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Poland, NATO and Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe

Andrew Somerville, Ian Kearns and Malcolm Chalmers
Occasional Papers, 17 February 2012
Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, NATO, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy, Europe
The debate in NATO over tactical nuclear weapons continues. Poland provides an intriguing case study of the dynamics at work

A debate within NATO about the future of non-strategic nuclear weapons stationed in Europe has been revived over the past few years. For a long period, the issue lay dormant, but since 2009 political changes have driven a vigorous debate.

Arguments in favour of removing non-strategic nuclear weapons have gained traction in parts of the Alliance, including Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. These weapons, they argue, are outdated and rely on increasingly outmoded forms of delivery. This sentiment chimes with President Obama’s call to address global nuclear dangers, and some in NATO have seen this as an opportunity to take the lead on disarmament.

Other NATO member states, however, are apprehensive about unilateral moves towards decommissioning non-strategic nuclear weapons. These include Poland, the Baltic states and the Czech Republic, for whom Russia remains a central security concern. Key policy-makers in France and Turkey are also against such moves.

This paper, the first in a series examining the position of a key group of NATO member states in the debate, focuses on Poland. The series begins with Poland because it could have a pivotal role to play, and has a position that is complex and too often caricatured. Poland has good reasons both to be apprehensive about changes in NATO nuclear posture and to seek to bring about that change. As the search continues for a NATO compromise, therefore, it could come to play a bargaining role among differing groups within the Alliance and could either help to build a consensus for incremental change or be increasingly influential in ensuring that no change occurs.

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