In a The Wall Street Journal article published on November 30, Adam Entous and Jonathan Weisman allege that Russia has moved tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. In light of the administration’s attempt to secure Senate approval of the New START treaty during the lame-duck’s final moments, the authors have stirred up longstanding GOP concerns about the issue of tactical nuclear weapons.
Jeffrey Lewis, Nikolai Sokov (see the comments section of the aforementioned Jeffrey Lewis piece), and Pavel Podvig have already done an excellent job refuting Entous and Weisman’s assertions, noting that this “breaking news” is nothing more than a red-herring leaked with the intention of derailing New START ratification. In lieu of rehashing what they have already addressed, I want to focus on how entry into force of New START is integral to paving the way for a subsequent agreement with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons…
New START naysayers—e.g., our friends over at Heritage, Mitt Romney, and Jim DeMint (R-SC)—claim that New START will hinder American national security because it doesn’t address tactical nuclear weapons. For example, Romney suggests that Russian tactical weapons would pose a “threat to our forces abroad, and our allies.” First, Russian TNWs do not increase the threat already posed by Russia’s strategic forces. Second, New START—i.e. the New STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty—does just that: it limits the number of STRATEGIC nuclear weapons and delivery systems. It would be great if New START cured cancer, outlawed John Bolton’s moustache, and limited the movements of Minnesota Vikings fans (if there are any Vikings fans reading this, I apologize, but Kingston wouldn’t let me post on the blog unless I included this dig). But that’s not what the treaty is about.
An arms control treaty limiting tactical nuclear weapons will not be an easy lift. For starters, there isn’t even a mutually agreed upon definition of what exactly constitutes a “tactical nuclear weapon.” Details such as these would need to be hammered out and an agreement is likely to come to fruition only after many rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and Russia. Most observers agree that the end game will probably include limits on Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons in exchange for limits on U.S. non-deployed warheads.
What there is no debate about is that such an agreement would be next to impossible without New START. In response to questioning by John Kerry, former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger (who, as both John Isaacs and Max Bergmann point out, hasn’t always been a friend to arms control treaties) contended that New START is a precursor to any agreement concerning tactical nuclear weapon reductions.
But wait! There’s more! As Bridget already pointed out, on Monday Anders Fogh Rasmussen—secretary general of NATO—published an op-ed in the NYT in which he argues that:
“The New Start treaty would also pave the way for arms control and disarmament initiatives in other areas that are vital to Euro-Atlantic security. Most important would be transparency and reductions of short-range, tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, which allies have called for in our new ‘Strategic Concept.’ This is a key concern for allies…in light of the great disparity between the levels of Russian tactical nuclear weapons and those of NATO. But we cannot address this disparity until the New Start treaty is ratified. Which is another reason why ratification would set the stage for further improvements in European security.”
In addition, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis—note that Lithuania is one of the NATO member states bordering Kaliningrad, where Russia is supposedly deploying Iskander missiles—states that his nation sees “this treaty as a prologue, as an entrance to start talks about sub-strategical weaponry.”
The New START opposition should remember that actions speak louder than words. If they truly want a treaty addressing tactical nuclear reductions, they should follow the advice of our military leadership, numerous high-ranking former military and civilian officials from both parties, and our NATO allies and ratify New START. Only then can the U.S. and Russia move forward.