What is more dangerous than nuclear weapons
Three recent developments have highlighted the risk of nuclear deterrence.
First: For more than two years, Russia's nuclear threats have increased the risk of an armed conflict in Europe. President Vladimir Putin's declaration that Moscow was considering putting its own nuclear weapons on a state of alarm when it occupied Crimea, that Russian maneuvers with nuclear missiles and overflights of nuclear bombers increase the risk of an arms race. In view of its own military, political and economic weakness, Russia relies on the apparently immunizing effect of nuclear deterrence.
Second: In the course of the coup attempt, Turkey completely sealed off the Incirlik air base and cut off the power supply for more than a week. Thereupon the United States put their soldiers on the base on the highest alert. The Force Protection Level Delta readiness level remains in effect to this day. It is called out when a terrorist attack has occurred or is imminent. The US is stationing around 50 nuclear weapons of the type in Incirlik B 61. After the failed coup, Turkish security forces arrested the base commander.
Third: On July 18, just five days after her appointment as Prime Minister, Theresa May submitted a resolution to the House of Commons to procure four new nuclear submarines. These ships are said to be the aging boats of the type by 2030 Vanguard replace and the British TridentKeep nuclear missiles operational around the clock. Cost: at least £ 30 billion. To be on the safe side, the government has granted an additional ten billion pounds as a buffer. Nevertheless, there are still major financial risks that will be exacerbated by Brexit. The depreciation of the pound as a result of the referendum alone is worth three billion pounds. The TridentProgram thus limits the UK government's room for maneuver.
The danger of new arms races, the loss of control over nuclear weapons and their costs - this is rarely discussed in strategic debates. Some of these hazards can be mitigated with relative ease. There is no longer any military necessity for the stationing of tactical nuclear weapons in Turkey, for example. Your withdrawal from the crisis area - Incirlik is only around 110 kilometers from the Syrian border - is overdue.
Not changed since the Cold War
The secrecy rules, which have not changed significantly since the Cold War, also have to be adapted. It is undoubtedly necessary to keep certain information about nuclear weapons secret. Safety precautions, the functioning of the weapons and other information must be protected.
But nuclear weapon states keep almost all information related to their arsenal classified. In NATO, it is classified as "top secret", which could only be indirectly related to "nuclear participation", in the framework of which around 180 nuclear weapons are presumably stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. A change is difficult because it often requires a consensus of all 28 alliance partners.
A thorough, balanced debate is hardly possible under these conditions. NATO members are still keeping a secret as to where and how many US nuclear weapons are stored in Europe. Research by independent experts such as Hans Kristensen from the American Federation of American Scientists, for example, makes the continued stationing of 20 American B 61 bombers at the Büchel Air Force Base in the Eifel an open secret. The consequences of the planned stationing of new US nuclear weapons in Europe after 2020 also remain unclear. The cost of adapting the German tornadoCombat bombers attached to the new US nuclear weapons remain in the dark, as does the timing and scope of planned modernization measures.
The lack of transparency about nuclear doctrines is particularly dangerous. Nuclear-weapon states argue that uncertainty about the nuclear threshold makes deterrence more credible. Therefore, they make general statements about when they would use nuclear weapons (for example "to protect vital interests" or "if the survival of their own state is threatened") or against whom they would not use nuclear weapons (for example "non-nuclear weapon states that under their obligations comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty "). In fact, such a lack of specificity increases the risk of miscalculations in times of crisis. More openness is needed to enable a balanced debate on the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear weapons, to be able to reliably name the costs of maintaining nuclear deterrence and to minimize the risk of miscalculations. There are three measures that make sense.
Clearing out regulations
One day, NATO itself should clear out its secrecy regulations; they mostly date from the Cold War era. At the same time, NATO should offer Moscow to resume the confidential dialogue on nuclear doctrines. Until 2013, this exchange contributed to building trust. Then Russia terminated him. Recently, however, Moscow has shown interest in new talks in the NATO-Russia Council. NATO should test how seriously this offer is meant.
Then the national parliaments must be more closely involved. Parliamentarians usually only receive sparse information about nuclear planning. The federal government (like all other NATO governments) has to refuse the Bundestag information about the location of nuclear weapons with reference to NATO security rules. Parliamentary debates are often predictable and clichéd because MPs lack important information.
Finally, all states on whose territory nuclear weapons are stationed could exchange information on actual and planned expenditure on these arsenals. Such transparency would contribute to greater reliability.
All of this will not remove the dangers of nuclear deterrence. However, more openness about nuclear weapons is a necessary prerequisite if one wants to talk in a balanced and informed manner about the role of nuclear weapons in European security.
Oliver Meier, 51, is deputy head of the security policy research group at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin.
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