Prospects for Information Sharing and Confidence Building on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe

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Polish Institute of International Affairs
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On 7 and 8 February 2013 the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland and with the participation of the U.S. State Department, arranged a workshop entitled “The Warsaw Workshop: Prospects for Information Sharing and Confidence Building on Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe.”

The workshop was intended to be an open arena, or “Track 1.5” setting, for NGOs and officials from NATO countries, Russia and other European nations, convened under Chatham House Rules to discuss possible ways forward for information sharing and confidence building on non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) in Europe. 80 participants attended, from 21 nations, including senior officials from NATO countries, representatives of the NATO International Staff, and nongovernmental experts from academic and think-tank communities in NATO member states and the Russian Federation (RF).

Major points emerging from the workshop discussions were as follows:

  • There was general agreement that the underlying security relationship between NATO and Russia was stable. Numbers of American and Russian NSNWs in Europe have been considerably reduced since the end of the Cold War. However, there was a lack of transparency regarding numbers, location, operational status and levels of security. This created very evident disagreement over the true size of the Russian NSNW arsenal, which some participants believed still remained asymmetrically large, while others felt might in fact have fallen to levels much closer to the combined levels of NATO Allies, although this would require a calculation in which French and British strategic systems were added to American non-strategic weapons.
  • Discussion revealed significant problems in agreeing precise definition of NSNWs, but it was not argued that disputes over definitions and categories necessarily prevent pragmatic efforts at confidence building. A wide menu of possible TCBMs was identified for further study, including data exchanges, clarification of the important term “centralised storage,” visits and inspections, rebasing, declarations and joint work on verification. Areas of early focus and of potentially overlapping Russian and NATO interest were suggested. It was accepted that information exchange might throw up issues of protection, dissemination and leakage of TCBM data, but it was not asserted that these would prove insurmountable.
  • Most participants from NATO countries believed that further confidence—and security-building measures for NSNWs were intrinsically desirable and should be developed as a step towards further nuclear disarmament efforts. Lack of transparency created insecurity for all parties. Opening up the discussion to include the numbers, types, roles and locations of nuclear weapons would in itself boost security for all parties, as well as lay the basis for considering future reductions. It would also help strengthen the NPT and represent a step towards the visionary aim of a world without nuclear weapons endorsed i.a. in the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept.
  • On the Russian side there was far less belief that the Russian government had genuine incentives to meet NATO countries’ expectations over NSNW transparency. It was argued that the Russian decision-makers and public believed their country had given too many one-sided advantages to NATO since the end of the Cold War and that the Russian government would wish to avoid more. NSNWs were often regarded as an area of Russian numerical superiority, but from Moscow’s perspective they should not be considered without reference to other issues. There were multilateral implications involving new areas of technology — especially conventional strategic precision strike capabilities, ballistic missile defence (BMD), as well as French and British nuclear weapons stockpiles against which Russia would need to preserve its countervailing capabilities.
  • There was a general consensus that the main track for any negotiations on numerical reductions in NSNWs would necessarily be bilateral, between the U.S. and Russia. TCBMs might well, however, also be discussed in the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). In both cases the U.S. had committed to close consultations with NATO allies.
  • The fundamental determinant of progress would be the Russian government’s decision on whether to engage with NATO over NSNWs. This would be a political choice, influenced by assessments of wider strategic considerations and balances such as missile defence, other conventional strategic weapons, and conventional forces. Some, mostly non-Russian, participants suggested that Russia had real interests in joining a confidence building process over NSNWs, as part of a wider attempt at a rapprochement to transform the presently distrustful relationship with the U.S. and NATO. Russian participants stated, however, that it was unlikely that Russia would The Warsaw Workshop 7 allow any substantive progress in negotiations on TCBMs on NSNWs, without some form of agreement on measures covering other weapon systems, notably BMD.
  • The problem of NSNWs in Europe had at least two main, but so far separate, dimensions: the domestic political discomfort within some European NATO member states over future basing and modernisation of B-61s and dual capable aircraft (DCAs), and the more complicated longer term strategic conversation between the U.S. and Russia about the future of strategic stability under new technological circumstances. Both were also linked with concerns for the future of the NPT and the need to demonstrate movement towards further nuclear reductions. It would be desirable to find ways of better understanding and connecting the resultant discourses.
  • Similarly, decisions to look seriously at NSNWs in the NRC in order to introduce TCBMs would have an intrinsically globally strategic dimension. They should therefore be embedded in a wider perspective, potentially capable of extending to other continents and to emerging nuclear powers. Careful consideration should be given to these wider implications in preparing for discussion in the NRC.
  • Specifically, work towards TCBMs should aim at coherence with work in major multilateral fora. Resultant data should, for example, be as useful as possible in assisting the development of a data exchange mechanism among the P5, and thus in strengthening the NPT.
  • Concerns over China would play an unspoken role in decisions over NSNWs in Europe, both as an unacknowledged determinant of Russian nuclear posture and regarding the position of China as a reticent member of the P5, who might be put under pressure for greater nuclear transparency if Russia was more forthcoming.
  • Overall, it was felt that the Warsaw Workshop had once again demonstrated the complexities, wider interactions, and asymmetries of interest which surround U.S. and Russian NSNWs. But debate also revealed, and indeed re-emphasised, the strength and consistency of the arguments for continued attempts at confidence building in this field. Intensive discussions during the two days identified sufficiently encouraging new TCBM options, and suggested new mechanisms for analysing, appraising and prioritising them. There was, as a result, unanimous concluding agreement by participants that further efforts would be worthwhile for study and joint elaboration of possible TCBMs for NSNWs.
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