PONI Sandia Conference Debates TNW in Europe

Jul 28, 2010


By Oliver Bloom


One of the many highlights from PONI’s conference as Sandi National Laboratories last week was a lunchtime debate between PONI’s own Chris Jones and John Warden (both experienced college debaters in their own right), debating whether the United States should withdraw its nuclear weapons from Europe. Following the standard debate format, Warden spoke in the affirmative before taking questions from Jones, and then Jones spoke in the negative before taking questions from Warden. PONI Director Clark Murdock questioned both Warden and Jones, and then opened the floor to questions from the audience. Following the questions, Jones and then Warden offered closing remarks. 
In the affirmative, John Warden offered three reasons for why the United States should not unilaterally withdraw its weapons, but should instead take a leadership role in the conversation about what security threats really face Europe. The first advantage from removal would be credibility in the international community and in nonproliferation, especially because some countries (though not the United States or NATO) believe that the NPT does not allow the United States to place weapons on another nation’s territory. What’s more, Warden argued that keeping weapons in Europe demonstrates that nuclear weapons are perceived to be crucial for security. Removal will demonstrate that the United States is decreasing the role of nuclear weapons and therefore encourage our international partners to do the same. Second, Warden argued that removal will increase security because of the questionable nature of security at some of the bases. While Warden was quick to note that while the security threat remains quite low, it is nevertheless an unnecessary threat. Finally, Warden argued that removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe, if done correctly, would enhance NATO’s security. He argued that nuclear weapons may have certain political value, but no strategic utility, especially given the lack of adequate delivery aircraft now and in the future. In most of the scenarios actually threatening Europe, U.S. nuclear weapons would not be useful (or even usable—the response times for the weapons are measured in months) and thus would not be an effective deterrent or weapon. In his closing, Warden argued that the United States and NATO need more realistic security arrangements for Europe.
In Jones’ cross-examination of Warden, he pressed Warden on what sort of alternative security arrangements might replace U.S. nuclear weapons. Warden suggested that cyber defenses, diversified energy sources and joint military exercises could also address the specific security threats to Europe. Jones countered that joint military exercises in Eastern Europe could have provocative implications vis-à-vis Russia. 
In the negative, Jones offered five reasons why the United States should not remove U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. First, as a matter of deterrence, Jones argued that they are important political weapons that serve a function and send a message that coercion will not be tolerated. What’s more, in the face of Russian threatening military exercises in recent years (including a wargame involving a nuclear attack on Poland), U.S. nuclear weapons were needed. Second, Jones argued that nuclear weapons serve a fundamental role in the transatlantic link between the United States and NATO. They facilitate common funding and planning mechanisms in the alliance and no alternative arrangements could match these common activities. Jones added that U.S. nuclear weapons help protect against both horizontal and vertical escalation. Third, Jones argued that the nuclear weapons serve as a valuable tool in preventing proliferation, specifically with regards to Turkey. In the face of the growing threat from Iran, Jones argued that without U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, Turkey would either develop its own nuclear weapons or seek rapprochement with Iran. Fourth, any decision regarding the role U.S. nuclear weapons in NATO is a decision for NATO to make rather than the United States alone, and that NATO still needs to do a lot of strategic review about the decision. Fifth and finally, Jones argued that none of the alternatives proposed provide the same security benefits as American nuclear weapons. New arrangements need to measure up to nuclear defense and deterrence, and none of them have been sufficiently analyzed nor offer sufficient joint enterprises.
In Warden’s cross-examination of Jones, he asked whether the use of nuclear weapons in response to a Russian incursion into Poland was a realistic more. What’s more, Warden suggested that the United States and NATO could still respond with nuclear weapons if need be, even if they weren’t stationed on European territory. Jones responded that it was less about the ability to use the nuclear weapons and more about the needs of our allies and the signals that nuclear weapons send them.
In his role as moderator, Clark Murdock then asked a question to both debaters. To Warden, Murdock asked whether Warden’s argument that the “United States should take a leadership role in the conversation about what security threats face Europe” was really equivalent to advocating the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons. Warden clarified his earlier remarks, arguing that in the future conversation, the United States should advocate for withdrawal, but within a NATO framework, rather than unilateral withdraw. To Jones, Murdock asked why we needed nuclear weapons deployed in Europe if we don’t need them in Asia (where the security situation is more fragile). Jones responded that the difference is due to the fact that removal of the weapons would send a worrying signal and make a significant change to the existing relationship.
Clark Murdock then opened the floor to questions from the audience. The first question was for Warden, asking what role nuclear weapons could have for cyber or energy security. In his response, Warden argued that if nuclear weapons only play the role of deterring a nuclear attack then that only strengthens the argument for withdrawal. The next question concerned the possibility of linking withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons to cuts in Russian tactical weapons. Jones felt that they should be linked but that the Russians might not agree to it. Warden maintained that the Russians wouldn’t feel that their security is advanced by removal (because they already don’t consider the threat of use by the U.S. to be credible), and therefore, the United States and NATO don’t have leverage to get Russia to make cuts. What’s more, Warden argued that U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe don’t even target Russia, so linking would be difficult. 
When asked about other current drivers for interoperability within NATO (a common small arms munition, for example), Jones responded that while there are other forms of interoperability, nuclear level interoperability and cooperation is of a high-level, and therefore especially important. The next question concerned the credibility of nuclear deterrence in Europe and whether the existence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe triggers Russia’s desire to conduct trainings and be cautious about American ambitions. Warden argued that as NATO nuclear capability deteriorates, the credibility of the deterrent deteriorates, as well as the assurance value. He argued that Europeans aren’t afraid of a full-scale nuclear exchange, but rather of smaller conflict where nuclear weapons would play no role. What’s more, Warden suggested that Russia would not have an excuse to maintain so many nuclear weapons if we removed NATO nukes.
The last question concerned whether concessions to Russia would make them more willing to be cooperative on other issues (like Iran). Warden argued that while we don’t know what specifically causes Russia to cooperate, they have recently supported UN sanctions against Iran, cancelled the S-300 sale to Iran and negotiated START, all positive signs of cooperation. And furthermore, Warden felt that even if we didn’t get anything out of Russia by removing nuclear weapons, there would still be tangible benefits. Jones expressed skepticism that olive branches will play out. 
In his closing remarks, Jones stressed that nuclear weapons are critical to the NATO alliance to deter conflicts. He argued that there should be a high presumption against removal because there are obvious benefits, as opposed to nebulous nonproliferation benefits. He also questioned any doubts about the security of the weapons in Europe.  He maintained that nuclear weapons on European soil reiterate to Europeans that the United States is protecting them and therefore work better than alternative forms of defense, like cyber defense. And in closing, Jones argued that at their core, nuclear weapons provide a strong linking partnership between the United States and NATO.
In Warden’s closing remarks, he maintained that nuclear weapons in Europe are not an effective deterrent and are not credible. He argued that what NATO really needs is a discussion about the real security threats and commitments in the region, not a focus on unlikely high-end threats. He felt there were a host of other things that the United States and NATO can do to really enhance Europeans’ security and confront real threats. 
While no winner was declared from the debate, it was still an extremely provocative discussion that continued amongst the audience for the rest of the day. Jones and Warden offered nuanced and detailed summaries of the issues, and fostered the sort of constructive and engaging debate that PONI is all about. Hopefully the lunchtime debate tradition continues at future PONI conferences.