MOSCOW (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin) - US Senator Samuel Nunn has sharply criticized Russia for the absence of information about its tactical nuclear weapons and called on the U.S. administration to negotiate control of such weapons with Moscow.
In reply, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said: "Let the Americans withdraw their tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and then we will discuss the issue."
Indeed, there is no international or bilateral control of tactical nuclear weapons. Why?
Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and only president of the Soviet Union, suggested discussing tactical nuclear arms control with the U.S. Washington did not need a formal treaty. However, the two countries agreed, on the basis of reciprocity, to make a number of unilateral commitments on September 28, 1991 and January 22, 1992, and on October 5, 1991 and January 29, 1992, respectively.
The U.S. decided to liquidate its ground-based tactical nuclear weapons, including nuclear warheads for tactical missiles and nuclear artillery munitions. It proclaimed readiness to remove for centralized storage all tactical nuclear weapons, in particular the warheads of cruise missiles of surface ships (including aircraft carriers), strike submarines and naval aircraft. It also committed itself to destroy a part of that arsenal.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the non-strategic nuclear forces of the U.S. consist of 1,120 systems, including 800 B61 free-fall bombs of three modifications and 320 W80-0 warheads for the Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The Soviet Union (and subsequently Russia) pledged to liquidate all nuclear warheads of ground-based tactical missiles and nuclear artillery munitions, as well as all nuclear mines (the U.S. does not have any). It also promised to remove from combat units for centralized storage nuclear warheads of air-defense missiles and to destroy half of them (the U.S. does not have them). In addition, we pledged to remove for centralized storage all tactical nuclear weapons of warships, multirole submarines and naval aircraft, and to liquidate a third of that arsenal.
Moscow later announced the liquidation of a half of its air-launched tactical nuclear weapons.
According to SIPRI, Russia has 3,380 non-strategic nuclear weapons, including AS-4 Kitchen and AS-16 Kickback air-to-surface bombs and warheads for sea-launched cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.
Nobody can say if the SIPRI information is true and if the sides have fulfilled their obligations. Unilateral initiatives are not legally binding and do not envisage verification procedures. But the tragedy with the Kursk nuclear submarine showed that the sub had no nuclear warheads on its torpedoes or the Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) cruise missiles.
It is a fact, though, that the U.S. has a tactical nuclear arsenal of 150 B61 free-fall bombs at its nine bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Britain (including 90 bombs at the Incirlik base in Turkey close to the Russian border). Against whom is it designed? Nuclear weapons cannot be applied against terrorists, right?
I can understand Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's concern over these bombs. They are tactical nuclear weapons for the U.S. But they are a strategic threat to Russia because it takes a F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter, which can carry such bombs, only 15-20 minutes to fly from NATO bases to Smolensk in Central Russia.
When Russia and the new U.S. administration discussed the Strategic Offensive Reductions treaty, Moscow suggested including tactical nuclear weapons in it.
Why then did Senator Nunn, an expert on nuclear weapons, raised the issue of intransparency of the Russian nuclear arsenals and the danger of terrorist access to them? I see at least two explanations for this.
First, the Senate and the Congress are discussing the budget for the next fiscal year (which begins in July) and the Russian nuclear problem is a good argument for lobbying the interests of the defense industries and the Pentagon.
The second explanation is more serious. The Pentagon and its chief Donald Rumsfeld want the Senate to approve allocations for the creation of midget deep penetration nuclear bombs (the Senate blackballed the initiative several times). The American generals also demand the resumption of nuclear tests at the Nevada range for the creation of warheads to the anti-missiles of the Ballistic Missile Defense system (the U.S. did not ratify the nuclear test ban treaty). The BMD system will not be effective without nuclear warheads, and "Moscow's intransigence" is a powerful argument for the doubting Thomases.
In my opinion, Russia is ready to come to terms with the U.S. on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons, but only if these are honest agreements between equal partners.