On 19 October, ICDS hosted a seminar for The Stimson Center entitled “Preventing Nuclear War in Northern Europe”. The seminar was conducted in cooperation with the regional partners of The Stimson Center – Institute for National Defence and Security Policy Studies of the Swedish Defence University.
The Stimson Center has been conducting a study of the consequences of nuclear weapons use in the Baltic region emerging from a crisis and conventional war between Russia and NATO. In the framework of the project, a simulation has been conducted to evaluate the immediate and some longer-term effects of two nuclear scenarios involving the use of tactical nuclear weapons by both sides. During the seminar, the results of this simulation were presented and discussed. The Stimson Center’s counsel for avoiding such catastrophes was two-fold: (a) strengthening NATO’s conventional military presence in the region by pre-deploying heavy equipment and rotating US troops through temporary deployments so as to deter any Russian meddling, and (b) seeking to establish a Baltic nuclear weapons free zone. While the latter – as admitted by Dr Barry Blechman, co-founder of The Stimson Center and one of the leaders of the project – is obviously not a realistic option under current political circumstances, it might provide a positive rallying position to offset the increasingly reckless talk about nuclear threats and use.
Participants at the discussion, while mostly agreeing with the first recommendation, directed most of their criticism toward the latter. The first point of contention is that, de facto and, at least in the case of Lithuania where a constitutional provision exists banning any deployment of weapons of mass destruction on its territory, also de jure, the Baltic states are a nuclear weapons-free zone. However, this does not generate any good will in their relations with Russia, currently marked by a profound deficit of trust ever since Moscow violated the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 by annexing Crimea and launching a war against Ukraine in Donbas. The second point, which relates more to the overall US nuclear posture and the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, is that withdrawing such weapons or phasing them out prematurely might be conceived by Moscow as a sign of weakness rather than an opportunity to tone down its nuclear rhetoric, and would be exploited in further undermining the security of vulnerable NATO allies such as the Baltic states.
Dr Blechman and his colleagues argued that the US must continue showing a strong commitment to their NATO allies and, as a matter of both deterrence and assurance, signal its unwavering resolve to use whatever means necessary, including strategic nuclear forces, to protect them in the event of armed aggression. However, in their view, increasingly obsolete tactical nuclear weapons in Europe have no utility in this respect, which, in turn, does not justify the costs of their modernization. They remained convinced that a declared aspiration towards a nuclear weapons-free zone in Northern Europe, which would also entail withdrawing US tactical nuclear weapons currently deployed in Germany, might help in alleviating the tensions and reducing the risk of a nuclear war, which however limited, would be devastating to any country in the region.