Russians Say Yeltsin's Nuclear Pledge Fulfilled
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 8, 1998 About this time last year, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced his intention to stop aiming missiles at members of the NATO alliance. Russian officials now say Yeltsin's pledge has been fulfilled.
Russia's nuclear weapons have been effectively detargeted, said Russian authorities attending a Permanent Joint Council meeting here April 29. In return, NATO authorities assured the Russians that alliance nations have done the same.
Both sides said nuclear weapons equipped with primary targeting codes or assignments, are now aimed at empty ocean, not at each other's territory.
This NATO-Russia council meeting focused on theater nuclear weapon reductions, nuclear detargeting, and security and safety of stored, tactical nuclear weapon stocks. The United States, United Kingdom and France, NATO's three nuclear powers, gave presentations.
NATO authorities gave Russian officials detailed briefings, demonstrating NATO's willingness to openly discuss nuclear issues. A senior NATO official said the historic information exchange was designed to promote transparency on both sides.
"This was the first ever major consultation between Russia and NATO on nuclear issues," he said. It was held in NATO's presentation room, he added, "the sanctum of sanctums."
"When I was a young NATO official many years ago, we actually used to rehearse nuclear release procedures and nuclear scenarios in a Cold War situation [here]. Yet, here we are ... debating nuclear reductions with Russia."
NATO authorities highlighted aspects of the alliance's nuclear drawdown for the Russians, the official said. During the Cold War, for example, NATO had five types of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Now there is one -- free-fall gravity bombs carried on aircraft that can carry nuclear or conventional weapons. Even these weapons are being reduced, officials said.
U.S. officials told the Russians, by next year, all of the tactical nuclear weapons withdrawn from Europe will have been destroyed. "It's not a question that they've been sent back to the United States to be stored to be brought back to Europe one day," the NATO official said. "They all will have been actually, physically destroyed."
NATO allies also expressed concern that Russia still seems to have a vastly larger tactical nuclear weapon stockpile than NATO. One main point of the meeting was a discussion of what has happened to those weapons, officials said. NATO wants to know what types of weapons the Russians have, where they are stored and what doctrine governs their use.
The Russians, in turn, gave a presentation on their tactical nuclear weapons, which they are collecting into centralized storage sites. These sites make the weapons easier to guard and destroy. The Russians said the readiness level and research and development programs for these weapons have both been reduced.
"We did have some useful information on the Russian side," the NATO official said. "We heard 50 percent of the tactical nuclear weapons currently have been reduced, which is encouraging news."
Officials also shared information on procedures related to nuclear weapons safety and security. "This involves things like how good are your storage facilities; how good are your procedures for making sure there is no rogue access to nuclear weapons; how well trained are your personnel to operate safe procedures," the NATO official said.
The Russians also expressed gratitude to several allies for their help in transporting weapons.
Nuclear experts from both sides will follow up on the council's discussion, the official said. "We'd like to identify certain key questions to be answered which can help us get the information we'd like to have for full transparency on both sides."
NATO officials would like to know, for example, which tactical nuclear weapons systems Russia will deploy after the current reductions and what Russia intends to keep in its tactical nuclear weapons arsenal.
Russia provided a lot of useful information during the meeting, but tactical nuclear weapons is "an area which has been shrouded in mystery," the NATO official said. "There's been a lot of dialogue on strategic systems because of the [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] process so we have a full picture on that, but tactical nuclear weapons have been a rather murky area."
This first NATO-Russia discussion on nuclear issues was a good starting point, the official concluded. But further information exchanges are needed before the two sides can discuss doctrine and strategy. "This was just a first round in sharing information on this once highly secret, highly sensitive area," he said.