Tactical nuclear weapons talks: no cuts expected
In the course of the next round of nuclear disarmament negotiations with Russia, the USA is prepared to discuss the issues of non-strategic and non-deployed warheads. Assistant Head of the Pentagon on global strategic affairs Madeleine Creedon confirmed this on Thursday at a session of the US Senate's Committee on Foreign Affairs. She did not disclose Washington’s estimates as to the timeframe for the new round of Russian-American negotiations on further cuts in the two countries' nuclear arsenals. However, judging by the statements made by high-ranking American diplomats, preparations for negotiations are already under way in Washington.
Earlier in June, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller declared that a meeting between representatives of five nuclear countries (the USA, Russia, China, Britain and France) was scheduled to be held on June 27-29 in Washington. "The United States expect in-depth and frank discussions with our colleagues on a number of issues", - Gottemoeller added.
The problem is that last year when ratifying the Treaty on strategic offensive weapons, the U.S. Congress demanded from Barack Obama’s administration that it should continue negotiations with Russia, this time on the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Moscow, apparently, is not enthusiastic about it and even proposes a new format of negotiations. This February, at a meeting with military-political experts, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on this subject quite unambiguously: «With regard to further steps in the sphere of nuclear weapons, these further steps should be of a complex character, and this time all the nuclear powers should be involved in this process. We cannot disarm indefinitely while some other nuclear powers are building up their arsenal. It is out of the question!»
In a joint statement issued by the presidents of Russia and the USA about the results of the Los Cabos meeting, this topic was touched upon in a conciliatory spirit: «As a matter of priority, we intend to successfully implement the new START Treaty and to continue our dialogue on strategic stability issues».
However, on Thursday political heavyweight Yevgeny Primakov, at one time Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, during a public dispute with the former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum reaffirmed that the time had come for multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. To some extent, it is the response to Obama’s initiative of a nuclear free world, the author of which is Henry Kissinger.
The upcoming Washington meeting of the representatives of five official nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel possess nuclear weapons in defiance of the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons) is an obvious step towards multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. According to the Pentagon representatives’ statements, the agenda includes non-deployed strategic weapons stored in warehouses that have become a burden for the US deficit budget. «From their cost of storage and maintenance point of view, there is little difference with the deployed systems,» - retired Lieutenant-General of the foreign intelligence Gennady Evstafiev says.
On the other hand, at the request of the US Congress, non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons (TNW) - air bombs, artillery shells, landmines, and small-range ballistic and cruise missiles - are included in the agenda of the forthcoming negotiations.
There are no official figures concerning Russian arsenals, but specialists speak about several thousands of warheads. The United States possess by a factor of ten less warheads. However, for Russia, TNW are of crucial importance in regard to ensuring security at the regional level, and not only in the European but also in the Asian part of the country. Their reduction puts Moscow in a vulnerable situation, because in the West TNW allows Russia to counter-balance the NATO, which has come too close to the Russian borders. In the East Russia borders on China, which nuclear weapons military analysts cannot but take into account. As far as the South direction is concerned, we should not forget about India’s and Pakistan’s arsenals.
In fact, Russia could agree to a certain reduction of outdated tactical warheads. But today Moscow is not interested in it.
On the one hand, Russia is lagging behind as regards high-precision weapons, which capabilities are similar to those of TNW. «High-precision weapons (I mean the current capabilities and power of modern warheads) in combination with accuracy and time of delivery to the potential enemy’s territory, become comparable to weapons of mass destruction. In spite of it not being a weapon of mass destruction, the results of its use are practically the same; and in the future there, probably, will be no difference at all. That is why we are going to abandon nuclear weapons only when we possess such complexes. And not a day earlier!»
On the other hand, the reduction of American TNW, or at least their relocation to the US territory, would have little effect on Russia's security. A typical illustration: When congressmen suggested that TNW should be returned to South Korea with the view of deterring North Korea, the Department of State immediately reassured Seoul that there were no plans to do anything of the kind. But the former Commander of the U.S. contingent in South Korea, General Walter Sharp in an interview with the Diplomat magazine commented on the situation as follows: "I do not believe it. Tactical nuclear weapons are necessary in order to return to the Republic of Korea. The US guarantees an extended deterrence, which includes a nuclear umbrella, and it has sufficient arsenals ... in the warehouses in different places around the world”.
This also applies to a possible withdrawal of American tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.