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Everything Counts: Building a Control Regime for Nonstrategic Nuclear Warheads in Europe

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Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration insisted in arms control talks with Russia that a follow-on agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) should cover all nuclear weapons and that such an agreement should focus on the nuclear warheads themselves. This would represent a significant change from previous agreements, which focused on delivery vehicles, such as missiles. The United States has been particularly interested in potential limits on nonstrategic nuclear warheads (NSNW). Such weapons have never been subject to an arms control agreement. Because Russia possesses an advantage in the number of such weapons, the US Senate has insisted that negotiators include them in a future agreement, making their inclusion necessary if such an accord is to win Senate approval and ultimately be ratified by Washington. In the wake of Russian nuclear threats in the Ukraine conflict, such demands can only be expected to grow if and when US and Russian negotiators return to the negotiating table.

Such an agreement will face major negotiating and implementation challenges—not only between Washington and Moscow, but also between Washington and NATO European allies. That is because the US side of such an agreement would primarily affect an estimated 100 US B61 gravity bombs deployed at European bases in NATO countries. Yet, these allies have not played a substantive role in US-Russian arms control negotiations since the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was completed in the 1980s; inspections under the treaty ended in 2001.1 As a result, many of these allies and NATO officials have recognized the need to “do their homework” so they can be prepared to engage in substantive consultations with the United States during negotiation of such a treaty and to implement it once it enters into force.

To stimulate this process, four NATO allies (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway) and one NATO partner (Sweden) funded a research team led by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and former NATO Deputy Secretary General and New START lead negotiator Rose Gottemoeller. The research focused on the negotiating, policy, legal, and technical issues that allies will likely have to address to reach such an accord. The research team also carried out a series of interviews to understand the views in NATO states on such an agreement and to gauge the constraints they could be expected to face in the process. The interviews and the primary drafting of the report occurred before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the report was first presented at a conference on “Maintaining Strategic Stability amid a Detoriorating European Security Environment” in Copenhagen in May. Mr. Pomper will discuss the paper and ongoing efforts to build Allied capacity to tackle these issues. 

In addition, prior to this paper US and allied research on verification measures for NSNW had largely focused on scientific and technical tools to conduct on-site inspections. The research team developed an original and unique methodology for a data exchange employing historic stockpile data and taking advantage of past US-Russian cooperation and cryptography. This data exchange would serve as the critical backbone for other verification measures, no matter the type of warhead or the type of agreement (freeze, limitation, or reduction). As Mr Moon will explain, his technical team with support from colleagues at Stanford and the State Department Verification Fund is now preparing a proof-of-concept demonstration of this approach and then will develop the framework for a full verification protocol. 


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