Experts and politicians call for US, NATO to forgo nuclear modernization plans
26 November 2015. PenzaNews. The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has informed of the third and final flight test of a B61-12 high-accuracy variable yield nuclear bomb, a cutting-edge modification in the B61 line started in the 1960s, in an announcement published on November 16.
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According to it, the test itself took place nearly a month before, on October 20, when an F-15E bomber has successfully released the B61-12 non-nuclear test unit at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, US, “in a realistic guided flight environment.”
“Initial indications are that all scheduled activities occurred successfully and that telemetry, tracking and video data were properly collected. This test provides additional confidence in the weapon system and instrumentation designs prior to authorizing the Production Engineering Phase in 2016,” says the report.
Madelyn Creedon, NNSA Deputy Administrator, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, stated that the flight test “provides additional evidence of the nation’s continued commitment to our nation’s security and that of our allies and partners.”
According to official reports, Washington plans to spend at least $1 billion by the end of 2019 to modernize the nuclear arsenal in Europe and upgrade the airplanes to be able to carry new weapons. Due for mass production after 2020, the new B61-12 will be equipped with guided tail kits instead of parachute systems, and a 50-kiloton warhead – three to four times more than the Little Boy atomic bomb used in the bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 2015.
The topic of the US nuclear arsenal modernization first appeared in the international spotlight in late September, when Germany’s ZDF TV channel has broadcast a report based on US budget reports and WikiLeaks secret documents, saying that new B61-12 nuclear bombs may be stationed at Buchel airbase in Rheinland-Pfalz federal land as early as by the end of 2015. Soon after, the US National Nuclear Security Administration explained that the upgraded armaments will appear in Europe much later, while Ruediger von Fritsch, Ambassador of Germany to Russia, clarified that the modernization plan only concerns the replacement of out-of-date components.
Nevertheless, the news caused an avid nuclear dispute in European and Russian expert and political communities, while the debate over whether Washington and Berlin follow the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is still ongoing.
Some analysts point out that the modernization program will affect all six US airbases located in Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey. According to Greg Thielmann, Senior Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association, there will be some 180 upgraded nuclear bombs stationed in Europe after the upgrade, which is at least 10 times less than the projected number of Russian tactical nuclear warheads.
“The program’s conversion of several different modifications of B61 bombs into a single type (B61-12) will have no impact on the number of US bombs in the existing inventory. It will have little impact on nuclear stability or the European balance of military force,” he said in an interview to PenzaNews agency.
At the same time, Greg Thielmann expressed his disappointment over the fact that US President Barack Obama’s administration has rejected other, less expensive modernization programs. He also added that improving accuracy of the bombs by introducing a new structural solution confuses the US commitment not to create new types of nuclear weapons.
With that in mind, the expert urged Russia and NATO militaries to establish full-scale contacts and agree on rules of operation for air and sea forces as soon as possible to prevent any further escalation.
He also highlighted the importance of resuming the talks on other vital issues, such as the implementation of New START reductions and additional constraints on tactical nuclear weapons.
“[They] no longer play the role they were assumed to play during the Cold War, compensating for conventional imbalances between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Indeed, these weapons are even more political instruments today than they were previously. Unfortunately, some in NATO and Russia still feel that they strengthen deterrence,” Senior Research Fellow at the Arms Control Association pointed out.
Meanwhile, Inge Hoeger, Bundestag member, representative of the Left Party of Germany, pointed out that every nuclear bomb poses a threat to the mankind, regardless of who owns it, and therefore the whole world must work on abolishing nuclear weapons.
She also suggested that the NATO nuclear strategy hinders progress in the nuclear disarmament field.
“It is clear: if you station modernized and upgraded nuclear weapons in Germany, it is like building up potential threat against Russia, and so this is going to at least cause a possibility of a new nuclear arms race and build up new tensions,” the Bundestag member said.
In her opinion, the very fact that the current nuclear arsenal is stationed in Germany is a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“You surely know it is not just that the atomic arsenal is in Germany, but the German pilots are training to drop those bombs. Already, Germany is not on paper, but in reality a nuclear power, and this is actually against the NPT. Now, with those new and upgraded nuclear bombs, it is very clear that it is a further breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, so I’m strongly against it,” Inge Hoeger claimed.
Berlin must set a precedent for the rest of the world, she insisted.
“For me, it is very clear that the German government has to put pressure that the nuclear arsenal in Germany does not get upgraded and that the nuclear bombs get pulled out of Germany, disarmed, disassembled into their components and made as safe as possible so that they could no longer be used as atomic bombs,” the German Parliament deputy explained.
At the same time, Theodore Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expert in ballistic missile defense technologies and ballistic missiles, pointed out that while the course currently taken by Russia is far from ideal, the overreaction on the side of political and media communities in the US and NATO cannot be called justified.
“I think it would be a very good idea for the West – when I say the West I mean the United States and NATO – to lower the level of rhetoric against Russia. I do not think it is a good thing that Russia annexed Crimea as it did, but I do not think it justifies increasing the risk of a direct conflict involving nuclear weapons,” the military expert said.
In his opinion, the publications on Russia’s overly aggressive nuclear posturing that frequently appear in the Western media often fall flat after checking the facts, while the US missile defense system expansion policy strains the relations with both Moscow and Beijing.
Theodore Postol urged the Western political community to recognize Russia’s interests in the world and more actively cooperate with Moscow where possible.
“All this discussion you see in the West is talking that how Russia is in Syria to bolster its standing in the world – as if the Russians don’t have any concerns at all about Islamic extremism in Russia!” the professor pointed out.
In his opinion, the already present friction between Russia and the West would make it a fairly indiscreet decision to follow through with the plans to modernize the nuclear arsenal in Europe.
“[This] increases the chances of accidents, both in terms of handling the weapons and in terms of misjudgments on one or both sides that could lead to some form of nuclear accident or escalation. I don’t think there is any constructive purpose for doing this,” stressed the expert in ballistic missile defense technologies.
In turn, Tarja Cronberg, former Member of the European Parliament, Head of the Peace Union of Finland, took a firm stance against the nuclear weapons modernization program.
“In its Article 6 [of the NPT], absolute negotiations are called on how to get to nuclear weapons in Europe, and all modernization, independently on where it is, is against the letter of this Article,” the Finnish politician explained.
In her opinion, the one-sided view in the US, and mentions of threats that could have forced Moscow to resort to nuclear weapons on the Russian side, caused a significant amount of tension to build up, which is particularly evident in the Baltic Sea area.
“So it is important that the conflict that is currently going on between NATO and Russia deescalates, and the nuclear threats are not used,” stated the head of the Peace Union of Finland.
She also urged Russia and NATO to hold a separate meeting to resolve the controversy and review their respective security structures to prevent any nuclear saber-rattling in the future.
In the meantime, Paul Ingram, Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), highlighted the fact that the United States is the only nuclear power that has a portion of its arsenal stationed on allied soil.
“[The US is] the only one with arrangements to hand over control of those nuclear bombs to their allies in time of conflict, allies that are recognized by the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states and who are precluded by the treaty from receiving nuclear weapons,” the expert said.
He pointed out that the current strategy of the North Atlantic Alliance prevents the Western allies from making a free choice on an international level.
“The shared deployment of these weapons is in large part designed to lock NATO allies into a nuclear weapon posture and weakens the credibility of their claims in international disarmament negotiations to be working towards disarmament,” Paul Ingram said, adding that controversies on those issues can destabilize the cohesion of the alliance if a crisis situation would occur.
He also noted that the one of the core defense strategies in NATO is the nuclear deterrence policy based on the principle of inevitable second strike, which is currently becoming more and more outdated.
“This bizarre logic may work at times, but it is also fraught with difficulty, and relies upon human judgment, which we know to be flawed. Dependence upon nuclear deterrence will lead to the use of nuclear weapons with all the attendant consequences – millions of deaths, human societies destroyed, devastating environmental impacts. It is simply a question of when,” Paul Ingram suggested.
In turn, his colleague Ted Seay, Senior Policy Consultant of the British American Security Information Council, former arms control advisor for the US-NATO Mission in Brussels, pointed out that the current NATO strategy acts against the potential for good relationship with Moscow and interferes with the diplomacy in several other states.
“If we are trying to convince other countries not to proliferate, and NATO, Europe and the United States are engaging in this nuclear sharing activity which completely destroyed the spirit of the treaty, how do we have any moral authority to convince other countries not to proliferate?” the expert asked, adding that he would answer that question in the negative.
“I see absolutely no way in which it advances anything. I think it is a terrible anachronism. I think it is a very stupid idea for NATO to be continuing to share these weapons in the 21st century, this many years after the end of the Cold War. I think it is unnecessarily provocative of the Russian government to have these weapons – these American weapons – based so far away from the US soil and so close to Russian soil, whereas, for example, the weapons in the same general category, the theater nuclear weapons which the Russian Federation possesses, are all on Russian soil. And that is the crucial difference between the two,” Ted Seay stressed.
He also urged the North Atlantic Alliance to replace soundbite politics with deep and detailed diplomacy with the Russian Federation to achieve mutual nuclear disarmament.
“To that end, I think the best thing that the US government and NATO could do is unilaterally withdraw the B61s from Europe as a first step, without any other conditions; and then, having done that, turn toward our partners, which we still officially are – NATO and the Russian Federation – and talk about further steps that could be taken to improve trust, transparency and confidence,” added the former arms control advisor for the US-NATO Mission in Brussels.