By Hans M. Kristensen
Only a few years before U.S. nuclear bombs deployed at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands are scheduled to be airlifted back to the United States and replaced with an improved bomb with greater accuracy, the U.S. and Dutch governments are in a dispute over how to deal with the environmental consequences of a potential accident.
The Dutch government wants environmental remediation to be discussed in the Netherlands United States Operational Group (NUSOG), a special bilateral group established in 2003 to discuss matters relating to the U.S. deployment of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands.
But the United States has refused, arguing that NUSOG is the wrong forum to discuss the issue and that environmental remediation is covered by the standard Status of Forces Agreement from 1951.
The disagreement at one point got so heated that a Dutch officials threatened that his government might have to consider reviewing US Air Force nuclear overflight rights of the Netherlands if the United States continue to block the issue from being discussed within the NUSOG.
The dispute was uncovered by the Brandpunt Reporter of the TV station KRO (see video and also this report), who discovered three secret documents previously released by WikiLeaks (document 1, document 2, and document 3).
The documents not only describe the Dutch government’s attempts to discuss – and U.S. efforts to block – the issue within NUSOG, but also confirm what is officially secret but everyone knows: that the United States stores nuclear weapons at Volkel Air Base. Continue reading
First, what good will an American attack do? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey recently told Congress, “Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. … It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”
Second, what harm will an American attack do? There is evidence that keeping this civil war going will increase the fighting strength of al Qaeda. In addition to threatening our own nation, that also increases the risk of chaos in the Russian Federation, particularly its Chechen Republic. Unrest in a nation with thousands of nuclear weapons – especially when pointed at us – is a threat to our national security. And, as the Boston Marathon bombing shows, Chechen jihadists are not solely a threat to Russia, but to us as well.
Third, how certain are we about who is responsible for the recent chemical weapons attacks? Today, George Kenney has an excellent article on the Huffington Post, which notes:
… it remains far from clear who did it. None of the many insurgent groups are saints; to be honest, with the fighting going against the insurgency in recent months there would be far greater incentives on their side to use chemical weapons, in the hope of triggering western intervention, than there would be on the part of Syrian government forces. …
During the Bosnian civil war the Bosnian Muslims skillfully leveraged the propaganda value of various massacres to catalyze western intervention. Yet in many cases the identity of the perpetrators was in doubt. From my own several stays in the besieged city of Sarajevo during the war, my own inspection of alleged mortar impact sites (from the “flower” a mortar/bomb impact leaves in pavement an expert can estimate direction and angle of attack), and my conversations both with very senior, serving U.S. officers (one major general, for example, told me if it had always been the Serbs he only wished the U.S. Army had a few mortar squads with that ability to make impossible shots) and with senior UN military officers on the scene, I concluded that some of the more sensational attacks, such as the Markale massacre, were carried out by Bosnian Muslim forces against their own civilians. A few seasoned western reporters concluded the same. To be fair, the evidence was never absolutely definitive and a rancorous debate continues to this day. Shocking, but such is the nature of war.
Fourth, do we have any options other than doing nothing or attacking Assad? Most accounts assume those are our only two options, but as George Kenney’s article concludes:
If the U.S. government feels that it has to do something, the best thing and, to be honest, the only thing — at the moment — is to provide assistance to the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced, and redouble our efforts at diplomacy.
A diplomatic solution would be the best of all possible worlds, but will never happen so long as our bottom line is “Assad must go.” Given the fate of some other deposed Middle East rulers – Gaddafi was killed and Mubarak was thrown in jail – there is no way Assad will negotiate on those terms.
Given our painful experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, isn’t it time we thought things through more carefully before pulling the trigger on military action yet again?
Additional Reference: After I wrote this post, a highly relevant interview came to my attention in today’s Christian Science Monitor. The headline gives the gist, “In an interview, Hans Blix (chief UN arms inspector for Iraq from 2000-2003) says: If US military action in Syria is all about ‘punishing’ Bashar al-Assad to satisfy public and media opinion without even hearing the UN inspectors report, it will be a sad day for international legality.” Blix makes a number of important points which warrant our attention before taking military action.
Summer issue of the PIR, Fukushima and much more.
Summer Issue of the Public Interest Report
The Summer issue of the PIR is now available online; it includes articles on benefits and challenges of active monitoring of nuclear weapons, history of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, and mechanisms to attract students to the nuclear policy field.
Volume 66, No 3
The future of domestic and global nuclear security depends on today’s university students and young professionals feeding the pipeline to supply the requisite scientific workforce. To develop the next generation of nuclear security experts, universities must not only train students in technical nuclear science but also provide a comprehensive educational platform including nuclear energy and weapons policy in the context of the current political science architecture. By Erika Suzuki, Bethany Goldblum and Jasmina Vujic.
FAS President Charles Ferguson discusses ideas to reduce nuclear dangers.
The United States has produced approximately 66,500 nuclear weapons from 1945 to mid-2013, of approximately 100 types. The historic high of the U.S. stockpile was reached in 1967 with 31,255 nuclear warheads. This article examines three main factors which led to the growth and diversity of the U.S. nuclear program: rivalry between the branches of the armed forces, belief that the United States could achieve security through superiority with nuclear weapons and a hyperactive definition of deterrence. By Robert S. Norris.
South Asia is a region home to nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. In order to create stability between India and Pakistan, it is necessary to build better trade relations. This article discusses recommendations to achieve economic stability in both countries, including improvements to infrastructure and forming a uniform trade policy. By Ravi Patel.
As the United States remains on a path towards continued reductions of nuclear weapons in concert with Russia, there is a likelihood that future arms control initiatives may include individual warheads – strategic and tactical, deployed and non-deployed. Verification of such an agreement could prove to be challenging and costly under an inspection-oriented regime. An active monitoring system could reduce the burden of inspection activities to achieve equivalent confidence that treaty obligations are being upheld by increasing transparency of operations. This article explores the active monitoring concept, in addition to highlighting both the challenges and solutions such a system would provide. By Jay Brotz, Justin Fernandez and Sharon DeLand.
Remarks from Hans Kristensen’s presentation to the Deterrence and Assurance Working Group at the U.S. Air Force’s Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The remarks address critical questions including how many nuclear weapons are enough and ways the United States can reduce nuclear targeting and alert levels of forces. By Hans Kristensen.
News and Notes from FAS Headquarters.