NATO to remove all battlefield nuclear weapons

September 13, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

LONDON XHC RB — 2/3 TC LONDON -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has decided that all of its tactical nuclear weapons will be removed from Europe.

Formal ratification of the decision may be announced as early as November, when the 16 NATO defense ministers are to meet in Rome, Secretary-General Manfred Woerner said yesterday in Bonn, Germany.

NATO officials in Brussels, Belgium, disclosed that eliminating the battlefield nuclear arms would be part of the alliance's revised doctrine. The doctrine has been undergoing change since the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and is being further revised because of the upheaval in the Soviet Union.

The move has long been called for by Germany, where almost all of NATO's more than 2,000 nuclear artillery shells, with a range of about 20 miles, and short-range missiles, with a range of 60 miles, are based.

Originally, removal of short-range nuclear weapons was meant to be the subject of negotiations between NATO and the Soviet Union -- as was the treaty on conventional arms reduction signed last November.

However, a senior U.S. official in NATO declared: "It wouldn't hurt for the U.S. to get out ahead on this issue, since the nuclear weapons are going to be removed eventually anyway. We could just get rid of them -- whatever the Soviets do."

Since the Soviet army has moved out of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and is in the process of leaving the former East Germany -- taking its battlefield nuclear weapons with it -- Soviet short-range missiles no longer pose a threat to the West.

The new NATO strategy is being worked out in a series of meetings among top-level planners.

Overall, it will call for smaller numbers of troops, though more flexible formations, and reduced defense budgets, taking into account the lack of a real threat from a Soviet force crossing the German border.

When the battlefield atomic weapons are removed, the West's European nuclear deterrent will consist of bombs and missiles ,, carried by aircraft.

Britain and France have their own strategic nuclear weapons, not under the control of NATO.

The coming reductions will also put pressure on the U.S. Congress to scrap plans for a tactical air-to-surface nuclear missile. U.S. and British military officials favor proceeding with 11 such a missile, but German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher has called for abandoning the expensive weapon on the grounds that the United States' strategic nuclear missiles and land-based nuclear bombers are deterrent enough against any possible Soviet attack.

He has been backed by Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.

French President Francois Mitterrand announced earlier this week that France would not deploy its new Hades short-range nuclear missiles, a program that had upset Germany. Mr. Mitterrand said the 30 missiles being built would be put in storage.

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