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NATO Clings to Its Cold War Nuclear Relics
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Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 1, April 27, 2010

At a dinner with fellow NATO Foreign Ministers in Tallinn, Estonia, April 22, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that as NATO debates the role of nuclear weapons and arms control in the context of its new Strategic Concept, the discussion should be guided by five principles:

  • As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance;
  • As a nuclear alliance, widely sharing nuclear risks and responsibilities is fundamental;
  • The broader goal of the alliance must be to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons and recognize that NATO has already dramatically reduced its reliance on nuclear weapons;
  • The alliance must broaden deterrence against 21st century threats, including missile defense, strengthen Article V training and exercises, and draft additional contingency plans to counter new threats.
  • In any future reductions "our aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members, and include non-strategic nuclear weapons in the next round of U.S.-Russian arms control discussions alongside strategic and non-deployed nuclear weapons."

Secretary Clinton also argued that the threat from ballistic missiles is increasing and said that the United States will seek communique language in Lisbon establishing missile defense as a NATO mission.


The United States response to the effort by several NATO Foreign Ministers to engage the alliance is this long-overdue discussion on NATO nuclear-sharing is disappointing.

While the Obama administration deserves credit for making it clear that the next round of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms talks should address tactical as well as strategic nuclear weapons, the United States should not make the mistake of linking the withdrawal of U.S. forward deployed nuclear weapons to action by Russia on its far larger tactical nuclear arsenal.

Clinton's principles fail to recognize the fact that the remaining 200 U.S. tactical bombs stored on five NATO bases in Europe have no military role in the defense of the alliance and they are an obstacle, not a bargaining chip, toward the goal of consolidating and eliminating Russian and U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Linking NATO action on its residual tactical nuclear stockpile to Russian action on tactical nuclear weapons is a recipe for delay and inaction.

As Vice-Chairman of the JCS Gen. Cartwright said at an April 8 briefing in Washington, NATO nukes don't serve a military function not already addressed by other U.S. military assets. See: http://www.cfr.org/publication/21861/nuclear_posture_review.html

The immediate withdrawal of NATO's nuclear relics would advance President Obama's goal of reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons and would bolster global nonproliferation efforts.

NATO must also recognize that in the 21st century, these smaller and more potable nuclear bombs are a security liability, not an asset. They are a target for terrorists, they blur the line between conventional and nuclear conflict, and are a drag on global nonproliferation efforts.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is not providing leadership or helping to advance the discussion, but is simply repeating stale talking points from the NATO of yesteryear. Rasmussen told journalists Monday that: "My personal view is: the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible nuclear deterrent. In a world where nuclear weapons actually exist, NATO needs a credible, effective and safely managed deterrent."

Rasmussen fails to understand that tactical nuclear weapons are not a "credible" weapon. Their destructive effects are too massive to justify their use against nonnuclear threats and other NATO conventional and U.S. nuclear forces can deal with all else.

NATO must recognize that the Cold War conflict that gave rise to thousands of tactical bombs is over. NATO is a strong and dynamic alliance that simply does not need to cling to obsolete U.S. weapons of mass destruction to sustain transatlantic unity.  - DARYL G. KIMBALL