The US and the Russian Federation (‘Russia’) are currently conducting strategic stability dialogues (SSD) that will establish the groundwork for negotiations for a successor agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). This brief explores the challenges and opportunities these negotiations present to the US and how, through a comprehensive understanding of its frontline allies’ interests, the US can best enhance the prospects for a new and holistic agreement.
Although these are strictly bilateral talks, the potential issue set before the US and Russia involves security matters — namely nonstrategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) and ballistic missile defense (BMD) — that directly impact the US’s European allies. Therefore, this paper argues that in order to make progress on a number of topics, US policymakers will need to understand and integrate their Central and Eastern European (CEE) allies’ interests and concerns. A focused analysis of Germany and Poland’s respective perspectives contextualizes larger trends in the CEE region that can be extrapolated for recommended US engagement strategies and negotiating positions. These include:
- Consulting with CEE allies through established channels on all the pressing and emerging issues throughout the negotiations, further integrating strategic stability concepts into NATO’s doctrines and planning and preserving the current nuclear sharing arrangements in Europe for the duration of the negotiations.
- Persuading Russia to store its NSNWs at an appropriate distance from NATO’s eastern flank, constraining Russian nuclear activities in Kaliningrad, and developing joint on-site inspection agreements with NATO nuclear sharing host countries.
- Collaborating with Poland and Romania on BMD transparency measures and garnering additional shared information on Russia’s BMD capabilities.
This brief offers a pathway for a collaborative approach that seeks to incorporate points of convergence between the US and its CEE allies.
On February 3, 2021, the US and Russia agreed to extend the New START for an additional five years. 1 All of the agreement’s provisions will remain intact, including its verification regime and limits on long-range strategic weapons. New START is the last remaining pillar in the bilateral nuclear arms control framework between the countries with the two largest arsenals. As the world enters a return to great-power politics in the so-called Third Nuclear Age, the upcoming negotiations will set the trajectory for global strategic stability.
In June 2021, during US President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first joint summit in Geneva, both parties affirmed their “shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.” 2 Additionally, in their joint statement, both presidents emphasized an “integrated bilateral” dialogue that will help shape negotiations beyond the traditional arms control focus on strategic weapons to all capabilities impacting stability. This approach will have a profound impact on security arrangements on the European continent, particularly NATO’s eastern flank.
Given the CEE region’s proximity to Russia, it faces unique security threats as it is the first line of defense against potential Russian aggression. This brief contends that the US will need to find common ground and coordinate with its CEE allies in order to meet its long-term security objectives vis-à-vis Russia of reducing the threat of nuclear weapons while maintaining the requisite deterrent capabilities. It focuses on Germany and Poland, in particular, to serve as proxies for the representative concerns throughout the CEE region at large. Both countries are set to host US deterrent capabilities but often have differing domestic political considerations and threat assessments.
Regional experts have also argued that due to these differences, “Polish and German convergence on nuclear deterrence and arms control is a necessary condition for Europeans to take a proactive stance on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in Europe and beyond.” 3 Thus, this tailored analysis will assist the Biden administration in its efforts to keep its security commitments to Europe while stabilizing the European continent. This brief concludes with a set of recommendations on how to best incorporate allies’ concerns into US negotiating strategies.
Current Factors Impacting Strategic Stability
The prospects for a follow-on agreement to New START will ultimately depend upon each party’s assessment of how their interests intersect with the security environment. At present, due to emerging technologies, political mistrust, and increased global competition, the dynamics influencing nuclear arms control increasingly involve competing actors and unconstrained capabilities. 4 There has also been a steady erosion of the bilateral arms control regime that had been built over the last 50 years. The collapse of agreements such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty compound the challenges stakeholders will be forced to confront in order to overcome the current impasse on emerging issues.
Furthermore, the breakdown of the nuclear arms control regime reflects both the US and Russia’s reevaluation of their strategic stability equation in offensive-defensive capabilities. Historically, strategic stability hinged on the notion that a country could not undermine another’s nuclear deterrent capabilities such that the other side has an incentive to launch a first nuclear strike. 5 Domains such as space and cyber, technological developments in hypersonic and other exotic systems, and the ambiguity surrounding the rise of other nuclear powers such as China have further complicated the US and Russia’s calculations. 6 The task now is to better align these recalibrations across domains into a viable arrangement that restores stability.
History of Nuclear Weapons in Europe Timeline
- 1952: In October, the United Kingdom conducted its first nuclear test off the coast of Australia. The U.K. became the third nuclear power state and the first in continental Europe.
- 1954: The United States' first deployment of nuclear weapons to Europe occurred when it delivered gravity bombs to bases in the U.K. During the next decade, 24 different weapon systems went to Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, Netherlands, Greece, and Belgium. By 1971, the number of U.S. nuclear weapons based in Europe peaked at an estimated 7,300 warheads.
- 1960: France detonates its first atomic bomb in the Sahara Desert. France became the fourth nuclear power state and the second in continental Europe.
- 1991: Through commitments known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, President George H. W. Bush withdrew all U.S. non-strategic ground-launched and naval nuclear weapons worldwide, including weapons based in Europe. 1,400 gravity bombs in seven European countries remained after this announcement. These numbers have been reduced progressively over time and presently, Europe hosts approximately 150 gravity B-61 warheads.
US National Security Interest and Role — the Balancing Act
In March 2021, the Biden administration released an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance that stated: “We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible.” 7 Arms control has been a crucial component of US security policy as it provides transparency to the size and scope of Russia’s nuclear forces and allows for reciprocity in force reduction as defense expenditures decline. 8 Conversely, maintaining a credible deterrence against Russia’s nuclear posture is a long-standing US objective. 9 Russia’s nuclear weapons are an inheritance from the vast and dispersed Soviet stockpile during the Cold War and remain an essential part of its national security posture. Nuclear weapons supplement for Russia’s conventional weaknesses, ensure its status as a great power and peer to the US, allow for regional dominance and intimidation within its periphery and guarantee the survivability of the country. 10 11 US negotiators will need to find common ground to reconcile the competing objectives of their Russian counterparts.
Traditionally, during arms control negotiations, the US consults with its NATO allies through track 1.5 and 2 dialogues as their interests and concerns impact US calculations. Given the range of topics before both the US and Russia, these upcoming track 1.5 and 2 dialogues will have a larger than usual impact on the US’s stances on key issues. The US currently provides an extended deterrence to its NATO allies which is a source of stability and ensures that countries under the “nuclear security umbrella” do not engage in proliferation of their own.
Nonetheless, if allies’ interests are not met during upcoming negotiations, there may be unintended negative consequences for the NATO alliance. CEE allies also host US nuclear deterrent capabilities through NATO partnerships and any changes to the current force posture will require coordination. Additionally, the US needs to be acutely aware of how the Russians will inevitably seek to exploit divisions within NATO to halt collective action — as the Soviet-backed “anti-nuclear movements” in the United Kingdom and West Germany in the 1980s illustrate. 12
Top Strategic Stability Issues and Europe
Moving forward, the growing issue set before the US and Russia includes topics that directly impact stability on the European continent. In order to garner an understanding of the common interests throughout Europe, this paper will analyze both Germany and Poland as stand-ins for other similarly situated countries in the region. Although both countries have their own unique political considerations, they provide the best representations of the broader issues at stake for US negotiators.
Germany will represent other NATO nuclear host countries, particularly those nations with an ongoing public debate on their role in the program. Poland will represent the NATO allies hosting BMD capabilities and the broader concerns within Eastern Europe due to its history with and proximity to Russia. After the respective examinations of both Germany and Poland, this brief will explore the points of convergence with the US that will shape the recommended negotiating objectives.
This brief will focus on the pressing topics of NATO’s BMD system and the potential inclusion of NSNWs into a follow-on agreement. Russia has consistently sought to limit US BMD capabilities, especially the Aegis Ashore system, in both Poland and Romania. 13 The US has proposed to alleviate Russian concerns about the system’s targets and potential to disrupt Russia’s strategic stability through confidence-building measures on the range and payload of the missile interceptors and exchanges of information and technical discussions on BMD. 14 All of these efforts have been rebuffed by Russia so far. To further complicate matters, there is a partisan divide in the US Congress with Republicans opposing any constraints on missile defenses and Democrats tending to be more open to this possibility. 15 This split may complicate Senate ratification of a follow-on treaty.
On the other hand, the US seeks to have Russia rein in its NSNW stockpile that consists of shorter-range delivery systems with lower-yield warheads that are most likely to be used on the battlefield. When the New START agreement received the Senate’s advice and consent in 2010, the ratifying resolution called for continued negotiations with Russia “to secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” 16 Russia currently has a numerical advantage within this class of weapons with an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 warheads for NSNWs. 17 Russia’s NSNW arsenal directly threatens the CEE region with capabilities such as the Iskander missile in Kaliningrad and the 9M719 cruise missile and the SS-N-30As in the Baltic Sea.
The US has a projected 230 NSNWs, with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Italy collectively hosting around 100 of these capabilities. 18 The Russians may look to decouple US essential assurance to its NATO allies with its long-term position that the US and Russia base nuclear weapons solely on their national territories. Taken all together, it is incumbent upon the US to cautiously manage its relationship with its CEE partners on issues that are consequential to the alliance.
Germany is a key cornerstone of NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture. Since the early years of the Cold War in the 1950s, Germany has hosted nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing program. Presently, Germany has 10 to 26 B61 nuclear gravity bombs based at the Büchel Air Base which can be delivered by the dual-capable Tornado aircraft. 19 Additionally, Germany hosts the NATO ballistic missile defense command center at the Ramstein Air Base. 20 These capabilities directly couple the US with its European allies and serve as an assurance of US commitment to NATO member states. This arrangement faces a tenuous future.
The German public has long held negative views on basing nuclear weapons, with recent polls showing between 66% to 83% wanting to end participation in the nuclear sharing program. 21 This is borne out of Germany’s post-World War II anti-militarism and anti-nuclearism disposition and the anxiety of being an early Russian target during a nuclear confrontation. 22
A recent survey found a range of opinions on the future of Germany’s nuclear sharing role among policy elites in the Bundestag (the German parliament). While 57% of Bundestag members believe that US nuclear weapons in Germany deter nuclear attacks, 55% of respondents supported withdrawing these weapons as part of a new arms control agreement between the US and Russia. 23 A majority of German politicians see a value in hosting nuclear weapons but are heeding the concerns of their constituents in supporting an orderly reduction through bilateral negotiations.
These sentiments recently resurfaced during a debate on the replacement of the aging Tornado. Rolf Mützenich, the chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partner with the Christian Democrats (CDU) in the current governing coalition, proclaimed in an interview that “nuclear weapons on German territory do not increase our security, on the contrary. It is time for Germany to rule out stationing them in the future.” 24 The comment rekindled the domestic debate as proponents of the nuclear sharing program countered that it provides Germany greater leverage to thwart detrimental changes within the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) and reassures NATO’s eastern flank allies. 25
There is also a fear that if Germany leaves the nuclear sharing program it would damage Germany’s standing within the alliance and a cascading effect may occur where countries with skeptical publics, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, may leave the program as well. 19
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, of the CDU, has offered a preliminary “bridge solution” where Germany purchases 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 US F-18 fighter aircraft, of which 30 will be certified to carry US nuclear weapons. 26 A final decision, however, will not be made on this matter until 2022. The politics governing Germany’s nuclear policy will in part be settled with the formation of a new governing coalition and its coalition agreement after the September 2021 federal election.
Given the election results, there are currently negotiations underway to form the so-called “traffic-light” coalition between SPD, the Greens, and the Free Democrats. According to a joint paper, this coalition would seek “a disarmament policy offensive and want to take a leading role in strengthening international disarmament initiatives and non-proliferation regimes.” 27 Potential shifts in policies may include an eventual road map to a nuclear-free Germany and the observership to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. These concessions could create the political space for Germany’s continued participation in the nuclear sharing program. 28
Germany, along with other nuclear host countries, has historically sought to balance its nuclear deterrence posture with its support for mutual and step-by-step disarmament measures. This will likely continue through the next phase of US-Russia negotiations as policymakers will judge any negotiated agreement through the lens of adequate reciprocal reductions by the US and its allies on one side and Russia on the other. As such, on issues regarding the basing of NSNWs, Germany could support a holistic agreement that reduces its numbers while maintaining the essentials of the program. 29 In the same vein, Germany would negatively view any plans to unilaterally withdraw the B61 nuclear gravity bombs from Europe.
Germany’s larger objective within this framework is to address the imbalance in NSNWs with Russia while upholding NATO’s objective that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance and Allies will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.” 30 Additionally, due to the delicate political nature of the nuclear issue, it would be difficult for Germany to add capabilities — such as intermediate-range and precision strike missiles — to its existing stockpile. 31 Germany also has the capacity within the federal Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense to provide indirect assistance and manage close consultations on nuclear arms control talks on a regular basis.
Poland serves as a centerpiece of Eastern Europe’s security framework through its alliance with NATO and the US. On the conventional level, Poland has been essential to NATO’s enhanced forward presence (eFP) and with the US—Poland Joint Declaration, an increase of US boots on the ground. 32 There are currently approximately 5,500 US troops serving in Poland. 33 With regard to nuclear policy, Poland is a participant in NATO’s NPG, the alliance’s Support of Nuclear Operations with Conventional Air Tactics (SNOWCAT) program, and is set to host the second Aegis Ashore missile defense system. 34 The first Aegis Ashore site, which is in Romania, was certified operational in 2016. 35
Since the end of the Cold War, deterring Russian aggression has been a key objective for Poland and many of its CEE neighbors. Their relationship with NATO and the US has provided a security umbrella with nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee. A US physical presence in Poland has been instrumental in providing assurances to a key NATO ally. 36
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent aggression in Ukraine, Poland, along with other Eastern European and former Soviet states, began recalculating its security posture. 37 As Germany debated its future role in nuclear sharing, Polish officials began publicly expressing an openness to hosting US nuclear weapons. In 2015, then-Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski told a local TV station that Poland was “actively working on” joining NATO’s nuclear sharing program. 38 The Polish government swiftly distanced itself 39 from these comments but Szatkowski’s remarks did reveal internal conversation among policy elites on how best to deter Russia.
Any eastward deployment of US nuclear weapons would be a highly provocative act toward Russia. Specifically, it would violate the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act’s three noes of “no intention, no plan, and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new [NATO] members.” 40 Many regional experts believe that Russia has violated this accord on numerous occasions and its basic tenets should at a minimum be revisited among the alliance. 41 NATO’s eastern flank also lacks the costly underground storage vaults required to shelter nuclear weapons.
As US-Russia SSDs continue, Poland has concerns it would like addressed to ameliorate its real and perceived insecurities. Poland’s ultimate fear is that Russia will engage in a hybrid military conflict on its border and attempt to destabilize the country to test whether this would trigger an appropriate NATO response. 42 Within this context, Polish defense officials will evaluate any proposals on missile defenses and the forward deployment of nuclear weapons on whether or not Poland and the alliance will be able to provide a credible deterrence against Russia.
Additionally, Poland will continue to request a strong US footprint, whether through troops or physical defense infrastructure such as the Aegis Ashore. 42 Poland would not support any unilateral withdrawal of nuclear and missile defense systems and would encourage the inclusion of Russian NSNWs in any follow-on agreement. 43 Poland could partner with the US to provide transparency measures for the Russian on the missile defense system that will be based at the Redzikowo military base. A clear redline would be no permanent Russian officials at this facility. 43
Lastly, Poland is interested in Russia downgrading its nuclear capacities in the Kaliningrad exclave on Poland’s border. 42 Russia has deployed Iskander short-range nuclear-capable missiles in this area in order to enact an anti-access/area-denial strategy against NATO involvement in the Baltics and Poland. 37 Any measures that provide greater “transparency, predictability and exchange of information” would be a significant step forward for the United States’ Eastern European allies. 44
CONVERGENCE OF INTERESTS
The nexus between the U.S and its European allies on NSNWs and BMD will be a determining factor in the potential successful inclusion of both topics in upcoming US-Russia negotiations. The US has many overlapping objectives with its alliance partners as exemplified by the analysis of Germany and Poland’s perspectives. For one, all parties support close and periodic consultations throughout this negotiations process. Such consultations provide the US with meaningful feedback and offer its allies the opportunity to contribute input and voice concerns when necessary. The continued unity and cohesion of the NATO alliance is also a shared objective that offers stability on the continent. Although there are already numerous joint ventures among allies on nuclear security, there is still space to update and modernize how NATO approaches this issue.
On the specifics of NSNWs and BMD, the US will need to coordinate closely with its allies on developing proposals to implement their common interests. All parties seek greater accounting of Russia’s NSNW arsenal and BMD system and oppose any effort to unilaterally dilute NATO’s own deterrence capabilities. US allies are open to providing some transparency to the Russians on capabilities they host, but those arrangements will need to be developed throughout the negotiations.
The next section recommends strategies for US negotiators for the current bilateral nuclear arms control talks with the Russians that incorporate the common interests discussed above into specific goals and objectives.
- Engage in proactive, timely, and ongoing track 1.5 and 2 dialogues with NATO’s CEE allies. Develop parallel working groups on NSNWs and BMD and initiate lab-to-lab diplomacy to assist in the development of required technical advances for confirmation techniques for nonstrategic and nondeployed warheads.
- Incorporate a cross-domain strategic stability doctrine into NATO’s official documents. Establish a working group within the NPG focused on analyzing all elements of state power that affect strategic stability. Create and participate in war games with CEE allies that involve holistic nuclear threat exercises.
- Work diplomatically with key allies to maintain current nuclear sharing arrangements throughout the negotiations. Ruptures within the alliance would signal to Russia “the weakening of collective resolve among allies” that could alter US leverage on other issues of common concern. 25
Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons
- Require that Russia’s NSNWs are stored at the appropriate distance and range away from NATO members’ territories.
- Seek greater transparency from Russia on its nonstrategic capabilities in the Kaliningrad enclave and advocate for the removal of destabilizing weaponry.
- Reject any Russian proposal that calls for the US to accept a “basing on national territory” provision for its NSNWs. Any reductions should maintain NATO’s credible nuclear deterrent.
- Collaborate with relevant allies to manage and coordinate Russian on-site inspections of nuclear sharing facilities. The bilateral agreements developed during the INF Treaty negotiations should serve as a template for these arrangements.
Missile Defense Systems
- Establish joint ventures with Poland and Romania for a transparency regime for the Aegis Ashore installations. These measures should include data exchanges, risk reduction protocols, confidence-building exercises, and technical discussions with the Russians.
- Acquire reciprocal information regarding Russia’s BMD system to be able to share with NATO allies.
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