The Foreign Ministry of Russia issued a statement on April 15 expressing its concern over U.S. plans to deploy new nuclear weaponry in Europe. It referred to the B61 Model 12, a bomb tested in 2015 in Nevada, U.S. and intended to have enhanced accuracy and a lower yield than previous weapons. In 2014 former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz spoke at a conference organized by the U.S. security think-tank the Stimson Center and confirmed that the lower yield weapons are intended to broaden the range of targets for U.S. nuclear attacks.
Writing on the website of the Federation of American Scientists, Hans M. Kristensen noted, “Increasing the accuracy broadens the type of targets that the B61 can be used to attack.”
“For NATO, the improved accuracy has particularly important implications because the B61-12 is a more effective weapon that the B61-3 and B61-4 currently deployed in Europe.
“The United States has never before deployed guided nuclear bombs in Europe but with the increased accuracy of the B61-12 and combined with the future deployment of the F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter-bomber to Europe, it is clear that NATO is up for quite a nuclear facelift.”
“It is also unclear how improving the nuclear posture in Europe fits with NATO’s arms control goal to seek reductions in Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe. Instead, the increased military capabilities provided by the B61-12 and F-35 would appear to signal to Russia that it is acceptable for it to enhance its non-strategic nuclear posture in Europe as well.”
Within the U.S., a number of former military and government figures have spoken out against the replacement of existing U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe with the B61 Model 12. Andrew C. Weber, a former assistant secretary of defence and former director of the Nuclear Weapons Council argued in an October 2015 editorial in the Washington Post that the “smaller” and more “precise” weapons could lead to the U.S. government contemplating “limited nuclear war.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said, “It is a very dangerous project that can considerably lower the nuclear weapons use ‘threshold’ when American nuclear bombs are seen as ‘battlefield weapons.’ We must not forget that Moscow and Washington abandoned such an option twenty-five years ago. It looks like the United States is planning to plunge back into its former irresponsible practice of walking on the brink of nuclear warfare.”
“Washington’s approach to the observance of the provisions of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is still alarming,” the ministry said. “The United States along with its non-nuclear NATO allies continue exercises to drill nuclear weapons usage skills as part of the so-called ‘nuclear sharing.’ It is a flagrant violation of Articles I and II of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”
“Instead of propaganda statements on the United States’ commitment to further steps in the area of nuclear disarmament, it would be expedient to pull all U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons back to the national territory [as Russia did twenty-five years ago], to impose a ban on their deployment outside national territories, to dismantle the entire infrastructure that can be used to swiftly re-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe and, of course, to refrain from any exercises with servicemen of non-nuclear NATO states on drilling the skills of the use of nuclear weapons,” the ministry said.
“Moreover, the United States and NATO have embarked on a course of ‘containing’ Russia and tilting the balance of forces in the European continent in their favour by means of the Alliance’s expansion, moving its military infrastructure eastwards and now by means of deployment of their forces in direct proximity to the Russian borders,” the ministry said.
It added that the prospects for advancing arms control in Europe are contingent on “NATO’s rejection of policy of enhancing measures of military ‘containment’ of Russia, resumption of a due level of trust and normalization of relations with Russia, including in the sphere of military cooperation.”