EASTERN EUROPE: Unwilling to Back Nuclear Disarmament

  • Pavol Stracansky interviews Czech analyst Tomas Karasek (prague)
  • Inter Press Service

Many commentators saw the choice of location as symbolic -- one of the most prominent capitals in a region where nuclear weapons had been deployed in the depths of the Cold War when the world was thought to be its closest yet to nuclear war.

But its choice also stood at odds with what analysts say is a societal indifference to the debate on nuclear abolition matched only by its leaders' diffidence in committing to fully backing a Global Zero plan for nuclear weapons. Prominent Czech international relations analyst Tomas Karasek of the Association for International Affairs in Prague explained to IPS the reasons why full nuclear disarmament is unlikely to ever get the region's political support.

Q: U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to push for a world free of nuclear weapons and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he sees world leaders wanting the same. Do you think that leaders in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) hold the same view? Would they fully back nuclear abolition? A: I doubt it. Though I think it's difficult to defend the benefits of nuclear weapons publicly, they are regarded as an essential component of NATO's defence and deterrence strategies. In relation to the possibility of a terrorist attack by WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) but also vis-a-vis Russia, I believe many key players in the foreign policy and defence establishments in CEE still regard nuclear deterrent as a necessary (though not necessarily immediately usable) component of NATO policies.

Q: It has been suggested that some Central European leaders might not want complete nuclear abolition as it would mean the U.S. abandoning tactical nuclear weapons in Europe which raises concerns over regional security with the might of Russia's military on its doorstep. Do you think there is any real security reason for leaders in the region not to support complete abolition of nuclear weapons? A: From a purely military perspective it's probably fair to assume that NATO could defend itself against a conventional Russian attack even without the use of nuclear weapons, while emphasising that such a scenario of a military confrontation between the two is highly unrealistic. But in a situation when Russia still maintains its nuclear arsenal, it's simply politically unacceptable, and not just among the CEE leaders, that NATO would abolish its own. Since it's hardly imaginable Russia would accept total abolition of nuclear weapons which are one of the few remaining sources of its international prestige, such a development is also highly unlikely.

Q: Not being nuclear powers, could Central and Eastern European countries ever have any real influence on moves to abolish or even limit nuclear weapons or their testing? A: Vis-a-vis the U.S., the CEE countries could at least send strong signals of disapproval to such American policies which they regard as grossly unfavourable. This could include withdrawal from U.S.-led missions, example Afghanistan, or stronger inclination to ESDP (the EU's European Security and Defence Policy) as an alternative to NATO. However, such developments are not very likely. In practice, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would probably simply 'lobby' the U.S. government to modify its steps to fit their perceived needs and interests. Since the U.S. cannot completely ignore the voices of its (Eastern) European allies, such diplomatic negotiations have a reasonable chance of at least partial success.

Q: Does the region have any role to play globally in at least stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, perhaps because of its Cold War history and the fact that nuclear weapons were deployed in the region under communism? A: Probably not beyond participation in NATO and EU policies and initiatives.

Q: In the light of what critics said was a disappointing outcome to the non- proliferation treaty review earlier this year, could, or should, Central and Eastern Europe do more to show its support for non-proliferation, or a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty? A: Even if they did, I doubt their weight in the international system would make it a significant move. The problem with the review of the non- proliferation treaty lies in the effort to change it into a disarmament instrument -- a move the current owners of nuclear weapons simply will not accept, despite all rhetorical dances. In fact, missing in the zeal towards disarmament is a clear explanation of why in fact the ownership of nuclear weapons is in itself a bad thing.

Q: Under communism nuclear weapons were deployed in the region but since the fall of communism and their withdrawal nuclear weapons seem to have been a relatively low subject on the political and public agenda in Central and Eastern Europe. Why do you think this is? A: First, with the disappearance of the Soviet threat and the risk of U.S.-Soviet military confrontation, nuclear weapons ceased to be a relevant issue in regional discourse on security threats. Even discussion on the link between terrorism and WMDs after 9/11 did not result in plans for more reliance on nuclear weapons as a deterrent, not the least because of the official U.S. position that suicide terrorism simply cannot be deterred, or defence, taking into account the political and human costs of a hypothetical response to terrorist attacks by nuclear weapons.

Q: The UN has recently held meetings with high-level representatives of various governments in a bid to push for a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and disarmament education in schools. Do you think Central and Eastern European governments will back these plans and even if they do, do you think they are realistic goals? A: Personally, I am a bit sceptical about this, not the least because I tend to assess the role of nuclear weapons in international relations in much more positive terms than the prevailing disarmament discourse. In my opinion, any education on these matters should include a fair and critical assessment of the role of nuclear weapons in the international system along with the virtues of disarmament, in order to prevent turning education into indoctrination.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service