Speaking at the UN Geneva Disarmament Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is threatened by American tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) stationed in Europe and the destabilizing effect of joint nuclear missions (JNM) that NATO forces are being trained for.
The statement is more than propitious. No progress on European security is conceivable without an agreement on what to do with tactical nukes. US TNW are deployed while Russian tactical nukes are all stored. Unlike the US, Russia does not keep them abroad. Its non-strategic delivery means cannot strike the continental US. It makes American TNW in Europe an addition to the strategic potential able to tilt the existing strategic balance.
US instructors train European personnel, the Belgian, German, Italian and Dutch, to use TNW. An example is the yearly exercise Steadfast Noon, a low-profile training event conducted in semi-secrecy. The exercise testifies to the fact that European non-nuclear states (NNS) are involved in nuclear planning. The US trains their military personnel to fight a nuclear war.
It all constitutes a flagrant violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It prohibits nuclear states from transferring nukes to other recipients (Article I). It also prohibits NNS from receiving TNW (Article II). About half of US air-delivered bombs in Europe to be modernized are earmarked for delivery by aircraft of Europe’s NNS, which are parties to the NPT.
In the early 2020s, modernized B61-12 guided nuclear bombs will be delivered by stealth F-35 bombers that many European NATO members are going to acquire thus achieving first strike nuclear capability.
Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey take part in the F-35 program. Belgium will probably purchase the F-35 as a replacement for its aging F-16. Poland, Finland (not a NATO member but a privileged partner) and Germany appear to be on the way to acquire the aircraft. There will probably be others – all of them becoming nations with nukes deployed on their territories and crews trained to use TNW in violation of the NPT.
The nukes are hard to get rid of. In 2010, NATO adopted the Tallinn formula, which stipulates that no member of the alliance can unilaterally withdraw American TNW.
The US 2018 Nuclear Posture Review eulogizes low-yield nuclear weapons (with strength of less than 20 kilotons). It identifies the need for nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles and lower-yield warheads for sea-launched strategic missiles.
If the idea is implemented, the RF won’t be able to distinguish an incoming low-yield munition from a full-blown weapon to trigger a nuclear exchange at strategic level. From Russia’s perspective, the concept presupposes another addition to the strategic arsenal. Very provocative, isn’t it?
NATO’s superiority in conventional weapons also should not be forgotten as well as the nuclear capability possessed by France and the United Kingdom.
Here is another aspect so rarely remembered nowadays. Sea-based TNW are excluded from the US-Russia TNW balance. The undeservedly forgotten Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) signed in 1991 have so far been complied with. Unlike the INF Treaty, the compliance with the PNIs has never been doubted. Emergence of sea-based TNW means an end to the PNIs that have served both nations so effectively and for so long. The US, in effect, is adding European nuclear arsenals to the Russia-US strategic equation. Moscow will respond. It will also demand these weapons taken into consideration in potential arms control talks. It has every reason and right to do it. The problem of TNW will arise in negotiating the future the New START.
As one can see, the US plans undermine European security. They bring to naught the chances of reaching new strategic or non-strategic nuclear US-Russia accords. And it makes the US and European NATO members less secure upping the nuclear threshold. Moscow will not stand idle watching all these war preparations take place. It will respond. And other NPT participants will question the validity of the agreement breached in broad daylight. So may negative things with no silver lining visible. Is it worth it? Evidently not, but that’s what the US is doing. It will be responsible for the consequences. Russia has done its best to avoid the worst. On Feb.28, Sergey Lavrov said something really important. Hopefully, there are enough reasonable people not to make his stern and timely warning fall on deaf ears.