U.S. Embassy, Berlin

The Current State of Nuclear Affairs

In an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Steven Pifer discusses his views on nuclear weapons in Europe and the progress made by the New START Treaty.

U.S. EMBASSY, BERLIN: What purpose do nuclear weapons in Europe serve and are they still needed?

STEVEN PIFER: I think in the context of NATO’s deterrence and defense posture view, those are the sorts of questions that they have to ask. Who does NATO seek to deter? Do you need American nuclear weapons in Europe for deterrence to work? And I suspect at this point within NATO you probably are going to have a hard time finding a consensus. There are some allies who are think that you don’t have to have nuclear weapons here that the American nuclear deterrent based in the United States can provide it . But you have other allies, who I think are attached to the current posture and feel in part because they still have some doubts about Russia and Russian intentions that the nuclear posture shouldn’t change. So, finding a solution and consensus on this in the next six months I think is going to be a challenge for NATO. 

U.S. EMBASSY, BERLIN: Could you talk about New START? 

STEVEN PIFER: Well, the New START treaty entered into force in February and actually a lots going on now. Something like 1,500 notifications have been exchanged between Washington and Moscow on implementation of the treaty and I believe that both the American and Russian sides have conducted 12 of their 20 inspections that they are allowed during the first year of the treaty. So a lot of things are happening. And of course it now raises the question of what comes next. And there’s thinking going on in Washington about how you address further reductions in the strategic nuclear weapons, but also beginning to think about how you would address non-strategic nuclear weapons. My own thought—and I think some in Washington are thinking along these lines—is, it may be time where you put all of the nuclear weapons on the table together. Because really, when you look at a nuclear weapon, the difference between a strategic weapon and a tactical weapon , it’s not related to the characteristics of the weapon itself, its related to the characteristics of the delivery system. And so it may be time now to put everything on the table and have a negotiation that covers all these weapons. That may make the negotiations more complex, but it also may open up some opportunities that would allow you to achieve some more significant reductions. Now, as for timing, it’s pretty hard to see a formal negotiation start in the next year. And that’s due primarily to the fact that there’s a presidential transition that’s going to happen in Russia, and I think the Russian bureaucracy is going to be a little more cautious until that transition is completed. And you have a presidential election going on in the United States.

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