TNW, The Quiet Menace: How the Threats to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia are Linked

London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS; what – you haven’t applied for membership yet?) recently published their annual review of world affairs, Strategic Survey 2013. In its chapter on strategic policy issues, the Survey covers an important topic, the complex nuclear arms race underway in South Asia among India, Pakistan and China.

In their piece, the authors outline the various threats to regional and global security which this arms race represents, as well as obvious similarities to the NATO-Warsaw Pact stand-off in 1950’s – 1980’s Europe:

  • Increasing competition: Since 2005, the U.S.-Indian nuclear trade agreement has increased incentives for Pakistan to expand its capabilities, both in plutonium production and in the range and sophistication of its delivery systems; this in turn has driven India to follow suit
  • Cycle of escalation: There is an increasing mismatch between the avowed stance of both India and Pakistan toward minimum deterrence, on the one hand, and their ever-increasing nuclear weapons capabilities on the other; this in turn tends to remove any incentives for increasing trust in the other party, and can kick-start a lethal cycle of escalation from state-sponsored terrorist attack to nuclear war
  • Risk of nuclear conflict: Pakistan’s apparent intention to field a theatre nuclear weapon (TNW), a nuclear-armed Hatf-9 (or ‘Nasr’) artillery rocket, in response to conventional attacks by India in a crisis situation could lead both nations right past the nuclear firebreak
  • Lessons for South Asia: The authors state that the Cold War taught nuclear planners and policymakers that TNW cannot be viewed in isolation from the threat of a larger nuclear conflict, and that this lesson has clear implications for South Asia, where TNW are only now starting to figure in both sides’ calculations.

As good a synopsis of this nuclear flashpoint as the IISS piece is, however, the authors miss one key point: NATO still possesses TNW in Europe; and if the Alliance has indeed realised that ‘…the use of small-yield short-range nuclear weapons would always have strategic implications’, that does not mean that NATO has decided to remove its last 200-odd TNW from Europe. As BASIC has covered in the past, NATO is hopelessly deadlocked on the question of changing its nuclear posture and policy, much less removing U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bombs from Europe. Introducing such weapons seems to be a great deal easier than removing them, decades after their utility disappeared.

Among other things, this inability to even consider an end to NATO’s nuclear-sharing arrangements has challenged the Alliance’s ability to speak credibly of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, a gap that BASIC believes the European Union is well-suited to fill. The EU wants very much to be taken seriously as an interlocutor on nuclear non-proliferation, in, for example, the Middle East. The problem here, however, is that the EU has not moved to distance itself from NATO’s nuclear-sharing stasis, helping render EU efforts to mediate the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East less than successful to date. As we have argued before, the EU needs to address the TNW in Europe issue, both for the very real threat it presents to Europe’s security, but also for the impediments it presents to European credibility in global nuclear non-proliferation discussions.

There is a further complication, however: some observers believe that Saudi Arabia has left open the possibility of a NATO-style nuclear-sharing arrangement with Pakistan. If there is any truth to this perception, that a nuclear-armed Iran might push Saudi-Pakistani consultations on nuclear matters to a new level, then once again the presence of nearly 200 B61s in Europe must take its share of the blame.

Despite a Cold War that ended some 22 years ago, massive reductions in TNW stocks on both the Russian and American sides since 1991, and a (repeatedly) stated willingness by NATO to work more closely with the Russian Federation on issues of mutual security, the B61s in Europe represent the stumbling block that prevents relations from improving. The missile defence system which has engendered serious disagreements between NATO and Russia might seem far less sinister to Moscow if there were no NATO TNW in the mix. It is long past time for NATO, and NATO’s member governments, to take the TNW issue seriously as a hindrance to regional security and an impediment to global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

These are the opinions of the author.

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