Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2014
By Paul Vos Benkowski
Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea in Ukraine has led to a rush for nuclear “protection” in the region. Many neighboring countries are changing their tunes from 2010 when President Obama, speaking in Prague after a NATO summit, outlined his vision for eliminating nuclear weapons. NATO countries applauded the sentiment and sought to remove the 180 US nuclear weapons from Europe. But on April 2, NATO suspended cooperation with Russia, ending the NATO-Russian Council which was established in 2002. NATO members and Russia had sought to “work towards achieving a true strategic and modernized partnership with the aim of contributing to the creation of a common space of peace, security and stability.” Not so much anymore.
Stanislaw Koziej, head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, has said, “Although there’s a very small risk of Russia acting against Poland, that risk is much bigger now than it was just a few weeks ago. The most important deterrence is NATO solidarity and the presence of the US military in Europe. Nuclear deterrence is a very important factor that NATO has at its disposal, and it’s becoming increasingly important.” Jiri Schneider, the Czech deputy foreign minister until earlier this year added to the concern, “nobody is expecting a large-scale Russian invasion but what Russia is doing is provocation, and we have to show some muscle.”
These fears are the same that led to the nuclear buildup during the Cold War. The deployments of US nuclear weapons in Europe are not the only ones in the region. France has 300 nuclear weapons and Britain possesses 225 submarine-mounted warheads. Germany has floated plans to end its “nuclear sharing” duties, hoping to retire its nuclear-capable aircraft by the year 2020. That leaves Russia with some 2,000 short-range warheads in its European territories and it has some neighboring countries more than a little nervous.
In order to assuage central European fears, the US has moved fighter planes from its base in Aviano, Italy to Poland and US Army and Navy units have been deployed to the Baltic States. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has asked NATO to station 10,000 troops on its soil. While these moves have been made public, the idea of bolstering certain countries with nuclear weapons has remained a secret. Polish National Security Chief, Koziej reportedly said, “In nuclear deterrence, the most important aspect is keeping your adversary in the dark about your plans, so it’s best not to talk about where it would be suitable to base US nuclear weapons.”
Russia’s interest in Ukraine is largely military. Ukraine is home to 50 factories that manufacture much of Russia’s military hardware. The city of Zhovti Vody provides 20 percent of all natural uranium currently used by the nuclear industry. The Washington Post reported that “Russian troops don’t just threaten Ukraine: They rely on it too.”
Hopefully NATO countries will recall the purpose of their alliance and remain committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. As the Cold War has shown us, there are no winners in a nuclear arms race, only the toxic remains of rampant paranoia and bluster serving no one.
— Newsweek, Apr. 15; Washington Post, May 9, 2014