Bruno Lete’s analysis of European reactions to the New START treaty is breathtaking; not for its insights, but rather for its intrinsically false assumptions.
Assumption #1: New START can and should lead to another agreement on the denuclearization of Europe. It is impossible—not to mention foolhardy—to ask U.S. senators to support New START in order to get to a second treaty of greater importance of Europe—namely the removal of c. 200 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. The U.S. Constitution empowers the Senate to offer its advice on and consent to a particular treaty, not to an imagined one at some point in the unidentified future.
Assumption #2: New START is backed strongest by non-nuclear weapons states hosting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Soon after President Obama laid out his vision of a nuclear weapons-free Europe, some European leaders called for the removal of America’s nuclear arsenal from European soil, including German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. However, he by no means represents to official view of all the governments hosting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey). The vast majority of America’s allies in Europe have not sought to join the club of nuclear weapons powers, largely because they enjoy the comfort of the U.S.’s nuclear umbrella. America’s unilateral nuclear disarmament may prompt some nations to seek alternate security insurance, including alliances with other nuclear powers. In fact, the World Tribune recently broke the news that Turkey is considering acquisition of its own nuclear weapons.
Assumption #3: The EU should lead on non-proliferation issues.NATO, and not the EU is the appropriate place to discuss non-proliferation issues in Europe. Firstly, within NATO the discussion will involve the United States—and a discussion about non-proliferation makes little sense without the U.S.’s involvement. Secondly, the conversation will take place within NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group—a forum in which NATO members participate in the development of the Alliance’s nuclear policy regardless of whether or not they are nuclear powers themselves. This is what indivisible transatlantic security really means.
Assumption #4: Missile defense can replace the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Deployment of robust defensive systems, including ballistic missile defenses should be part of a proactive defense strategy for the U.S. and its allies, but not the only part. The U.S. needs to be able to defend physical territory and to deter an enemy attack in the first place. In a world where hostile states such as Iran and North Korea possess both nuclear and conventional forces capable of striking the U.S. and its allies, a credible nuclear deterrent and comprehensive missile defenses are needed for a ‘protect and defend’ strategy.
The removal of American tactical nuclear weapons from European and NATO bases would gut the alliance as well as the concept of indivisible security. In 2008, a group of retired senior NATO officials published a report stating that NATO must retain its nuclear capability because there is, “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world.” It is time for Europe to get real on New START and what strategic deterrence should look like.