Thursday, 21 January 2010

Is Poland Ready to Agree the Removal of US Nuclear Weapons from Europe?

An interesting piece of analysis from the Polish Institute of International Affairs has come to my attention. It dates from last March, and is entitled “Reduce US Nukes in Europe to Zero, and Keep NATO Strong (and Nuclear). A View from Poland.

The Polish government is a strong supporter of the maintenance of US nuclear weapons in Europe, and as such is beginning to find itself at odds with most of its allies. Poland has even mooted privately the possibility of deploying US nuclear forces to Poland if those countries which currently host such weapons which them to leave.

This paper is unusual in that it comes from Poland (usually considered a hardline supporter of US nuclear basing in Europe) but is rooted much more firmly in the European mainstream. It suggests that Polish interests and opinions are also much more nuanced than is generally thought outside Poland. As the author writes:
The usefulness of nuclear weapons is perceived by Poland within the wider context of assuring the viability of the transatlantic link and the credibility of NATO’s Article 5 (mutual defence clause). Russia is often mentioned in the context of Article 5 commitments, but it should be stressed that safeguarding the political cohesion of the Alliance and strengthening its conventional military capabilities are currently much more important for Poland’s interpretation of Article 5 than is the nuclear factor.
This is interesting, and there is another extremely significant paragraph in the paper:
The conventional wisdom holds that the countries of Central Europe, and especially Poland, would strongly object to any changes in the NATO nuclear posture because of their fear of Moscow. This is an oversimplification. Certainly, Poland, as well as other Central European nations, is interested in an alliance which can credibly fulfill its defence and deterrence function. As a consequence, as long as NATO is serious about remaining a military alliance (and not a kind of global crisis management organization), and counts three nuclear weapon states among its members, the nuclear component should be an integral part of the “Article 5 package”. The extended deterrence, especially that provided by the United States to its European allies, both in its conventional and nuclear forms, remains a significant reason to treat the Alliance as the most important guarantee of the security of Poland. Does it mean that any changes in the nuclear strategy of NATO are a taboo for Warsaw? Not necessarily, but such changes would need to be conducted in a way that does not weaken the transatlantic link nor the image of the Alliance as a credible security provider in the eyes of outside actors, including Russia.
If the article is a genuine reflection of the full range of debate on the role of nuclear weapons in ensuring NATO’s Article V commitments to the defence of NATO territory, then it is most welcome. It indicates that Poland is ready to sit within an emerging consensus in the Alliance, and possibly paves the way for the removal of all US nuclear weapons from Europe.