This Week – NATO needs to act on nuclear policy

This week NATO foreign ministers meet (7th & 8th), less than six months before the summit in Chicago. They have a full agenda, not least the debates over the management of withdrawal from Afghanistan and discussing lessons from the Libya experience. They will also consider the deterrence and defense posture review (DDPR) that has been developing behind closed doors, but still in a surprisingly unformed state given its planned completion in May. Internal expectations are not high for significant change, but this really is not good news.

Unless NATO member states take initiative not only to clarify declaratory policy, but also lay out the road towards the withdrawal of its symbolic nuclear deployments in Europe, and shift the tools of assurance toward non-nuclear measures, they will be responsible for freezing the arms control relationship with Russia for several years and impacting upon the chances of pulling together international consensus behind tighter measures to combat the threat of nuclear proliferation.

In engaging Russia and seeking reciprocity, one step that has been much discussed by NATO is developing transparency. As we found out last week at several BASIC co-sponsored seminars in Moscow, NATO will find in Russia a reluctant partner in this area, but before allies point the finger of blame they could well look at their own practice. Even in the United States, the most transparent of nuclear weapon states, overall spending on nuclear weapons is so opaque to those responsible for overseeing it there is even a debate on the order of spend. Last week in Washington, debates over nuclear weapons spending were reaching fever pitch as pressure was mounting to make budgets cutting decisions.

There is even less transparency over the costs of deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The U.S. Senate might soon consider legislation affecting how much the National Nuclear Security Administration will receive for the B-61 Life Extension Program (LEP), partly in support of the warheads that the United States deploys in Europe under NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. The Administration requested $223.5 million for the B61 LEP in Fiscal Year 2012. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development recommended earlier in September that spending be limited to $180 million in FY 2012 and requested a number of reports and expert assurances that the LEP would not stretch beyond its means, concerned that reliability and performance would be sacrificed in favor of safety and security.

At a time of austerity and division over nuclear deployments, NATO’s instinctive reaction will be to close ranks and minimize public debate. This will be a mistake –delaying the inevitable, obstructing progress on WMD control, and potentially building steam up that could blow apart the cohesion that is essential to the Alliance. True friends do not remain silent when their mates take irresponsible risks.
 

The views expressed are the author’s own

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