Source: Global Security Newswire, 24 March 2014
Arms control proponents say Russia's annexation of Crimea has essentially killed any prospect of a US tactical nuclear arms withdrawal from Europe.
The United States is understood to field approximately 180 US B-61 gravity bombs at six bases in five NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. The weapons are a holdover from the Cold War. Arms control advocates argue the tactical arms serve little military value and should be pulled back as a show of good faith to Moscow.
Russia is estimated to deploy within its own borders roughly 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons within range of NATO nations.
The Obama administration at one point proposed talks with Russia aimed at further reducing nuclear weapons that would include these nonstrategic arms. However, the souring of relations between the two former Cold War foes had already dampened hopes for a new round of arms control talks with Russia, even before this month's events in Ukraine.
Arms control proponents now acknowledge there is almost no chance of progress in the near term on the NATO tactical arms issue, the London Guardian reported on Sunday.
"The debate over withdrawing nuclear weapons from European NATO air bases is over for the foreseeable future," said George Perkovich, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program. "This will pose some dilemmas for the Dutch, Belgians, Germans and others who have parties that want them out."
"The Ukraine crisis will only amplify voices of those against any move on the B-61, from Eastern Europe in particular," said Ian Kearns, who leads the European Leadership Network, an entity comprised of ex-senior government leaders who support disarmament.
Related arguments by Western arms control supporters against modernizing NATO states' ability to deliver the B-61 by aircraft are also expected to be weakened by the recent events with Russia, said Paul Ingram, the executive director of the British-American Security Information Council.
"I have little doubt that for the moment at least the political opposition towards spending on updating the [dual-capable aircraft] will be weakened by this action," Ingram said. "And that could be all it takes to tip the balance."
NATO Watch Comment:
Last week, activists broke into Volkel air base in the Netherlands where up to 20 B-61 nuclear bombs are kept and took pictures of the WS3 bunkers prior to being arrested. Similar incursions have previously taken place in Belgium and may be part of the reason why the US administration has recently decided to double expenditure on security of these bases.
The modernised version of the B-61 is expected to be ready by 2020 and at a cost of at least $10 billion the Ploughshares Fund has estimated that each refurbished bomb will be worth more than its weight in gold. The new NATO-Russia crisis caused by the turmoil in Ukraine must not be used to justify this needless expenditure and nuclear escalation.
Before the crisis the B-61 was widely perceived as no longer fulfilling any military purpose. That remains the case today and events in Crimea have not altered that fact. Other more tangible measures can strengthen alliance solidarity and reassure Eastern European NATO member states. The reality is that diplomatic engagement and compromise with Russia will eventually be required to resolve not only the crisis in Ukraine but a wide range of other security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond.
Security is possible only with Russia, not against Russia, and to this end, constructive dialogue on cooperation in nuclear disarmament is of paramount importance. A NATO decision to freeze or forgo the B-61 nuclear modernisation programme could help to facilitate that much-needed dialogue. An alliance declaration that it is aiming to reduce and eventually eliminate all tactical weapons in an irreversible and verifiable manner would be a useful confidence-building measure at this difficult time.