10 NATO Countries Want More Transparency for Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Ten NATO countries recommend increasing transparency of non-strategic nuclear weapons, including numbers and locations at military facilities such as Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Neither NATO nor Russia currently disclose such information.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Four NATO countries supported by six others have proposed a series of steps that NATO and Russia should take to increase transparency of U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The steps are included in a so-called “non-paper” that Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland jointly submitted at the NATO Foreign Affairs Minister meeting in Berlin on 14 April.

Six other NATO allies – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Luxemburg and Slovenia – also supported the paper.

The four-plus-six group recommend that NATO and Russia:

  1. Use the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) as the primary framework for transparency and confidence-building efforts concerning tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
  2. Exchange information about U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons, including numbers, locations, operational status and command arrangements, as well as level of warhead storage security.
  3. Agree on a standard reporting formula for tactical nuclear weapons inventories.
  4. Consider voluntary notifications of movement of tactical nuclear weapons.
  5. Exchange visits by military officials [presumably to storage locations].
  6. Exchange conditions and requirements for gradual reductions of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, including clarifying the number of weapons that have been eliminated and/or stored as a result of the 1991-1992 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs).
  7. Hold a NRC seminar on tactical nuclear weapons in the first quarter of 2012 in Poland.

According to estimates developed by Robert Norris and myself, the United States currently has an inventory of approximately 760 non-strategic nuclear weapons, of which 150-200 bombs are deployed in five European countries. Russia (updated estimate forthcoming soon, previous estimate here) has larger inventory of 3,700-5,400 nonstrategic weapons in central storage, of which an estimated 2,000 are deliverable by nuclear-capable forces.

The proposal comes as the first phase of NATO’s new Defense and Deterrence Posture Review (DDPR) has begun preparation of four so-called scoping papers on 1) the threat facing NATO, 2) the alliance’s strategic mission, 3) the appropriate mix of military forces, and 4) the alliance’s arms control and disarmament policy. The four-plus-six initiative seeks to provide input to the DDPR as well as future work of NATO’s new Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Control and Disarmament Committee. The results of the DDPR are scheduled for approval by the alliance at the summit in March 2012.

Five of the 10 countries supporting the new initiative also were behind an initiative in February 2010 that urged the alliance to include its nuclear policy on the agenda for the NATO meeting in Tallinn in April 2010. The non-paper builds on a previous Polish-Norwegian initiative from April 2010 that is not described.

The Strategic Concept adopted by NATO in November 2010 removed much of the language that previously had identified U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe as the trans-Atlantic “glue” in the alliance. Unfortunately, after unilaterally reducing the U.S. weapons in Europe by more than half between 2000 and 2010 and insisting that the deployment was not linked to Russia, NATO reinstated Russia as an official link by concluding in the Strategic Concept that “any” reductions in the U.S. deployment must take into account the disparity with Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The four-plus-six paper does not explicitly call for new cuts and explicitly rejects unilateral reductions. However, it states that transparency and confidence building are “crucial to paving the way for concrete reductions.” To that end the paper is in tune with statements recently made by Gary Samore, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism, and by Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

I’m an avid supporter of increasing transparency, but given the success of the unilateral Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) of 1991-1992 in jumpstarting reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons without verification, I’m a little concerned about how ready some are to reject unilateral cuts. After all, the United States and NATO have just approved one: retirement of the nuclear Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM/N). Rather, transparency, unilateral cuts, and negotiated reductions should all be embraced as tools to move the process forward of reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons.

See: NATO Non-Paper on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.


2 thoughts on “10 NATO Countries Want More Transparency for Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

  1. Ok, trying not to talk politics … which of course is a huge topic when it comes to U.S. nuclear warheads on European soil, &c …
    Ah! Can’t do it! LOL. Just saying the U.S. has probably too few tactical warheads, but too many of them in Europe.

    High-level transparency is good. Lower level – not so much. Not knowing where they are, on what system they are, increases their deterrence effect and operational value, both in peace time and in war. Hence I even say expand the portfolio of nuclear capable delivery systems across the forces continuum to optionally include everything from a supersized Panzerfaust to ATACMS, from depth charges to ADCAPs, from dumb free-fallers to SRAM-style air launched missiles on various airborne tactical platforms, and not to forget SAM, BMD, and (anti-)orbit systems. That they are capable of delivering nuclear warheads doesn’t mean they should be equipped with them all the time. It’s about maximizing the scalability, flexibility and granularity of defensive or offensive options.

    What is probably desirable is an overall limit of the number of tactical warheads, plus a yield definition and limit. Not a limit on certain delivery systems or stipulation on what delivery systems they are allowed on, or where such delivery systems are allowed to be stationed. That’s pretty much worthless anyway since it’s in their nature to be quite mobile. Any place on earth is just a few (flight) hours away from being home to a tactical nuclear warhead.

    Tactical nuclear weapons are important to stabilize offensive strategic nuclear deterrence (ICBM, SLBM, &c), as they safeguard against salami tactics. And even more than strategic nuclear complexes they might be the one element keeping nation states from sending big industrial-warfare forces against each other. I also don’t subscribe to “… reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons.” without reservations. Now that these hellish machines have been invented we can’t stuff them back into the box. Simply because the “other side” (or a combination of “other sides”) has them and even the nicest worded treaty can’t guarantee that they don’t have them secretly, we also have to have them in suitable quantities and qualities. So this “reducing the numbers” needs to be finely balanced, and quite frankly should not/cannot realistically be the stated unqualified goal of any organization dealing with defence matters.

  2. I’m all for transparency, as a basic requirement. No point having treaties, if no way of checking compliance. Personally, I’m coming from a position that reckons the whole nuclear thing to have been a stupid mistake, badly handled from the beginning, and made worse by the continuous escalation that has happened since Hiroshima. Distiller is a pessimist, who believes there is no chance of an eventual resolution to this costly, distracting business of mutual threats.

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