Paul Schulte was interviewed by World Politics Review's Global Insider about NATO's decision to reaffirm its commitment to its European-based arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.
WPR: What is the current size and scope of NATO's nuclear weapons?
WPR: Why are planned upgrades for NATO's nuclear weapons necessary, and how do they fit into the context of NATO's nuclear posture?
Schulte: The variable yield B61 bomb is the only remaining nuclear weapon in the U.S. Enduring Stockpile and the only one used in the nonstrategic role. It was first produced as long ago as 1968, and a Life Extension Program (LEP) is planned, the projected costs of which have recently risen to more than $5 billion. The LEP will extend service life; consolidate multiple variants into one modification; and improve safety, security and user control of the roughly 500 B61s. A new tail subassembly is intended to raise the B61's accuracy to latest standards.
Greater accuracy could permit smaller quantities of fissile material, lower yields, less radioactivity and more-precise and more-effective strikes against hardened targets. Especially if delivered by new stealth F-35 replacement DCAs, this would offer extra operational flexibility, facilitating future reductions in overall U.S. nuclear numbers. But critics argue it would be unnecessary and unavoidably provocative in Europe.
WPR: How is the nuclear weapon upgrade likely to be received by NATO members and non-NATO countries, particularly Russia?
Schulte: Those NATO members -- Germany, Benelux and Norway -- who would prefer U.S. NSNWs be withdrawn from Europe argue that America could spend its money better elsewhere, but they are unlikely to oppose the LEP openly, since it improves safety and security. The upgrade program will, however, increase domestic opposition from anti-nuclear groups. Moreover, Russian denunciation can be taken for granted, given Moscow's past statements insisting on total American nuclear withdrawal from Europe as a precondition for talks on NSNW arms control. This may make negotiations to reduce numbers, increase transparency or reposition NSNWs even less likely to succeed.