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National Editorial & Columnists

NATO, Russia cooperation vital on nuke weapons

Anti-terrorist reforms ought to continue

The bucolic views of 2,000 acres of Wales countryside surrounding Celtic Manor just outside Newport are magnificent. But they won’t help 67 heads of state, who will be there for the Sept. 4-5 NATO summit, view the one thing they most urgently need to see.

Namely: What is really going on inside Vladimir Putin’s head.

Especially whether Russia’s president intends to continue fomenting military unrest in the sovereign European nations the Kremlin once controlled. Or whether Putin still remains sufficiently determined to safeguard nuclear weapons and materials so they cannot be seized by global terrorists, including those within Russia’s borders.

Indeed, even some of Washington’s most esteemed national security experts seem to be having trouble getting a clear view of what Putin most wants and needs today.

And to be fair to all experts, Putin may have just started realizing he derailed his own plan to make 2014 Russia’s year for achieving prosperity in the global economy.

Putin now knows his militaristic diversion in Ukraine, an impulsive act of false pride, torpedoed his own grand plan to reap prosperity by hosting, back-to-back, Sochi’s Winter Olympics and Sochi’s planned G-8 economic summit.

Also, Putin knows Russia must safeguard itself from the threat of global terrorism. Especially from the possibility that terrorists within its borders, in Chechnya, might seize a poorly secured nuclear weapon or material.

And that brings us to Washington’s just-surfacing dispute among respected security experts.

On Monday, two former White House national security advisers, Gen. Brent Scowcroft (who served presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush) and Stephen J. Hadley (George W. Bush), and longtime nuclear policy adviser Franklin Miller (under both Bushes and President Bill Clinton) wrote a Washington Post op-ed column urging the United States and NATO alliance to reject all plans for reducing or withdrawing the tactical nuclear weapons that are remnants of the Cold War.

Meanwhile, many Republican and Democratic experts, including former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who is now co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), have long urged that tactical nukes of NATO and Russia be mutually withdrawn.

They and others make a compelling case that necessary nuclear deterrence in Europe can now be assured by strategic weapons that are safeguarded far from volatile front lines.

And the cost of modernizing tactical warheads would now be money wasted.

Responding to the crisis in Ukraine, President Obama pledged $1 billion to increase NATO’s conventional force capabilities.

“But everyone knows that’s just a down payment on what we’ll need to spend,” Stephen Andreasen, a Clinton national security nuclear arms adviser and now a consultant with Nunn’s NTI, said in an interview.

Andreasen suggested the $10 billion the United States must spend to modernize the present no-longer essential tactical nuclear warheads can be far better spent to increase NATO’s conventional force capability.

Perhaps the most compelling case against maintaining the now redundant tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, where they remain potential security concerns, was made inadvertently by Scrowcroft, Hadley and Miller themselves. “They are, fundamentally, political weapons,” they wrote. “…a visible symbol to friend and potential foe.”

But think about that. NATO’s tactical nukes remain “political weapons” only if you assume Putin doesn’t know NATO’s real strengths and needs – and of course he knows them well.

Putin also knows his country doesn’t need to spend money on outmoded tactical weapons. And mainly: Putin wants a face-saving (see also: aspiration-covering) way of getting Russia back in the good graces of the global economy.

That is why NATO should put forward its plan to streamline its nuclear deterrence by retiring outmoded weapons and proposing Russia do the same. It can be win-win for both sides – even in these tense times.

And it can be lose-lose for terrorists who hope to some day get their hands on a nuclear weapon that suddenly becomes vulnerable near a combat front line.

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