NATO aims new advanced H-bomb strike force at Russia/China
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu Jan 1 01:04:16 GMT 2015
NATO aims new advanced H-bomb strike force at Russia/China
NATO's nuclear relapse
Last updated: 12 hours ago
Under the public radar , NATO is modernising its
tactical nuclear arsenal .
Moscow ' s latest tests of intercontinental missiles
and its parading of nuclear capable strategic
bombers have rightly prompted international
concern. In December 2014 , Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov implied that Russia might
be moving nuclear weapons to Crimea .
From violations of airspace to near mid- air
collisions, the number of incidents between Russia
and NATO has soared dramatically, increasing the
danger of an unintended escalation. Yet , it is
rarely mentioned that NATO, too , is back in the
game of nuclear deterrence .
Washington has recently sent its nuclear capable
B- 2 and B- 52 to Europe for training missions with
its NATO partners . It also continues to test
intercontinental ballistic missiles. Most
problematically, the western military alliance is
currently modernising the air - launched nuclear
gravity bombs that fall under NATO' s nuclear
sharing initiative .
Brave old world
It is a warm afternoon and thick clouds hang over
the houses and farmyards of Buchel, a small
village in western Germany and home to 20 of
NATO' s remaining thermonuclear bombs on
European soil . Or so we can only speculate , for the
exact location of these approximately 180 air -
launched B 61 weapons is of course secret.
The local baker smiles uneasily when I ask her
about the base and is quick to assure me that
there is nothing to see. After a 20 -minute walk
through muddy fields , I can glimpse a large barbed
wire fence on the horizon and what seems to be a
succession of bunkeresque fortifications. A biting
smell of kerosene creeps up my nose .
A sign warns me that soldiers may make use of
their weapons if I enter . As I walk back across the
fields , I frighten a herd of deer that scramble into
the bushes . Suddenly, a jet plane soars into the
sky with a deafening thunder. In the event of a
nuclear war, it would most likely be heading East
Designed in the 1960 s for use by high -speed
aircraft, the thermonuclear B 61 is a versatile
weapon that comes both as an intermediate range
strategic and a short- range tactical weapon with a
wide variety of yields.
A relic of the early Cold War, it is not just a US but
a " NATO weapon " in that its stationing and
delivery also involves non -nuclear member states ,
such as Belgium , Germany , Italy , the Netherlands
Tactical nukes are particularly problematic
because their short range provides the missing link
between a localised conventional war and a highly
improbable global exchange of strategic nuclear
missiles between Moscow and Washington .
Tactical nuclear weapons are no status quo
weapons . Their battlefield purpose increases the
chance of a nuclear escalation, which is why the
superpowers removed most of them from Central
Europe in the late 1980 s and early 1990 s .
If everything goes to plan , the controversial B61
weapons will be modernised by around 2020. This
" life extension programme" is not simply an
initiative to replace rusty old nukes with shiny new
ones , but an attempt to increase their accuracy, to
replace free fall with precision guided bombs .
Ultimately , this will transform the B 61 into a new
kind of weapon and undermine any pretence that
the West is still in the game of denuclearisation .
Interestingly, plans to modernise the B61 were
initiated in April 2010, only shortly after NATO
decided to scrap its nuclear missile shield in
Eastern Europe and in the same month that the
two largest nuclear powers signed a new Strategic
Arms Reductions Treaty .
How does NATO explain this nuclear relapse
precisely at a time when the alliance had just
" reset" its relations with Russia ? And what role
does the B 61 play in the Ukrainian proxy war?
Back in the game
Jamie Shea is famous in Brussels for his rhetorical
skill, expressive body language and London twang .
" He could sell you a landmine if he wanted to " , an
activist once told me about the man who spun
NATO' s war against Serbia to a lethargic European
public 15 years ago.
The alliance' s Deputy Assistant Secretary General
has come to University College London to talk to
students about the Ukrainian crisis and Europe ' s
new security architecture . Charming his audience
with jokes and anecdotes, Shea tells the story of
an underfunded alliance that urgently needs to up
its military game if it wants to stand up to Putin ' s
He is excited about NATO ' s new " very high
readiness joint task force" and about new and
larger planned NATO manoeuvrrs in Eastern
Europe . One topic he has precious little to say
about is the alliance ' s nuclear policy.
When I prompt him, Shea explains that while the
life extension programme was originally meant to
provide NATO with a bargaining chip for future
nuclear disarmament talks with the Kremlin,
Russia' s involvement in Eastern Ukraine
fundamentally altered the strategic context ,
rendering the B 61 " once again a part of NATO ' s
deterrence posture " .
" I' m not nostalgic for the Cold War" , he laughs ,
" but you have to prepare for Cold War mark two
even if you don' t want it " . In this, Shea is on the
same page as US Secretary of State John Kerry
who recently claimed that the crisis in Ukraine was
calling NATO " back to the role that this alliance
was originally created to perform " .
Why this relapse to what Shea calls " the nuclear
The first part of the answer lies in NATO' s recent
failures. Clearly , the stand off with Russia is a
welcome distraction from its fiasco in Afghanistan
and the alliance ' s lack of a purpose in the absence
of Milosevic or Gaddafi . Yet , there is more to this
than just an identity crisis . NATO, as Trine
Flockhardt so aptly puts it , is something of a
" nuclear addict" - it hangs on to its nuclear
weapons despite frequently declaring its desire to
abandon them .
Both US President Obama and NATO' s new
General Secretary Stoltenberg are known
advocates of nuclear disarmament - but in 2014
their alliance is stepping up its nuclear deterrence
and the US administration is pouring $ 1trn into
the future of its nuclear weapons systems .
There are obvious pressures behind this nuclear
habit , from the nuclear arms industry via hawkish
politicians and generals to certain Eastern
European NATO members - but the real issue is a
lack of public scrutiny . In the UK, the debate about
nuclear weapons tends to concentrate on Britain ' s
nuclear submarines and what would happen to
them if Scotland declared independence .
The US is currently preoccupied with the safety of
its nuclear silos . These issues are of course
important , but they should not cause us to
overlook NATO' s nuclear relapse. People like Shea
publicly admit their relief that the public has kept
so quiet about nuclear weapons since the end of
the Cold War.
Indeed, governments remember all too well their
predecessors ' struggles with the peace and anti -
nuclear movement of the 1980s . This is why
today ' s NATO does " not want to wake up a
sleeping dog" , he explains .
The dog that didn ' t bark
In 2014, the spotlight briefly returned to that one-
time symbol of division in Europe , the Berlin wall .
Even Mikhail Gorbachev attended the festivities on
November 9, a spectacle of lights , balloons and
emotions . Twenty- five years after its fall , the
Berlin wall is one of the world ' s most heavily
memorialised sites , a tourist attraction like few
other 20 th century structures .
But while the wall remains the symbol of the Cold
War in schoolbooks , op- eds and emotive speeches ,
it is also a highly problematic one. Rather than
representing the threat of mutual nuclear
annihilation, it always stood for a much simpler
lesson - that of the West ' s moral victory over the
" prison " of real existing socialism .
If we want to understand the Cold War in all its
self -destructiveness, we need to look elsewhere.
A visitor to villages that lie near nuclear weapons
storage sites in Europe might be surprised to be
greeted by American flags in shop windows and
front gardens . This form of identification with US
nuclear weapons is puzzling given that these sites
would be primary targets in the event of a nuclear
war with Moscow .
The West is currently too preoccupied with
Russia' s new nuclear militarism to notice the way
that its own military alliance functions as an agent
of regional insecurity. Lest we forget , NATO never
abandoned its " first use " doctrine. It does not rule
out the possibility of being first to go nuclear in an
armed conflict with another nuclear power.
Some will argue that " now is not the time" to start
a public debate on NATO' s tactical nukes , but
even these critics would have to concede that the
modernisation of the B 61 further compromises the
West' s position in the 2015 revision of the Nuclear
Non- Proliferation Treaty . If a new arms race is to
be prevented in its infancy, the sleeping dog might
have to learn to bark and bite again .
Ian Klinke is a researcher at the University of
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