be too narrow of a negotiation framework. The negotiations “at 36” can be complemented by consultations in a range of formats.

Under the current conditions, no serious business might be possible before mid-2013, even if President Barack Obama wins a second term. This break should be used for conceptual discussions and consultations. The process of conventional arms control in Europe can be restarted only on the basis of a new conceptual approach that replaces the idea of ratifying the Adapted CFE Treaty in this or that form. If such a concept is to be elaborated, many countries will have to modify long-held positions. As in 2010, this will require U.S. initiative and leadership. A more active role by European NATO countries also would help. Finally, Russia, which recently has been more active in pointing out what it does not want, must reaffirm and clarify its positive interest in conventional arms control in Europe.


Wolfgang Zellner is deputy director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and head of its Centre for OSCE Research. From 1984 to 1991, he worked as an adviser to a member of the Bundestag on military and security issues, including European arms control.




1. NATO, “Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation,” para. 33, www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf (adopted November 19, 2010).

2. OSCE, “Astana Commemorative Declaration Towards a Security Community,” SUM.DOC/ 1/10/Corr.1, December 3, 2010, para. 1, www.osce.org/cio/74985.

3. Karl W. Deutsch et al., Political Community and the North Atlantic Area: International Organization in the Light of Historical Experience (New York: Greenwood Press Reprint, 1957), p. 5.

4. NATO, “Final Statement,” December 7, 2011, para. 17, www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_81943.htm?mode=pressrelease.

5. OSCE, “Decision No. 7/11: Issues Relevant to the Forum for Security Co-operation,” MC.DEC/7/11/Corr.1, December 7, 2011, www.osce.org/mc/86712.

6. Member of OSCE delegation, telephone interview with author, February 2012.

7. Hartwig Spitzer, “Open Skies in Turbulence: A Well-Functioning Treaty Is Endangered by Outside Developments,” Security and Human Rights, Vol. 22, No. 4 (2011): 378.

8. “Interview With Judy Dempsey From the International Herald Tribune and Special Contributor to the Munich Security Conference,” January 19, 2012, www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/182708.htm (interview with Rose Gottemoeller).

9. The so-called flank rule of the CFE Treaty and the Adapted CFE Treaty provides for specific limitations in the northern (Norway, parts of the military district of Leningrad in Russia) and southern (Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Turkey, a part of Ukraine, parts of the North Caucasus military district of Russia) part of the CFE Treaty area of application. Russia always has been highly critical of the flank rule.

10. NATO, “Prague Summit Declaration,” November 21, 2002, para. 15, www.nato.int/docu/pr/2002/p02-127e.htm (press release).

11. See Ulrich Kühn, “From Capitol Hill to Istanbul: The Origins of the Current CFE Deadlock,” Centre for OSCE Research Working Paper No. 19 (December 2009), www.core-hamburg.de/documents/CORE_Working_Paper_19_Kuehn.pdf.

12. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Flank Document Agreement to the CFE Treaty, 105th Cong., 1st sess., 1997, Exec. Rept. 1, p. 20, www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-105erpt1/pdf/CRPT-105erpt1.pdf.

13. See NATO, “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation Signed in Paris, France,” May 27, 1997, www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_25468.htm.

14. See Anatoly Anin, “Prompt Global Strike Weapons and Strategic Instability,” Security Index, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2011): 15-25.

15. Wolfgang Richter, “Ways Out of the Crisis: Approaches for the Preservation of the CFE Regime,” in The Future of Conventional Arms Control in Europe, ed. Wolfgang Zellner, Hans-Joachim Schmidt, and Götz Neuneck (Baden-Baden: Nomos Publishers, 2009), pp. 351-352. See also Robert H. Legvold, “Reconciling Limitations on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Conventional Arms Control, and Missile Defense Cooperation,” in Reducing Nuclear Risks in Europe, ed. Steve Andreasen and Isabelle Williams (Washington, DC: Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2012), p. 147.

16. “Final Act of the Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe,” CFE.DOC/2/99, November 19, 1999, www.osce.org/library/14114.

17. Legvold, “Reconciling Limitations on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Conventional Arms Control, and Missile Defense Cooperation,” p. 145.

18. Andrei Zagorski, “Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Posture, Politics and Arms Control,” Hamburger Beiträge zur Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik, No. 156 (2011), p. 30, www.ifsh.de/pdf/publikationen/hb/hb156.pdf.

19. For the source for this section, see Rüdiger Hartmann and Hans-Joachim Schmidt, “Konventionelle Rüstungskontrolle in Europa – Wege in die Zukunft” [Conventional arms control in Europe – Ways into the future], HSFK Report, Nr. 6/2011, p. 33, www.hsfk.de/fileadmin/downloads/report0611.pdf.

20. I am grateful to Hans-Joachim Schmidt for this idea.

21. Hartmann and Schmidt, “Konventionelle Rüstungskontrolle in Europa,” p. 33.

22. Legvold, “Reconciling Limitations on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Conventional Arms Control, and Missile Defense Cooperation,” p. 134.


European security policy currently is characterized by a striking contradiction between declarations and deeds. The November 2010 NATO Strategic Concept says the alliance is striving for “true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia”;1 in the Astana Commemorative Declaration, the 56 member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) even commit themselves to the “vision of a free, democratic, common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.”

U.S. Suspends CFE Treaty Implementation

Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the long-running dispute with Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty regime, the U.S. Department of State announced in a Nov. 22 press release that Washington “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia, putting the future of the 1990 pact in serious doubt.

At a press briefing the same day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the decision means that the United States “will not accept Russian inspections of our bases under the CFE [Treaty], and we will also not provide Russia with the annual notifications and military data called for in the treaty.” She added that “it is our understanding that a number, if not all, of the U.S. NATO allies will do the same.”

Nuland said the U.S. action “comes after the United States and NATO allies have tried over the past four years to find a diplomatic solution following Russia’s decision in 2007 to cease implementation with respect to all other 29 CFE [Treaty] states.” Russia claimed its 2007 action was a response to NATO member states’ decision to condition their ratification of the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty on the resolution of a dispute over Russian military deployments in parts of Moldova and Georgia.

According to the press release, Washington “will continue to implement the Treaty and carry out all obligations with all States Parties other than Russia” and will not exceed the pact’s numerical limits on conventional armaments. The United States would resume full CFE Treaty implementation “if Russia resume[d] implementation of its Treaty obligations,” according to the statement.

Beginning in 2010, the Obama administration sought to resolve the CFE dispute through the development of a draft “framework” for new negotiations to strengthen the CFE Treaty regime. But by mid-2011, the talks stalled as Russia could not agree to the principle of host-country consent or to a resumption of compliance with the original CFE Treaty. (See ACT, September 2011.)

In response to the long-running dispute with Russia over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty regime, the U.S. Department of State announced in a Nov. 22 press release that Washington “would cease carrying out certain obligations” under the CFE Treaty with regard to Russia, putting the future of the 1990 pact in serious doubt.

Whither the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty?

By Daryl G. Kimball Today, the Obama administration announced it "would cease carrying out certain obligations under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with regard to Russia." The announcement is a symptom of the long-running disputes that have emerged over CFE implementation over the years and the inability of key parties to reach common ground, despite the Obama administration's recent diplomatic overtures on the issue. The CFE Treaty led to the elimination of thousands of Soviet-era weapons. Today's U.S. announcement is a response to Russia's 2007 announcement that it...

NATO's Incredible Nuclear Strategy: Why U.S. Weapons in Europe Deter No One

Edmond Seay

At its November 2010 summit in Lisbon, NATO proclaimed itself a nuclear alliance, declaring that any change in the status of the 200-odd U.S. B61 gravity bombs stored in various sites around Europe would have to be made by consensus among all 28 allies.

Indeed, paragraph 17 of the Strategic Concept approved at the Lisbon summit made clear the intended duration of this policy:

Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

This reaffirmation of the status quo disappointed many observers whose hopes had been raised by President Barack Obama’s Prague speech in April 2009. Several NATO members also were not pleased with the Lisbon declaration. Allies who wanted more thought given to changing NATO’s nuclear posture worked out a compromise by which the alliance would determine the right combination of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense forces ahead of the May 2012 NATO summit in Chicago. This Deterrence and Defense Posture Review has now completed an initial consultation phase and has begun the negotiating phase, which presumably will result in an agreed text by the May summit.

NATO, however, has a big problem. The confluence of several serious challenges has placed in doubt the safety, security, and effectiveness of the alliance’s nuclear deterrent: The weapons and their means of delivery are old, the weapons systems are vulnerable to sabotage and pre-emption; and these systems lack credibility, both operationally and politically.

This last point is crucial. Nuclear weapons that are not obviously useful in crisis situations are “incredible” in the strictest sense: they lack the credibility necessary to deter potential aggressors. NATO’s B61 bombs are not credible in an operational sense because there is no scenario in which NATO could believably load a B61 onto one of its “dual-capable” fighter-bomber aircraft and fly it in harm’s way, as that would amount to a suicide mission for NATO pilots. These weapons are “incredible” politically as well because there is no conceivable scenario under which all 28 NATO allies would grant consensus to use such weapons, especially in a time of crisis.

As NATO attempts to find its “appropriate mix” of deterrence and defense forces through the posture-review process, important questions about the alliance’s nuclear forces, and especially about the continued presence in Europe of U.S. theater nuclear weapons, can and should be raised by the publics and governments of all 28 member countries, especially those that host the weapons.

Dubious Justification

The justification for continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe rests on four main arguments: deterrence, reassurance, signaling, and burden sharing. A realistic examination of these arguments reveals that each of them is unconvincing at best.

Deterrence. According to the common argument, theater nuclear weapons in Europe prevent attacks by potential adversaries by threatening unacceptable damage in return. This is known as “extended deterrence,” a raising of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over Europe.

A fundamental prerequisite for deterrence is credibility: an adversary is deterred when it believes that a retaliatory threat is credible and unacceptably harsh. NATO’s nuclear deterrent, however, is short on credibility.

Operationally, it defies belief that any of the four countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands) with B61 bombs and fleets of the needed planes would agree to send its pilots on what amounts to a suicide mission, no matter how grave the crisis of the day. (Turkey stores B61s on its territory, but has no dual-capable aircraft.)

Modern air-defense systems in states that could conceivably be the target of a NATO nuclear strike—Russia, Iran, or even Syria—are so formidable that a NATO nuclear mission would have to be preceded by an air defense suppression effort. These, in turn, are massive conventional air operations designed to take out radar sites, command and control nodes, and surface-to-air missile sites ahead of the nuclear strike. In short, a full-blown state of conventional war would have to exist before NATO could reliably employ U.S. theater nuclear weapons.

This fact leads inevitably to political considerations that make NATO’s credibility problem even greater. NATO makes all decisions by consensus, and on contentious issues, this can be problematic even in times of relative peace and quiet. During crises, consensus on such issues can be nearly impossible to reach. An example is the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. The United States formally requested NATO support in undertaking military operations against Saddam Hussein’s regime, but no consensus was forthcoming. In fact, insiders still consider that debate to be the closest NATO ever came to splitting up.

A decision to employ nuclear weapons against any state would surely be an even more difficult sale to allies. Germany, for example, would be extremely reluctant to authorize the release of B61 bombs for potential use against Russia, and it would not be alone in that sentiment. Turkey, among others, would have enormous political problems in being seen as going along with a similar NATO decision regarding Iran or Syria. In short, neither the mechanics nor the politics of nuclear weapons use favor the credibility of NATO’s nuclear deterrent force.

Reassurance. Another argument frequently made in support of U.S. theater nuclear weapons in Europe is the alleged reassurance value these weapons hold for allies, especially those located closest to Russia. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

This guarantee of mutual self-defense is supposedly embodied in the U.S. B61s in Europe, which are believed by some to reassure eastern allies that the United States is committed to Article 5. There is an obvious problem here: if U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe lack the credibility to deter opponents, how can they possibly reassure allies? Beyond that, there is something more than a bit insulting in the supposition that, of all the visible and long-standing U.S. military efforts and elements in Europe, only the nuclear weapons matter.

In fact, eastern allies have repeatedly expressed a preference for the presence of U.S. troops on their soil as the best and most believable Article 5 guarantee. These “boots on the ground” may come in the form of U.S. military aircraft in Poland, land-based Standard Missile-3 interceptors in Romania, or other potential future deployments. The ongoing U.S. commitment to territorial missile defense in Europe may, in fact, be the best short-term way to replace the U.S. theater weapons’ alleged reassurance factor with a real one.

Signaling. Nuclear signaling is an arcane holdover from Cold War days. The theory is that by actively preparing for the use of nuclear weapons, countries can demonstrate intent and resolve to potential adversaries. Extreme forms of the theory even include limited use of nuclear weapons as a signal. Given the very lengthy lead time required to prepare aircraft to receive B61 bombs, it would seem that there is plausibility to this point and that an F-16 mated to a B61 has the potential to warn a potential adversary away from a given course of action in a way that an allied ballistic missile or Tomahawk cruise missile could not.

Here again, however, NATO faces problems. The B61s in Europe are only deliverable by dual-capable aircraft, which have limited ranges unless they are supported by aerial refueling capabilities. Practically speaking, the only potential foe that NATO nuclear-armed fighter-bombers could signal is Russia, which possesses several thousand theater nuclear weapons of its own. If NATO were to signal Russia by increasing the readiness of its nuclear-armed fighter-bombers in Germany, for example, Russia could simply respond by ostentatiously moving nuclear warheads into place to be able to load them quickly onto SS-26 ballistic missiles located near NATO territory.

If the target of nuclear signaling were instead Iran, NATO’s problems would increase exponentially. To send the same kind of signal, NATO would have to transport both dual-capable aircraft and B61 bombs to locations within operational distance of Iran. Such an exposure of extremely inviting targets to Iranian attack would never happen. Alternately, NATO could string together an aerial refueling chain that would allow B61-armed aircraft to fly toward Iranian airspace, but then the whole purpose of signaling would be lost. The signal that matters consists of preparing NATO’s dual-capable aircraft for use, not in actually using them. NATO would no more keep dual-capable fighter jets circling within range of Iranian targets than it would ship B61s to a base within range of Iran’s ballistic missiles.

Burden sharing. The final argument usually presented in favor of a continued U.S. nuclear presence in Europe is one most often made by U.S. commentators, that of burden sharing. Allied hosting of B61 bombs and operation of dual-capable fighter squadrons are seen as an acknowledgment by European allies of the large burden, financial and otherwise, undertaken by the United States in extending nuclear deterrence to Europe. Nuclear burden sharing thus supposedly demonstrates “old” Europe’s willingness to pay its own way. Most U.S. observers of NATO, however, would strongly prefer a different kind of burden sharing, financial rather than nuclear. NATO allies are pledged to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, but at present, only five allies do so. In a time of increasing concern over continuing economic recession, surely it would send a much stronger signal to the U.S. Congress and public if allies were to honor that fundamental obligation first. Allied contributions to territorial missile defense would also be well received, on Capitol Hill as well as on Main Street.


What, then, is to be done about the basing of U.S. theater nuclear weapons in Europe? The NATO posture review appears to be deadlocked along the same lines as the 2010 Strategic Concept debates, at least on the nuclear issue. Germany, Norway, Poland, and others would like NATO at least to contemplate meaningful change in its nuclear posture, and they want the alliance to hold substantive discussions with Russia on finding ways to reduce tensions arising from both sides’ continued deployment of theater nuclear weapons in Europe. France, on the other hand, refuses to allow any serious discussion of reducing the salience of nuclear weapons to NATO, fearing a hidden linkage with France’s independent strategic nuclear deterrent force.

With NATO unable to move forward on this issue, the presence of the U.S. weapons in Europe should be widely and publicly debated, with a special focus on credibility and on value for money. Furthermore, although NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements may not be in technical breach of provisions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—a subject that has been ferociously debated—it certainly violates the spirit of that treaty and lends cheap ammunition to those states that question NATO’s reason to exist in the 21st century.

For that matter, U.S. theater nuclear weapons in Europe provide Russia with the perfect excuse to do nothing about its own massive holdings of such weapons. The status quo suits the Russian government very well, as Moscow can simply invoke its precondition for talks on the removal of the U.S. weapons from Europe.

NATO policymakers should think carefully about why they have rejected this condition out of hand. If, as argued above, these systems have no credibility and thus no deterrent value, what is to be lost through their removal back to the United States? Among other effects, it would force Russia into the much less comfortable position of having to account for the beam in its own eye, rather than being able to point to the mote in NATO’s.

For operational, political, economic, and nonproliferation reasons, NATO needs to agree to the removal of the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. Only NATO publics and governments can make that happen. Governments that care about this issue need to lobby fellow NATO members before, during, and after the 2012 Chicago summit, while publics need to demand greater transparency on discussions of nuclear posture and policy, both nationally and throughout NATO.

Edmond “Ted” Seay, who recently left the U.S. Foreign Service, was the principal arms control adviser to U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder from 2009 to 2011. He has specialized in arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation issues since 1994.

At its November 2010 summit in Lisbon, NATO proclaimed itself a nuclear alliance, declaring that any change in the status of the 200-odd U.S. B61 gravity bombs stored in various sites around Europe would have to be made by consensus among all 28 allies.

Indeed, paragraph 17 of the Strategic Concept approved at the Lisbon summit made clear the intended duration of this policy:

Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.


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