Iowa and Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Iowa and Tactical Nuclear Weapons

by Paul Deaton

In a recent letter, Senator Chuck Grassley (D-IA) expressed his disagreement with ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and said, “should the Senate consider a treaty relating to tactical nuclear weapons with the Russian Federation, please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind.”

When the Senate ratified the New START Treaty on December 22, 2010, they did so with conditions that are outlined in a “Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification.” The resolution includes, among other things, conditions that the administration “…pursue, following consultation with allies, an agreement with the Russian Federation that would address the disparity between the tactical nuclear weapons stockpiles of the Russian Federation and of the United States and would secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” The objectives of negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons are to establish “cooperative measures to give each Party to the New START Treaty improved confidence regarding the accurate accounting and security of tactical nuclear weapons maintained by the other Party; and to provide United States or other international assistance to help the Russian Federation ensure the accurate accounting and security of its tactical nuclear weapons.”

What is this about?

Over the years, the Soviet Union outpaced U.S. production of tactical nuclear weapons in the form of artillery shells, land mines, depth charges, surface to air missiles and the like. As the START Treaty resolution indicates, no one knows exactly how many tactical nuclear weapons exist, where they are or how they are secured. Feeling some vulnerability to United States interests, Senate hawks insisted that this provision be agreed by the administration before ratifying the treaty. The administration is already preparing for negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “The hope is that the momentum for a nuclear-weapon-free world, the renewed U.S.-Russian negotiations, and the ongoing review of the U.S. nuclear posture and NATO strategic concept will help make progress on reducing nonstrategic nuclear arsenals–an issue that has been largely neglected for more than a decade.” The Russian Federation is not enthusiastic about reducing tactical nuclear weapons.  “Russia's reaction on the prospects for talks on tactical nuclear weapons is, charitably speaking, restrained and cautious,” Mikhail Margelov, who heads the foreign relations committee of the Russian parliament's upper house, said according to Russian news outlet Rianovosti. As Xanthe Hall wrote for International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War this week, “Certainly you might have got the impression lately that one issue fell neatly off the world agenda: the topic of 'tactical' nuclear weapons in Europe.”

What does this mean to Iowans? Two things.

No matter how much Senate Hawks want Russia to reduce its tactical nuclear weapons arsenal, that want will go unsatisfied without the support of the world community. Understanding that Russia is a reluctant partner in such a reduction, and the implications among our allies, when discussing national defense issues with our elected officials, Iowans should raise the issue of reduction of tactical nuclear weapons.

In a time when living memory of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is fading after the US dropped the first two atomic bombs, Iowans cannot assume others will work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. During a time when our lives are filled with a thousand things asking for our attention, it is important to include nuclear abolition in the mix. If we don't work on it, who will?

If you have a question about this article or about nuclear abolition, please e-mail the author.

Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail
Paul Deaton

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