Top campaigner scoffs at Euro noises on US nukes

12th March 2010, Comments 0 comments

A top nuclear disarmament advocate scoffed on Thursday at public efforts to see US Cold War-era warheads removed from Europe, citing staunch opposition from former Russian satellite states.

BRUSSELS - Ex-Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, of the Australian and Japanese-sponsored International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, said an upcoming NATO debate on the issue represents "the first major task for disarmament" in a "watershed" 2010.

Foreign ministers from Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway obtained a commitment from NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to hold a "discussion" on the future of outdated US nuclear warheads located in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey when alliance heads meet in Tallinn on April 22 and 23.

But speaking in Brussels after talks with alliance officials, Evans cited fierce resistance among ex-Soviet eastern European nations.

"The argument is very well made that these weapons have no deterrent utility or military usability," Evans told AFP.

"(But) I don't think the Americans, or those who will be responsible for negotiations with Russia about its tactical nuclear weapons, (will see) much virtue in a unilateral gesture when there is a heavy negotiation ahead.

"They want these weapons to be a negotiating coin."

Evans underlined that the newer European Union and NATO members "are still not persuaded that these weapons have no deterrent virtue.

"It's a long haul ahead on this one," he sighed.

Disarmament, having "gone to sleep" as an issue over the past decade, is back in policymakers' sights in the run-up to a summit in Washington in April, focused on improving the security of existing nuclear weapons.

Driven by US President Barack Obama, it aims to lessen the risk of terrorists or rogue states getting their hands on warheads from the world's 23,000-strong stockpile -- 22,000 of which are shared between Russia and the United States.

Obama's administration has vowed to make "dramatic reductions" in its nuclear arsenal as part of a national review, due to be completed later this month.

The roughly 240 ageing warheads up for discussion in Estonia are at best what Evans called a "symbolic and substantive gesture," as highlighted by the fact that the Netherlands and Turkey did not sign the initial letter to Rasmussen.

A European diplomat conceded that "eastern European countries, and all the Russia-phobes, (still) see these arms as a security guarantee, as a deterrent" against war.

However, he also said Evans "missed the point," adding that the five western European NATO nations "did not ask for removal of the warheads" in their letter.

"I dont think it's necessarily (even) clear the five all agree the warheads should be removed," he underlined.

"Eventually, yes. But the time is not necessarily opportune to ask for it now."

Upcoming US negotiations with Russia on nuclear arms reduction, reviews of non-proliferation treaty progress and US nuclear policy, plus a NATO strategic overhaul currently being discussed, each take enormous precedence, he underlined.

A recent book co-authored by Evans calls on leaders to reduce the world's stockpile to 2,000 warheads by 2025, warning that only "sheer dumb luck" has prevented a catastrophe to-date.


0 Comments To This Article