Now is the time for action on “tactical” nuclear weapons

Various NGOs including Acronym Institute
15 May 2010
An open letter sent from Non-Governmental Organisations - including the Acronym Institute - to all NPT state parties during the 2010 NPT Review Conference

An open letter sent from Non-Governmental Organisations - including the Acronym Institute - to all NPT state parties on 14 May 2010 during the 2010 NPT Review Conference

As the United States and Russia negotiate reductions in their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons, the world is at an historic moment that provides unique opportunities to withdraw from deployment, reduce and eliminate the particularly destabilising class of short-range nuclear weapons variously described as non-strategic, sub-strategic, tactical or battlefield weapons.

The worldwide support for the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the Obama administration’s recognition of the importance of reducing the role of nuclear weapons, NATO’s review of its Strategic Concept (scheduled for completion by November) and the intensified debate at the NPT Review Conference over the destabilising dangers of non-strategic nuclear weapons make it possible – and necessary – that meaningful steps towards the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons are taken now.

All NPT member states have the obligation to contribute to a world free of nuclear weapons by reducing their reliance on nuclear deterrence doctrines. A decision by NATO to withdraw the remaining, militarily obsolete US tactical nuclear weapons from European soil and provide security assurance with other means would be a significant and visible step in that direction which would make agreement on the elimination of those weapons more likely.

Recognizing that decisions about the future of tactical nuclear weapons and NATO’s nuclear sharing policy will be agreed among NATO members, it must be noted how many NPT member states have spoken of the need to reduce and eliminate tactical nuclear weapons as a priority issue during this Review Conference. Nuclear sharing undermines NPT coherence because it creates a group of semi-nuclear states. In addition, a majority of NPT member states consistently criticise NATO nuclear sharing as violating at least the spirit of the NPT, and for undermining the overall credibility of the non-proliferation compact.

The United States is the only country still deploying nuclear weapons outside its territory. Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are the only non-nuclear weapon states that formally agree to host nuclear weapons on their territory. This deployment is a relic of the Cold War for which there is no strategic rationale.

Moreover, tactical nuclear weapons are a security liability because these weapons, many of which are small and widely deployed, could be vulnerable to acquisition and use, including attack or theft by terrorists.

Russia also possesses short range nuclear weapons. As with NATO, the deployment of these inevitably has strategic implications far beyond any battlefield for which they might be envisaged. Russia, like all NPT parties, has a responsibility to be part of the solution by supporting initiatives at the Review Conference aimed at the reduction and elimination of such weapons, and should also commit to withdrawing their own weapons from forward-areas of deployment in a verifiable and prompt manner.

We strongly welcome the increased attention that NPT member states have paid at this review conference to the importance of eliminating these particularly destabilising tactical nuclear weapons. We would like to contribute to the current consultations by suggesting steps States Parties to the NPT can take in order to move this issue forward.

We urge all States Parties to the NPT, NATO members and non-NATO members alike, to:
• reaffirm the ‘diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies’, particularly with regard to tactical nuclear weapons which were developed for battlefield use;
• declare that the deployment of nuclear weapons on others’ territory, particularly in non-nuclear weapon states, undermines non-proliferation and disarmament efforts and that states should work towards ending existing nuclear sharing arrangements before the 2015 Review Conference, and to report on those efforts at that conference;
• declare that the NPT is binding on all States Parties “under any circumstances”, i.e. in times of war as well as peace;
• recognise the serious concerns raised by NPT parties about the compatibility of nuclear sharing arrangements with the Treaty, and that contradictory legal opinions dating back to the 1960s can no longer be treated as a legitimate basis for continuing to deploy US nuclear