NATO Chief Says Ukraine Events May Affect European Tactical Nuclear Reductions

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Wednesday. The alliance head said proposals for nuclear arms control in Europe could be affected by Russia's annexation of Crimea.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
March 20, 2014, 10:16 a.m.

The head of NATO says Rus­sia’s in­cur­sion in­to Ukraine may af­fect the pro­spects for nuc­le­ar arms con­trol in Europe, which already faced polit­ic­al chal­lenges.

“Of course I can­not ex­clude that the events we have wit­nessed in Crimea will also have an im­pact on the think­ing about arms con­trol, in­clud­ing nuc­le­ar policies,” NATO Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al An­ders Fogh Rasmussen said in Wed­nes­day re­marks at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

The al­li­ance lead­er did not say wheth­er he was re­fer­ring to po­ten­tial changes in NATO’s or Rus­sia’s po­s­i­tions on the po­ten­tial for pull-backs of tac­tic­al nuc­le­ar arms in Europe, or both.

Even be­fore the events this month in east­ern Ukraine, the in­creas­ingly frosty re­la­tion­ship between Mo­scow and Wash­ing­ton had dampened pro­spects for a new round of bi­lat­er­al arms re­duc­tions that might in­clude U.S. non­stra­tegic nuc­le­ar weapons ded­ic­ated to NATO de­fense.

The Krem­lin has shown little in­terest, in par­tic­u­lar, in re­deploy­ing or elim­in­at­ing its es­tim­ated 2,000 tac­tic­al nuc­le­ar arms with ranges that can reach European soil. By con­trast, the United States fields ap­prox­im­ately one-tenth of that size non-stra­tegic atom­ic ar­sen­al in a hand­ful of al­lied na­tions in Europe, in­stead re­ly­ing more on NATO’s su­per­i­or con­ven­tion­al ca­pa­city for de­fense.

Rus­sia mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea and sub­sequent an­nex­a­tion of the ter­rit­ory over the loud protests of Kiev has dis­turbed NATO to a de­gree not seen since the Cold War. The events of the past few weeks have triggered a sig­ni­fic­ant re­think of the role of the West­ern al­li­ance in de­ter­ring Rus­si­an mil­it­ary activ­ity in East­ern and Cent­ral Europe.

The 28-mem­ber de­fense al­li­ance at its last sum­mit in 2012 in Chica­go re­af­firmed that nuc­le­ar arms were a key tool for de­ter­ring would-be ag­gressors. NATO na­tions also said they would work to “cre­ate the con­di­tions” ne­ces­sary for fur­ther cuts to the tac­tic­al nuc­le­ar arms com­mit­ted to NATO.

“We shouldn’t be na­ive,” Rasmussen said on the sub­ject of European nuc­le­ar arms con­trol. “While we will work to­wards a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of nuc­le­ar weapons, we also need more trans­par­ency and we need to re­duce in a bal­anced man­ner” with Rus­sia.

On the sub­ject of NATO mis­sile de­fense, the sec­ret­ary gen­er­al said he un­der­stands that a U.S. plan to de­ploy ad­vanced mis­sile in­ter­cept­ors in Ro­mania in 2015 and Po­land in 2018 re­mains on track. A con­gres­sion­al re­port pub­lished last week raised doubts about that timeline.

“Ac­cord­ing to all in­form­a­tion I have got, there won’t be any change of the timetable as re­gards the de­vel­op­ment of the NATO mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, in­clud­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of fa­cil­it­ies in Ro­mania and Po­land,” Rasmussen said. “The timeline is that we in­tend to provide full cov­er­age by 2018, and so far I haven’t seen any in­dic­a­tions of changes in that plan.”

NATO says the mis­sile shield it is con­struct­ing with con­sid­er­able sup­port from the United States is fo­cused on de­ter­ring at­tacks from the Middle East. Wash­ing­ton has in­sisted that Mo­scow is wrong in as­sert­ing the sys­tem would have any ca­pa­city to block its ar­sen­al of stra­tegic mis­siles. 

However, some NATO mem­bers such as Po­land view the pres­ence of U.S. and al­lied an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems on their ter­rit­ory as at least sym­bol­ic­ally im­port­ant as a de­terrence sig­nal.

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