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Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT

NATO Expansion And The Nuclear Reductions Process

By Anatoli Diakov, Timur Kadyshev, Eugene Miasnikov and Pavel Podvig

This paper was presented at the conference "NATO Movement To The East - Security Problems For Russia And The C.I.S. States", (St. Petersburg, April 28-29, 1999)

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A number of arms control agreements were concluded in the late 80s–early 90s (the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in 1989, START I and START II Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties in 1991 and 1993). These agreements symbolized the end of the cold war. The success in arms control was possible due to several positive developments occurred at that time. First, the United States, the Soviet Union and European countries realized that European security issues have to be handled on a basis of consensus. Second, significant importance was given to agreement verification measures, which paved a way to a notable progress in reductions of both conventional and strategic nuclear weapons. The creation of the European and North American security system based on the principles of consensus and quite extensive verification measures seem to convince some arms control experts that these countries came to a new level of international relations. These arms control experts claimed, that the security of the countries in this region is not based on deterrence and balance of military power anymore, and that the confidence based on transparency and verification measures is the core of international security in the region.

However, not much time passed before we became witnesses of the developments that overthrew this conclusion. The most significant and demonstrative one was the decision on NATO enlargement, which completely undermines the security system that was shaped by the 1990s. First of all, it violates the consensus principle – the decision on NATO enlargement was made in spite of Russian objections. Secondly, it denies transparency – NATO refused to agree on non-deployment of nuclear weapons on the territories of its new members. Finally, NATO's actions against Yugoslavia vividly demonstrate the consequences of the deficiency of military balance. Therefore, the conclusion that the peace in the region relies on confidence rather than on military power balance, unfortunately, does not correspond to the reality.

The NATO enlargement, particularly in the light of NATO military actions in Yugoslavia, will definitely affect the process of reductions of nuclear weapons. In the view of NATO's clear superiority in conventional weapons, Russian military and policy makers are leaning to strengthen the role of nuclear weapons. Not coincidentally, after NATO launched its campaign against Yugoslavia, a number of official statements were made that imply possible changes in the Russian nuclear policy. However, further reductions of strategic nuclear weapons are in Russia's interests. Majority of Russian arms control experts agree on this. At the same time, there is an understanding that reductions should be made in such a manner that, on one hand, Russian nuclear potential was sufficient to deter any adversary in the changing geopolitical circumstances, and, on the other hand, Russia were able to maintain its nuclear arsenal economically.

We believe that the effect that NATO enlargement does on the process of further reductions of nuclear arms should be considered in three ways.

1. NATO Enlargement and Strategic Nuclear Arms Reductions

It is well known that the decision to enlarge NATO was sharply criticized by Russian lawmakers and it appeared to be one of the most significant obstacles to ratification of START II during the last four years. In an attempt to reach a compromise, in March 1999 President Yeltsin submitted to the Federal Assembly a reconciled draft law on ratification of START II . According to this draft law, one of the reasons for Russia to withdraw from the Treaty would be military decisions and actions by the United States, or other states or alliances, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that pose a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation. This includes the deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of the states that joined NATO after the signing of START II.

Before NATO's actions against Yugoslavia there were very good chances that the State Duma would approve the Treaty on its session on April 2nd. However, due to these actions the formal hearings on START II had been at least postponed. Now the situation is that many experts call for not only to drop START II, but also to consider the expedience to comply with START I, which entered into force in 1994.

We believe that considering NATO enlargement unavoidable and assessing the possibility of further strategic arms reductions, feasible consequences should be estimated in two ways – militarily and politically.

From the pure military point of view, NATO enlargement does not threaten the ability of Russian strategic nuclear forces to fulfill their deterrent function and does not seem to do that in the foreseeable future. Moreover, if we take into account that in ten years Russia will be able to deploy no more than 1500 warheads, it is in Russian interests to seek START III agreement.

At the same time, politically, NATO enlargement as well as its ambitions to be both the “international judge” and the “international policeman” undermines Russian confidence in the partner. A constructive compromise can be possibly reached by the means of

We believe that the most significant danger for Russia from NATO enlargement is that the latter will inevitably cause Russia’s growing isolation from Europe and new cold war-type confrontation. Russia’s reaction to NATO's actions in Yugoslavia clearly illustrates the existence of such a tendency.

2. Reduction of Tactical Nuclear Weapons and NATO Enlargement

The 1997 Helsinki "Joint Statement on Parameters of Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces" states that "...in the context of START III negotiations their experts will explore, as separate issues, possible measures relating to nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missiles and tactical nuclear systems..." At this point it would be rather relevant to highlight the Russian view on SLCMs, TNW and the differences with the American one.

Currently, neither Russia, nor the United States has deployed nuclear long range SLCMs. The nuclear cruise missiles have been removed from naval ships and are kept in storage facilities. It is known that during all stages of the nuclear arms reductions talks Russia, unlike the U.S., considered long range (more than 600 km) SLCMs as strategic weapons. The United States, sticking to their own interests, consider them as tactical. However, long range nuclear-armed SLCMs fall under provisions of the START I, that limit the number of these weapons at 880 units for each party. Therefore, the United States indirectly admitted nuclear SLCMs as strategic weapons. At the same time the fact that in 1997 Joint Statement SLCMs and TNW are mentioned in one section does not mean that they belong to the same type of weapons.

On the other hand, well known is the U.S. desire to set an overall limit for strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals. To achieve this goal, they put forward various excuses, one of which is the alleged concern about the security of Russian “unregulated” warheads. The United States insists that Russian TNW should be placed under joint control in order to prevent proliferation to other countries. Some American experts are trying to consider SLCMs and TNW as belonging to one category of weapons using the noted above fact that in 1997 Joint Statement SLCMs and TNW are mentioned in one section. However, in fact, this means only that during further deep reductions of nuclear weapons the role of both long range SLCMs and TNW capable to reach territory of the other country, grows significantly.

A number of types of U.S. TNW can fulfill strategic tasks against Russia. In particular, nuclear bombs which are based in Europe, can be deployed aboard U.S. strategic bombers (as we've seen during the war in Yugoslavia, B-1B and B-52 can be based in U.K.), which would allow not only to reduce the approach time, but also to increase the real load of the bombers. Further enlargement of NATO will quite possibly move the U.S. nuclear arms in Europe even closer to the Russian borders.

Besides, while limiting Russian and American TNW in Europe, one should not forget about the nuclear arsenals of other NATO members – U.K. and France. As we know, the U.S. allies have not yet declared their willingness to join the START regime.

NATO enlargement can potentially create another problem. After the breakup of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, a buffer zone appeared between NATO and USSR. This fact gave the way to unilateral initiatives on elimination of certain types of weapons (e.g. nuclear artillery shells). NATO's intentions to adopt Baltic states can raise the question of re-deployment of these "outdated" types of TNW.

We believe that for these reasons the issue of reductions of TNW should not be pushed on even if the START III talks begin. In any case, Russia should not enter into TNW talks unless two agreements are reached: on the withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons from Europe (about 460 warheads) and on non-deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members.

Analyzing the military side of the problem, we should stress that during the post-START III reductions TNW, if left beyond the framework of the strategic arms negotiations, will acquire the ability to radically affect the Russia-U.S. strategic balance. Therefore, certain steps to facilitate the reductions of nuclear weapons should start to be taken now – by both the U.S. and Russia. It seems that Russia will have to revise the role of TNW. For example, short-range nuclear weapons of the Navy are now kept in storage facilities (according to 1991 Gorbachev's initiative). However, there is no adequate replacement for this type of weapons should the Russian Navy counter conventionally armed US carrier battle groups.

There is also a political aspect of this problem – Russia considers its TNW as an important political instrument to answer the US and NATO steps aimed to reach the military superiority. In particular, TNW is considered as an equalizer for NATO's superiority in conventional weapons. There are also certain suggestions on "asymmetric" measures to counter the development of ABM systems.

3. NATO Enlargement and the Factor of Precision-Guided Munitions

This aspect of the problem was created by the growing role of precision-guided munitions (PGM) and their ability to fulfill counter-force tasks.

The PGM factor was not taken into account during the START process because, on one hand, nuclear arsenals counted thousands of warheads, and, on the other hand, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States had conventional weapons capable to effectively penetrate the defense and strike strategic objects.

Some believe that in ten years this can change. Extensive programs are under way to develop new effective types of conventional weapons with significant destruction capabilities, high accuracy and long range. At the same time, the United States arms strategic delivery vehicles with conventional weapons. Since early 90s the United States launched programs to convert strategic bombers for conventional tasks. They also consider the possibility to convert SSBNs for carrying conventional weapons and conventionally armed ballistic missiles. Of great concern is also the U.S. persistence to make their strategic delivery means unaccountable (in the START framework) without actually destroying them.

So far as PGM do not play a significant role in the nuclear balance, their development seems to facilitate further reductions of nuclear weapons. However, in the long run the development of PGM can become a major obstacle for the reductions.

Considering the role of TNW, it's important to note one more detail. The better the accuracy of a weapon, the higher its effectiveness and the lower undesired collateral effects. However, both these factors lower the threshold for the decision to use the weapon. If the potential adversary acquires a PGM capable for an effective disarming strike, such a step becomes quite attractive because a PGM strike does not cause those negative consequences that a nuclear strike does. In this sense, the improvements in accuracy and effectiveness of conventional weapons are destabilizing factors.

A detailed study of this problem in our Center shows that by 2010 the United States will acquire a significant number of conventional weapons that will be able to threaten Russian strategic forces (silos and mobile launchers). The U.S. capacity for a preventive disarming strike with conventional PGM will be determined not only by the quantity of Russian nuclear weapons, but also by the combat-readiness of the strategic nuclear forces and the Russian ability to defend its strategic nuclear forces.

NATO's advance to Russian borders will undoubtedly increase the counter-force potential of PGM. For example, ICBM deployment regions in the NorthWest part of Russia will be within the reach of NATO's tactical aviation, if Baltic states allow NATO to use their airfields.

We believe that the only possible way to solve this problem is the linkage of the reduction of strategic and tactical nuclear arms with the revision of the CNF Treaty. For example, in the view of Baltic states joining NATO, Russia has to seek limitations on deployment of tactical and auxiliary aviation on the territory of these countries (tactical bombers, AWACS aircraft, reconnaissance drones). Another legitimate concern is the limitation on the deployment of US strategic aviation in Europe (including those bombers that were converted for conventional tasks).

In conclusion we would like to note that PGM exist now, and their role will undoubtedly rise in the future. We believe that PGM is a much bigger threat for Russian strategic arsenal than the US National Missile Defense. The future of NMD is rather vague now, however it's quite clear that in 10 years it will be capable to intercept very limited number of missiles. In the same time scale, U.S. PGM will be capable to cause a much bigger damage to the Russian strategic complex.

For this reason, we believe that the problem of the increasing counter-force capacity of PGM and ways to solve it should be outlined now. Although Russian position in international affairs does not look particularly strong to be able to reach a notable progress on the PGM issue, it should at least avoid making mistakes in the talks within the framework of START and CNF mechanisms that can cost dearly in future. Also, Russia should produce a clear position with regard to PGM as it was done with regard to ABM systems. Russian attitude towards strategic balance would be more coherent than it is now, when the ABM factor is acknowledged, but the PGM factor is ignored.

© Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies at MIPT, 1999

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