BASIC-BITS Research Report 98.5
ISBN: 1 874533 35 0

Nuclear Futures

Western European options for nuclear risk reduction

Martin Butscher, Otfried Nassauer & Stephen Young


6. Nuclear Risk Reduction in Western Europe

Nuclear weapons' role in Western European security must be re-examined. The nuclear tests in South Asia demonstrate the failure of Western non-proliferation policy and the need for urgent action. The revision of NATO's Strategic Concept, to be completed by April 1999, and the first NPT Review Conference under the Treaty's strengthened review process in 2000 provide specific opportunities for improving nuclear policies. The driving force for changes in nuclear doctrine and posture in Western Europe, as well as for support for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, should be a calculated strategy of risk reduction.

At present, the conventional wisdom in Western Europe is that the continued possession of nuclear weapons by France, the UK, and NATO does not affect either proliferation or non-proliferation. The questionable nature of this 'wisdom' is increasingly apparent, highlighted by the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan. Unless the nuclear-weapon states make substantial changes, the future of the entire non-proliferation regime is at stake. Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, and now Under-Secretary General for Disarmament at the United Nations, has said, "Unless there is substantial progress - evidence in the nuclear disarmament field - we are going to have very serious erosion of the confidence of states parties to the Treaty".1

Ambassador Thomas Graham, former Special Advisor to President Clinton for Arms Control and Disarmament and the person who led the successful US campaign to make the NPT permanent, recently put the case even more strongly:

In my judgement, we are approaching a crossroads for the continued viability of the NPT. One course would be continued lack of progress in nuclear disarmament and de facto recognition of India and Pakistan as nuclear-weapon states. If this course of action is followed, it is likely that by the 2000 Review Conference the NPT will begin to come apart and, over the next decade or so, 15-20 additional nuclear-weapon states will appear. Alternatively, there is another course of action that could save the NPT regime. It would involve the five nuclear-weapon states committing themselves by 2000 to, in the next five to ten years, negotiating deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals down to the low hundreds, with ultimate prohibition remaining the goal. In this context, India and Pakistan would be expected to reverse their programs and eventually join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. It is essential for the preservation of the Treaty that the number of nuclear-weapon states not exceed five.2

India, Pakistan, and Israel remain outside the NPT regime. Unless nuclear weapons are delegitimised as a means of providing security, there is a real danger of erosion of the international non-proliferation regime.

To strengthen that regime, Western Europe should develop and promote a strategy that will create a non-nuclear security regime. Increasing reliance on nuclear weapons does not answer concerns about the spread of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological. Instead, Western Europe should help to develop a verifiable international regime to control and eliminate all weapons of mass destruction, contribute to the costs of disarmament and to address security needs through co-operative arrangements rather than military force.

There are six essential steps that Western European states need to take to create a more secure, non-nuclear Europe. France and the UK, Europe's nuclear-weapon states, must play the lead role in implementing these steps. However, Western Europe's non-nuclear-weapon states will have to make substantial contributions, including pressuring the nuclear-weapon states and working in NATO. Implementing these recommendations would begin to create a truly sustainable disarmament process and contribute to the development of a co-operative security regime.

These steps are:

1. Commit to and take programmatic action toward the rapid elimination of nuclear weapons;

2. Reduce the alert status of nuclear weapons;

3. End the deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons and give up the option of wartime nuclear weapons use by non-nuclear-weapon states;

4. Halt first-use policies by France, the UK, and NATO;

5. Include commitments by France and the UK on the future of their nuclear arsenals in the START III context;

6. Initiate a European Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme.

These steps outline a comprehensive nuclear risk reduction strategy for Western Europe. The list begins with the most important and broadest steps, and proceeds to less far-reaching initiatives. Most importantly, the last five steps would all follow from a sincere undertaking of the first.

The six steps closely correspond to many of the crucial provisions in the New Agenda Coalition's June declaration and UN First Committee resolution. That resolution exposed a growing debate in NATO over the Alliance's nuclear doctrine. (See Chapter 1.3 on p.8 for a description of the resolution.) That debate, between the nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, may be exposed during the discussions over the Alliance's Strategic Concept. (See Chapter 5.5 on p.35.)

Not included in the list are the traditional, yet important, items on the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. These include further progress on the bilateral START process, ratification and entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and agreement on treaty on a fissile material production cut-off at the Conference on Disarmament. Each of those steps is significant, but does not fully address the implications of the end of the Cold War. Those goals also already have near universal endorsement - only time and some political will are required to achieve them.

The six steps also focus on options for Western Europe, rather than for all states or all nuclear-weapon states. Russian ratification of START II is the one step in the current regime that would do the most to advance disarmament. The proposals outlined in this report would aid and support Russia in taking that step, but are also critical to creating a new security environment that will allow further progress.

Each step is described in detail below. Wherever possible, the political factors that will influence decisions to implement the steps are also outlined.


6.1 Commit to and Take Programmatic Action Toward the Rapid Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

The five nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT are legally committed to nuclear disarmament under the Treaty. That commitment was strengthened at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference in the Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. That document called for a "programme of action" that included the "determined pursuit by the nuclear-weapon States of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons".3 The International Court of Justice, in its 1996 Advisory Opinion on nuclear weapons, reconfirmed this commitment. The Court unanimously found that there is an "obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international controls".4

The importance of the commitment

A series of studies and initiatives have repeatedly highlighted the need for a clear commitment to complete elimination. For example, the high-level Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, convened by the Australian government, emphasised the importance of this step:

This commitment would change instantly the tenor of debate, the thrust of war planning, and the timing or indeed the necessity for modernisation programs. It would transform the nuclear weapons paradigm from the indefinite management of a world fraught with the twin risks of the use of nuclear weapons and further proliferation, to one of nuclear weapons elimination.5

More recently, eight nations led by Ireland issued a call for rapid progress on nuclear disarmament. The eight nations - Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden - sought "a clear commitment to the speedy, final and total elimination of their nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons capability" from both the nuclear-weapon states and the nuclear-weapon-capable states.

As described in Chapter 1.3 on p.8 above, the June declaration led to a UN First Committee resolution. Voting on the resolution showed a clear split between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states in Europe. Every non-nuclear-weapon state in NATO except Turkey abstained, despite heavy pressure from France, the UK and the US to vote against it. The first operative paragraph of the resolution called on the nuclear-weapon states to make an "unequivocal commitment to the speedy and total elimination" of their nuclear arsenals.

Studies on elimination

A natural result of that commitment would be government programs and studies, from the highest level on down, on the practicalities of elimination. As discussed earlier, in its Defence Review the United Kingdom announced its intention to develop expertise in verification of the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons. This is just one of the technical issues that will require detailed research before the goal of elimination can be achieved.

Both France and the UK should undertake studies on how to reach elimination. These studies could take place before making a commitment to rapid elimination.

The European Council should mandate the European Commission to conduct a similar study, highlighting contributions that each EU member can make to elimination. Important topics that need to be researched include: the transition from low numbers of weapons to zero; permanent maintenance of the verification regime; storage and/or destruction of nuclear materials; and how to handle break-out if it occurs.

Multilateral discussions on elimination

As part of the "programme of action" on nuclear disarmament called for in the Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, the nuclear-weapon states should agree to multilateral discussions on disarmament. In view of their NPT commitments and the demands from the vast majority of countries around the globe - both friendly and non-aligned - the nuclear-weapon states should join discussions on elimination, even without a commitment to that goal. These discussions would not necessarily begin with negotiations. They would serve as a forum for raising ideas and highlighting concerns, a place where the nuclear-weapon states could report on their progress toward disarmament, and all states could propose new initiatives.

These discussions can and should take place in three different forums, each of which would serve its own purpose. None should or would detract from bilateral negotiations between Russia and the United States on START III or other disarmament steps.

At the Conference on Disarmament

The first forum for discussions is at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. At the 1997 NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting for the 2000 Review Conference, South Africa called for the creation of an ad hoc committee at the Conference on Disarmament to discuss nuclear disarmament.6 New Zealand, Canada and others supported similar ideas.7 In January 1998, South Africa formally submitted to the CD a draft resolution to create such a committee "to deliberate upon practical steps for systematic efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as to identify if and when such steps should be the subject of negotiations in the Conference".8 The draft was carefully worded to avoid calling for negotiations on a treaty eliminating nuclear weapons in the CD, as this frequent non-aligned proposal has been firmly resisted by the nuclear-weapon states. The South African proposal was quickly welcomed by a wide variety of states, including New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, and Japan. Canada proposed a similar committee connected with negotiations on a fissile material production ban.9 Belgium has proposed that the CD create "a framework where nuclear disarmament issues could be explained, followed, questioned and answered".10 The previous German government considered it "appropriate and legitimate that discussions should take place in the multilateral forums devoted to disarmament on how member states can contribute to effective measures in the field of nuclear disarmament".11 The new government is presumably even more supportive of the idea.

The European Union should endorse the South African proposal. The current UK position, to include its nuclear arsenal in disarmament negotiations when "satisfied with verified progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons" does not conflict with the idea of a committee to discuss efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.12 The proposal does not commit any state to commence negotiations on the elimination of nuclear weapons. It simply proposes a forum for discussions, for raising proposals, and pursuing ideas for disarmament.

In light of these many demands, in March 1998 the troika of past, present, and upcoming Presidents of the CD was charged with undertaking "intensive consultations" on nuclear disarmament. UK Ambassador to the CD Ian Soutar, who was the President of the last 1998 sessions and thus leader of the final troika, has stated that no consensus emerged on any of the proposals. He noted that the Non-Aligned Movement strongly endorsed establishing an ad hoc committee on disarmament in some form, but that some states opposed this idea, particularly the nuclear-weapon states. He recommended, however, that the troika resume consultations when the CD opens in 1999.13

When confronted with proposals for an ad hoc committee or similar forum, the nuclear-weapon states typically make one of two objections. The first is to highlight the continued need for bilateral progress between the two states with the largest arsenals: Russia and the United States. The nuclear- weapon states point to the substantial progress already made, and express their view that this is the only path to further disarmament.

The second objection is to note that there already exist forums for discussions on disarmament, in the UN's General Assembly and First Committee, at the Disarmament Commission, and in the NPT context, for example.

Neither of these objections are sufficient grounds to continue to refuse such discussions. The proposals put forth do not seek to interrupt the bilateral US-Russian progress. A forum for discussions at the CD would be supplement that process. Negotiations on disarmament would not take place, unless all parties felt there were worthwhile objectives that could be obtained. Nor would the proposal duplicate other forums. The General Assembly is a forum for considering resolutions, and can indicate support for particular approaches, but is not an open-ended forum for discussions. The Disarmament Commission is not designed to provide the long-term focus that discussions on the elimination of nuclear will require. And to date, the nuclear-weapon states have refused to use the NPT enhanced review process as a forum for discussing next steps in the disarmament process. The CD has none of these problems.

In the NATO-Russian Permanent Joint Council

The second forum for discussion on elimination is the NATO-Russian Permanent Joint Council. The Joint Council has already established a working group on nuclear weapons that has three items on its agenda. Adding a fourth - discussions on the elimination of nuclear weapons - is both feasible and logical. More importantly, the existence of this working group demonstrates that nuclear-weapon states are willing to discuss disarmament issues in a multilateral forum, even one that includes non-nuclear-weapon states. Unlike the broader mandate for the Conference on Disarmament, the Joint Council should focus on the specific issues facing Europe. The Joint Council also has the capability to reach agreements more quickly than is normally feasible at the Conference on Disarmament. Two of its agreed areas of work - tactical nuclear weapons and President Yeltsin's statement on de-alerting nuclear weapons - should be among the next steps to the disarmament process as a whole.

Talks among the five

A final forum is five-power talks among the nuclear-weapon states, perhaps with the inclusion of a UN observer to provide reports to other states when appropriate. Unlike the Permanent Joint Council, this would have the advantage of including all the declared nuclear-weapon states. At the same time, discussions in a five-power forum would be simpler than the 60-plus states that could be involved at the CD.

This forum would allow the nuclear-weapon states to discuss the necessary conditions for the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is perhaps the best forum to further discussions on verifying elimination of warheads and creating sustainable storage regimes for fissile materials. At present, the nuclear-weapons states consider much of this information highly secret, as details about building weapons can be revealed during the destruction process. Discussions in this forum could create a regime that could lead to an open process of elimination without giving away nuclear secrets.

A final forum should also be mentioned. As described in Chapter Four, the UK and France have used their Joint Commission on Nuclear Policy and Doctrine to discuss non-proliferation policy. They should now use it to co-ordinate their early entry into the START process.


6.2 Reduce the Alert Status of Nuclear Weapons

On 25 January 1995, the routine launch of a US scientific rocket off the western coast of Norway set off alarms in Russia, and almost led to global disaster. The first reports from Russia's early warning system indicated the rocket was potentially a Trident submarine-launched missile aimed at Russia. For the first time ever, President Yeltsin activated his nuclear suitcase. Russia was literally minutes away from deciding whether to order a retaliatory strike. Finally, Russian officials correctly determined that the missile would land hundreds of kilometres out to sea, and the emergency passed.14 In 1997, reports in the US media indicated that deteriorating Russian command and control systems might have led to missiles switching to "combat mode" without warning.15 US systems have made similar errors in the past. These incidents demonstrate the dangers of maintaining the high alert status typical of the Cold War era.

Earlier De-alerting Steps

NATO has already taken steps to reduce the alert status of some nuclear systems, particularly for tactical weapons. Thousands of warheads have been completely withdrawn and are being destroyed or stored in the United States. Aircraft no longer sit on Quick Reaction Alert, with their electronics preheated and loaded with nuclear weapons, ready for immediate take-off.

As described in Chapter 2, in its Defence Review the UK announced that Trident submarines will now be "routinely at a 'notice to fire' measured in days rather than the few minutes' quick reaction alert sustained throughout the Cold War". At present, few details are available on how this 'notice to fire' status was implemented. Comments from UK officials indicate this is operational or procedural change, rather than a technical one. For example, crews will not constantly be on stand-by alert, and there will be less emphasis on being in constant communication. As a safety measure to reduce the likelihood of accident or miscalculation, this step is praiseworthy. France should immediately declare and implement an identical policy.

According to UK officials, however, this step is not a de-alerting measure. It will not be verifiable externally. Instead, the UK views it as a confidence-building measure, similar to the agreements to detarget nuclear missiles reached with Russia. Those agreements are also unverifiable.

Because the "notice to fire" status is not verifiable, its benefits are minimised. Outside parties cannot confirm the status, so there is no way to ascertain if it was abandoned for a higher level of alert. Russian officials have already stated that they will be unwilling to place their nuclear forces on reduced alert status unless it can be confirmed that British, French, and Chinese forces are de-alerted.16

This raises difficult but not insurmountable issues. Both France and the United Kingdom rely primarily on a single submarine at sea at a time - it is the latter's only nuclear force. This makes verifying the status and location of the submarine more complicated, as this could make the submarine vulnerable to attack. For the United States, it is feasible to reveal the location and status of one submarine at a time in a force of four to six at sea.

Next Steps

Solutions to this dilemma are available. For example, US submarines en route to their launch stations are on a modified alert status from which it takes approximately 18 hours to bring the submarine to full alert, ready for launch within minutes.17 British and French submarines could maintain this status indefinitely, and it is possible to verify this status externally without revealing the submarine's location. One aspect of modified alert is that the missile launch tubes are blocked until the flood plates are removed. It is possible to place an electronic seal on the flood plate. This seal would communicate with a buoy that would be released by the submarine. After a sufficient time delay to disguise the location of the submarine, the buoy broadcasts information confirming that the seals are still in place.18

Similar verifiable steps that could be taken include removing guidance systems from missiles, or shutting down power to the missiles.19 These would increase the amount of time required to deliver missiles to their targets by hours or days.

Further steps

More far reaching steps are also possible. In its Defence Review, the British government reported that it considered removing warheads from missiles and storing them separately ashore, and ending the permanent patrol of Trident submarines. The Review rejected both options: "Either step would undermine the stabilising role that Britain's nuclear deterrent forces would otherwise play in a developing crisis".20

One of the primary arguments used against these steps is that it would lead to a "race to re-alert" that would be more destabilising than the current situation. For example, deploying a nuclear-armed submarine during a time of tension could be perceived as a provocative act that might lead to further escalation.

This argument fails in two important respects. First, if both countries began re-alerting their forces, the end result would merely be a return to the present status - a fully alerted and deployed force. Neither side could have confidence that it had re-alerted its forces sufficiently to launch a disarming first strike, so neither would attack.

More importantly, a substantive and verified de-alerting regime would allow both sides to know how long and what steps it would take to re-alert forces. Both sides would know when the other began re-alerting, and would have ample time to follow suit if necessary.

Thus, both France and the UK should take additional steps to reduce the alert status of their nuclear weapons, and develop ways to make that status verifiable. If permanent patrolling of the submarines is ended, both countries could announce when and if a submarine was going on a training mission patrol. It could allow for verification by national technical means (NTM) that either no missiles or no warheads are on board. This would serve as a confidence-building measure, and indicate the reduced importance of nuclear weapons to European security.

It is important to note that de-alerting should not be seen as a substitute for further disarmament. It is merely one step to reduce the immediate danger of accidental, inadvertent or mistaken nuclear launch. The ultimate goal must remain the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council could discuss each of these steps and agree implementing measures.


6.3 End the Deployment of Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Give Up the Option of Wartime Nuclear Weapons Use by Non-Nuclear-Weapon States

Various estimates place the total Russian tactical nuclear arsenal at between 7,000 and 22,000 warheads.21 According to an unofficial Russian source, 13,700 of Russia's 21,700 tactical nuclear weapons are to be eliminated under the program resulting from the 1991 unilateral reductions taken by Russian President Gorbachev, following earlier steps by US President Bush.22 Another estimate puts operational Russian tactical nuclear weapons at 4,000, a level that could fall to the hundreds over the next decade as weapons reach the end of their service lives.23 The United States maintains less than 1,000 tactical nuclear weapons in its operational arsenal, of which approximately 180 are in Europe.24 The United States also maintains a "hedge" stockpile of warheads that could be re-deployed should circumstances warrant. Tactical nuclear weapons make up a portion of the 2,500 warheads in the hedge.25

The West has three concerns about tactical weapons. First, the number, location, and operational status of the remaining Russian warheads are unknown. Second, Russia's ability to maintain command and control of its nuclear arsenal is, by most accounts, deteriorating. Finally, there is the danger of a sharp turn for the worse in the Russian political situation. US concerns, combined with Russian awareness that its tactical forces are deteriorating even faster than its strategic arsenal, were the driving factors in the language on tactical nuclear systems in the 1997 Helsinki agreements outlining a framework for START III.26 On the other hand, the deterioration of its conventional forces drove Russian doctrinal changes and increased reliance on forward basing of tactical nuclear forces. NATO enlargement exacerbated this concern. NATO should make strenuous efforts in the CFE process to reduce Russian concerns by cutting the Alliance's conventional forces, and enhancing related confidence-building measures.

Current talks in the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council

NATO and Russia have begun discussions on non-strategic arsenals in the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. However, Western countries are dissatisfied with the initial exchanges, and concerns about the Russian non-strategic forces remain. In June 1998, NATO's Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group called "upon Russia to further review its tactical nuclear weapons stockpile with a view toward making additional significant reductions".27

On the other hand, Russia continues to object to NATO expansion and links its reliance on tactical nuclear weapons to NATO's enlargement. NATO's statements that it will not deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new Alliance members provide some reassurance, yet Russia's demand that this pledge be put in a legally-binding form has not been met. Russia has also proposed the withdrawal of all nuclear weapons to national territory. Only US nuclear weapons deployed in Europe do not already meet that objective.

Several proposals have been set forth to address the continued presence of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. They include the creation of a Central European Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ), withdrawal of weapons to national territory, and complete elimination of tactical nuclear weapons. Both the Canberra Commission and the New Agenda Coalition called for ending the deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Each of these proposals has merit, but lacks the critical support of one or more essential players.

Two options are described below: including tactical nuclear weapons in START III, and reciprocal unilateral steps by Russia and the US to reduce nuclear weapons. Both options need to be considered and pursued as appropriate.

Option One: Include tactical nuclear weapons in START III

One of the best approaches would be to include tactical weapons in the next round of the START process. Broad support is mounting for this option. In the Helsinki agreements, the two countries agreed "that in the context of Start III negotiations their experts will explore, as separate issues, possible measures relating to nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missiles and tactical nuclear systems, to include appropriate confidence-building and transparency measures."28 The head of U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force General Eugene Habiger, has stated that he anticipates that START III will place limits on tactical nuclear weapons.29 John Deutch, former US Central Intelligence Agency head, and Ashton Carter, former US assistant secretary of defence, proposed an arms control regime that would set limits on total holdings of nuclear warheads, including non-strategic weapons.30 A recent study by the National Defense University and Los Alamos National Laboratories comes to the same conclusion.31 The authors of this report have long advocated such a regime.32

In the simplest model, START III would set an aggregate total for all active and inactive strategic and non-strategic warheads. Within the limitations set, the agreement would allow the freedom to mix warheads of different categories, according to national needs and plans. The United States could choose to eliminate all or almost all its tactical weapons, while Russia could maintain several hundred or more, thus meeting its concerns about smaller nuclear neighbours. In any scenario, in exchange for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, Russia would agree in a legally binding manner to further substantial reductions in its tactical nuclear arsenal. The agreement would end the deployment of nuclear weapons off national territories. Finally, mutual transparency would become mandatory, through an accounting regime would provide information on the numbers and locations of warheads.

There are many advantages to tackling both tactical and strategic weapons in one framework. First, as outlined in Helsinki, START III will take on the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads. It is advantageous to apply new rules for transparency and verified warhead dismantlement to both tactical and strategic weapons. Second, such an approach would avoid the duplication and additional time that would be necessary to reach separate agreements. Third, dealing with tactical and strategic weapons under the same treaty will allow increased flexibility to address asymmetries in Russian and US postures.Fourth, it would address Russian concerns about US forward-based systems. Finally, it would eliminate the artificial US-Russian arms control distinction between tactical and strategic weapons, which has become increasingly superficial since the end of the Cold War.33 The integration of strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons under joint limitations will promote irreversibility of reductions and increase confidence on both sides in the regime.

Additionally, an agreement of this type could give the force of international treaty obligation to the reductions in tactical nuclear forces already carried out unilaterally by Russia and the United States during the course of the 1990s. The West has long been concerned about Russian implementation of the commitments to reductions made by Gorbachev and the Russian military. A treaty would verify reductions on both sides.

In parallel, France and the United Kingdom could use the agreement on verification of warhead destruction to substantiate the reductions they have undertaken in recent years. For example, the United Kingdom, even without a formal treaty, could allow Russian inspectors the same access that they will get from the United States under START III. Russia could then verify the destruction of the UK's withdrawn WE-177 gravity bombs. In exchange, Russia could allow the UK to access the data gathered by the United States when it verifies Russian reductions.

This does not mean, however, that agreement will be easy. In response to its declining conventional forces, Russian military officials frequently reaffirm the need for stronger reliance on nuclear weapons. Some European states may be reluctant to support the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, fearing that it will indicate a decline in US commitment to the continent. New NATO members in particular may fear the potential revival of the Russian threat.

Furthermore, the regime to verify dismantlement and destruction of strategic and tactical warheads will require far more intrusive and specialised inspections than under any present treaty. Once destroyed, the two sides must create a verifiable storage regime for the residual components.

However, there is strong support for a START III that includes non-strategic weapons. From General Habiger on down, the US military is committed to that goal. US officials have hinted that the Clinton Administration is seeking to create its arms control legacy by getting the first agreement on verified warhead destruction. The US Department of Energy already has a substantial program with Russian scientists on this topic. The Russian military, aware of the rapid and almost inevitable decline of their own forces, may be more willing than it appears to agree to a broad START III that includes non-strategic weapons and verified elimination of warheads. The Chemical Weapons Convention provides some useful parallels for intrusive inspections, but a great deal of work needs to be done in this area.

Option Two: Reciprocal Unilateral Steps

A second option to end the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is for Russia and the United States to undertake a series of reciprocal unilateral, but verifiable, actions for all nuclear weapons. This initiative would be similar to the unilateral steps taken by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev in 1991. Unlike the Bush-Gorbachev reductions, however, these steps would include verification of the reductions and of the storage of the leftover fissile materials. This option has several benefits.

First, it can be done quickly. Rather than the months or years that agreeing a full treaty can take, the two countries can begin to take steps immediately, and continue rapidly. Second, it should appeal to both countries. Russian forces are expected to decline to a level of 1,000-1,500 in the next decade, regardless of the US arsenal. Thus, Russia will want to ensure US forces move toward the same levels, while the US will want to verify the Russian reductions.

Third, it would avoid the complications of parliamentary approval that bedevil or have bedeviled the Chemical Weapons Convention, START II and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and so on. The US Senate and Russian Duma frequently have held up treaties for reasons unrelated to national security and in opposition to national interest. To compensate for the lack of parliamentary approval, both Presidents would provide detailed information, preferably in unclassified form, on the reductions made and on the status of verification.

Fourth, it would provide a simple way to include France and the United Kingdom in the process, and potentially China as well. Each of the five could provide information on the status of their forces, detail reductions taken, and verify cuts by the others. Each would have to provide information on and access to their forces to be able to verify others' reductions. While this step would not be necessary in the early stages of the US-Russian reductions, it would become vital as their forces approached the level of 1,000.

Finally, it would be a seamless way to integrate strategic and non-strategic forces. The verification procedures apply equally well to warheads of any type, as well as to the safe storage of fissile materials. Ideally, the verification procedures would allow Russia and the US to confirm the unilateral reductions taken by both Bush and Gorbachev.

The role for Western Europe

Under either START III or a reciprocal step approach, Western Europe's crucial role would be to support of the removal of US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. The new German government is known to be considering indicating that it could support withdrawal. The UK is confident that its Trident system can fulfil the sub-strategic role traditionally taken by gravity bombs. The British effort, announced in the Defence Review, to study verification of reductions in nuclear arsenals, can also contribute to either approach.

European nations have traditionally argued that full integration of NATO nuclear planning and the existence of nuclear sharing programmes demonstrate a serious American commitment to the defence of Europe. They have also feared that a nuclear withdrawal would be followed by a US conventional pullout and the end of NATO. Others argued that Europe and North America must equally share the risks and burdens of nuclear defence. With the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of any military threat to NATO, these arguments are no longer valid.

Ending the deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe would also end the most provocative aspect of NATO's nuclear sharing: the preparations for and the possible use of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear-weapon states during times of war. As discussed above, at the 1998 PrepCom, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) for the first time formally objected to NATO's nuclear sharing policy and recommended ending it.

End nuclear training programs and remove infrastructure

Thus, along with withdrawing US nuclear weapons, NATO should stop training pilots from non-nuclear-weapon states for nuclear missions and remove all associated infrastructures for those states' territories. As described in Chapter 5, each country has one wing of fighter aircraft trained to use nuclear weapons in war, as well as facilities for storing nuclear weapons.

As NATO recently made clear, nuclear weapons' "fundamental purpose is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war."34 The military role for US tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe is absolutely minimal. There is no need for forward deployment, and the political costs far outweigh the benefits. The withdrawal of such weapons would neither weaken US commitment to Europe, nor encourage Russian military adventurism.


6.4 Halt First-Use Policies by France, the UK, and NATO

As the UK stated in its Strategic Defence Review,

the collapse of Communism and the emergence of democratic states throughout Eastern Europe and in Russia means that there is today no direct military threat to the United Kingdom or Western Europe. Nor do we foresee the re-emergence of such a threat.35

NATO conventional forces in Europe are vastly superior to any conceivable threat, including the slim possibility of a reconstituted Russian army. For these reasons, the two nuclear-weapon states in Europe and NATO should declare no-first-use policies.

In practice, any state that used nuclear weapons would gravely damage its national interests and position, generating massive international and public opposition. The political and economic cost of being the first to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state would be particularly high. In the present environment, any NATO state that did so would become a pariah, shunned by the international community.

NATO needs to translate its 1991 commitment only to use nuclear weapons as a last resort into a military doctrine that precludes first-use. It is inconceivable, in all but the most extreme circumstances, that a non-nuclear-weapon state could mount a conventional attack that would threaten the existence of a nuclear-weapon state. Even Israel has always managed to repel conventional attack without recourse to nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, any use of nuclear weapons, especially first-use, would damage the international non-proliferation regime permanently. Further use of nuclear weapons would be seen as an option, and dozens of states would reconsider their non-nuclear status.

Militarily, there is increasing recognition that nuclear weapons are ineffective in achieving strategic objectives. US General Colin Powell revealed that although the military considered nuclear use, no viable option could be found during the 1991 Gulf War.36

It is difficult to envisage circumstances in which it would be in the interest of the France, the UK, or NATO to initiate the use of nuclear weapons. In NATO's case, the question of whether to use nuclear weapons in a wartime scenario would put extreme pressure on the Alliance, as member states would have differing ideas about whether nuclear use was appropriate or not.

The case of chemical and biological weapons

One scenario frequently suggested for using nuclear weapons is to respond, or even pre-empt, the use of chemical or biological weapons. Former Commander-in-Chief of US Strategic Command, General Lee Butler, describes using nuclear weapons as a solution to chemical or biological attack as an "outmoded idea". According to Butler: "Conventional retaliation would be far more proportionate, less damaging to neighboring states and less horrific for innocent civilians".37

In addition, planning for the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states undermines the security assurances given to non-nuclear-weapon states signatories to the NPT and the non-proliferation regime as a whole. The discussion on security assurances at the 1998 NPT PrepCom highlighted the continued importance placed on this issue by non-nuclear-weapon states, as well as the reluctance of the nuclear-weapon states to provide any additional guarantees.

Finally, it is important to recognise that relying on nuclear weapons to handle worst case scenarios is to rely on a weak instrument. For any imagined scenario "requiring" nuclear use there is another even worse case where political issues preclude nuclear use. It is these true worst cases which provide the overriding imperative for risk reduction strategies and non-nuclear responses.

The likelihood of change

Politically, adopting a no-first-use policy faces substantial obstacles. The nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, in some minds, increase the need for a nuclear "deterrent". Uncertainty about Russia's future also increases support for maintaining first-use policies.

At present, the United States military may be the greatest obstacle to a NATO no-first-use policy. As described in Chapter 5, the United States has traditionally led changes in NATO military doctrine, particularly in nuclear policy. There is a debate within the US Administration and military on first-use, but that debate is some way from changing current policy. For example, during his recent visit to China, President Clinton publicly rejected a no-first-use policy.

At the same time, no-first-use would have considerable support. In Germany, the coalition treaty agreed by the new government called for a "campaign to lower the alert status of (NATO's) nuclear weapons and for a renunciation of the first-use of nuclear weapons".38 German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said "We must discuss [no-first-use] openly in the alliance without creating the impression that Germany is going its own way now".39

Within the European Union, Ireland and Sweden, as part of the New Agenda Coalition and elsewhere, have called for no-first-use declarations. In the agreement forming the ruling coalition, the new German government agreed to pursue no-first-use policies, and German officials have pledged to raise the issue in NATO. As described above, the UK Labour Party committed in pre-election documents to pursuing a no-first-use policy on a multilateral basis with allies, but merely reiterated its previous negative security assurances in its Defence Review. Recently, Belgian and Canadian officials have discussed the possibility of NATO ending reliance on first-use. Largely because of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the general illegality of threat or use of nuclear weapons, the Canadian Parliament is undertaking a review of the country's nuclear policies, including first-use.


6.5 Include Commitments by France and the UK on the Future of their Nuclear Arsenals in the START III Context

The slow progress on START II underlines the question of how and when the three smaller nuclear powers should become involved in the process. In the past, bilateral negotiations have been justified on the grounds that they could be completed quickly and efficiently. However, the recent impasse in US-Russian negotiations and the extension of the deadline for full implementation of START II by five years, to 31 December 2007, imply that it would be short sighted to leave the UK, France, and China outside the strategic arms reduction process indefinitely.

Directly involving France and the UK in START III is unnecessary. The 1997 Helsinki framework agreement already provides the outline of a treaty between Russian and the United States. However, politically-binding commitments from France and the UK, for example, to not increase the size of their arsenals would create a more co-operative and stable environment.

First, in the short term, these commitments could help with the Russian Duma's ratification of START II. In the longer term, they would contribute to nuclear weapon's decreasing relevance to European security.

Under current governments, both France and the UK should be able to commit to not increase their arsenals. However, as described in Chapter 3, France does have plans to introduce new weapons to replace much of its existing arsenal. At the same time, the French programme has already faced delays and reductions, and France is still feeling the sting of international criticism following its 1995 resumption of nuclear testing. A French commitment to cancel its planned new systems, particularly if made in the context of the Russian-US reductions, would promote further bilateral reductions, and strengthen the international non-proliferation regime.


6.6 Initiate a European Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme

European Union nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states can contribute to strengthening nuclear disarmament and to safeguarding the international non-proliferation regime. One way to do so would be an integrated European Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme, designed to parallel and add to the US Nunn-Lugar programme. This could be co-ordinated through the European Union-Russia Co-operation Council.

Building on experience already gained in EU-Russia co-operation on civil nuclear programmes, a European programme could assist in:

  • safeguarding nuclear weapons-capable materials and knowledge;
  • strengthening Russian export control regimes;
  • strengthening safety and security at nuclear facilities;
  • handling and converting of excess nuclear weapons materials; and
  • contributing to disarmament.

It could also assist in similar tasks for biological and chemical weapons disarmament, areas beyond the scope of this report.

While many separate projects on individual aspects of the problems already exist in several European countries, much remains to be done. In addition, there is a substantial lack of co-ordination and integration for European projects. Any initiative to widen European activities in this field and strengthen co-ordination is likely to find wide support throughout the foreign policy communities in European countries.

The EU-Russia Co-operation Council was created as part of the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement in 1994. However, ratification of the Agreement was delayed, and it only entered into force in December 1997. The Co-operation Council held its first meeting in January 1998. It stressed that the EU and Russia are ". strategic partners for peace, stability, freedom and prosperity in Europe and that they share a responsibility for the future of the continent and beyond".40 Subjects discussed included (civil) nuclear safety, cross border co-operation, and foreign and security policies. From this, it is clear that, in some areas, Russia can be expected to welcome non-US-options to solve its disarmament and non-proliferation problems.

While it involves some non-NATO nations, any substantial European Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme would also constitute an intra-alliance burden-sharing initiative. NATO, through the Permanent Joint Council, should consult on and contribute to the programme. Its budget should equal or exceed the US Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme, and should be co-ordinated through the existing EU Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) structures. Such a programme would be a logical development of existing EU co-operation in the non-proliferation field. They would find themselves supported by the vast majority of the non-nuclear-weapon states throughout the world. The creation of such a programme would also give great depth and substance to the EU-Russia partnership.

If such a programme proved feasible, the extension of this programme to all EU Associated and Partner nations would dramatically strengthen its effectiveness. This would bring virtually all central and eastern European countries, and the states of the CIS into the regime.

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