About Wayne Merry
E. Wayne Merry is a Senior Associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. A former State Department and Pentagon official, he served in Moscow from 1980-83 and 1991-94. In 1995 he joined the staff of Secretary of Defense Perry as Regional Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia to develop defense relations with the states of the former Soviet Union. Thereafter he served as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a bipartisan Congressional-Executive human rights monitoring body.
Articles by Wayne Merry
President Obama has publicly echoed bi-partisan American advocates of a world free of nuclear weapons. He has done so partly in preparation for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference next year, after the near failure of the acrimonious 2005 Conference. More helpful for the NPT than mere rhetoric, and long overdue in terms of military reality, the United States and five European governments should remove the two hundred-odd remaining American ‘tactical' nuclear weapons from Europe.
‘Tactical' nuclear weapons (also called ‘nonstrategic' and ‘theatre' weapons) have an inglorious Cold War history. At one point, the United States had about ten thousand such weapons - warheads for short- and medium-range missiles, bombs, artillery shells, mines, torpedoes, depth charges - and the Soviet Union at least twice as many. In the Seventies, Washington based over seven thousand such weapons in Europe at over one hundred facilities, to ‘extend' nuclear deterrence to its NATO allies.
Slowly, American generals and civilian planners discovered a basic problem: there is no such thing as a ‘tactical' nuclear weapon. Any nuclear weapon use anywhere is inherently strategic. There was no imaginable useful role for these weapons in a crisis or conflict.
Thus, in September 1991, US President George H.W. Bush announced a unilateral initiative drastically to reduce these weapons. This was soon echoed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Without a treaty obligation to do so, the United States rapidly eliminated all sea-based ‘tactical' weapons (not strategic deterrent weapons) from its fleet, and withdrew all land-based weapons from the territories of its European and Asian allies plus all aircraft-delivered weapons except for about five hundred nuclear bombs left at bases in seven European countries as a residual US nuclear presence.
For a decade, nothing changed. Then, without public announcements, the administration of President George W. Bush removed all nuclear weapons from Greece in 2001 and from Britain in 2008, plus withdrawing most of the deployed weapons from Germany in 2007 and a large number from Italy. These actions were not motivated by arms control goals, but by concerns about the security of the weapons, the cost of the deployments and their military inutility. In consequence, the number of ‘tactical' weapons in Europe was cut by more than half without public notice.
Today, five countries host ‘tactical' nuclear weapons. Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany each maintain about twenty ageing B-61 gravity bombs under so-called ‘dual key' arrangements whereby the US controls the weapons which the host government's F-16 attack aircraft would deliver in wartime. The basing countries thereby have many of the responsibilities of nuclear weapon states but little of the ultimate authority. Italy hosts about fifty of the same B-61 weapons and Turkey nearly a hundred, plus the US combat aircraft to deliver them, in old-style so-called nuclear ‘forward deployments'.
These are the only nuclear weapons of any power still on foreign soil (the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact ended Soviet foreign deployments). The obvious question is, ‘why are they still there?' If seven thousand were militarily pointless, how about the remaining two hundred? It is no secret that many in the US military have long wanted to scrap them. Indeed, the US European Command recently advised the Secretary of Defense in a public document that "it believes there is no military downside to the unilateral withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe". It "no longer recognizes the political imperative of US nuclear weapons within the Alliance." An Air Force study also found security problems with some of the deployments. Nonetheless, a high-level Pentagon study affirmed that these weapons remain "a pillar of NATO unity" on political grounds.
Does NATO unity really depend on outmoded weapons and increasingly obsolescent delivery aircraft? Why, then, is there no security crisis in the Western Pacific, where America's allies no longer host such weapons? If Japan and South Korea, in a much more challenging security environment, accept so-called ‘over the horizon' American nuclear guarantees as sufficient for their security, why cannot Europeans?
Washington and five European capitals have it easily within their power to create a de facto European nuclear weapon free zone between the French and Russian borders. No real security would be lost; much money would be saved. NATO's pledges that it does not threaten Russia would be underscored. NATO can then better insist on further reductions in Russia's overly-large ‘tactical' nuclear arsenal. By removing these weapons now, the governments would also fulfill some of their Article VI disarmament obligations under the NPT.
Otherwise, the European governments concerned must explain at next year's Review Conference why they have not taken this simple and long overdue step. Perhaps they should explain it to their own people as well. Europeans tend to blame the spread of nuclear weapons on others, but here is a tangible and practical measure to eliminate a class of such weapons which they can take, if they will.
E. Wayne Merry is a former State Department and Pentagon official and a Senior Associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.
President Obama has completed his first in-depth engagement with the Russian leadership during his Moscow visit. From an outsider's perspective, he gets a B-plus for substance but no better than a C on form. On balance, then, a B-minus. The new American administration's relations with Russia are a process, adjusting the policies of the previous Bush administration to its own goals. The main areas of change are three:
- treaty-based strategic nuclear arms control
- a structure for other bilateralcooperation.
This process began with the meeting of the two presidents in London. The Moscow summit represents progress on their first meeting in each area, but each is a shell waiting for real achievement. In each case, the serious work is still ahead.
On strategic nuclear arms control, both sides want to preserve the treaty-based system of the Reagan-Gorbachev period, but without even the facade of real parity between the two powers which then existed. The Russian strategic nuclear force is aging rapidly, will continue to shrink regardless of arms control, but represents for Russia one of its few remaining grounds to claim great power status (the others being geography and oil/gas exports).
The U.S. nuclear force is much more modern, but plays far less importance in either the American military posture or its international role in general. Both sides agree to smaller arsenals, but for different reasons. Moscow is less concerned with the traditional measures of nuclear power (missiles, warheads, throw weight) than with American dominance in non-nuclear strategic weaponry and its lead in ballistic missile defence. The Russians see a prospective environment in which they would cease to have a credible deterrent in face of American technological progress. Thus, the asymmetry facing the treaty negotiators on both sides.
Obama and Medvedev agreed again on the need for a replacement treaty (or treaties) for START which expires in December. On the American side, a complication is the on-going Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in the Pentagon because, in principle at least, the U.S. negotiating position should reflect the outcome of the Review. In practice, the two proceed hand in hand, but the negotiations cannot get out in front. This is more a matter of White House relations with the Senate than with the Kremlin, as Senators of both parties can be both prickly and independent of the President in matters of treaty ratification.
Other complications are the Bush Administration's efforts to deploy ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, the nature of future non-strategic systems on the U.S. side, counting stored versus deployed warheads, and other issues beloved of the arms control experts. The Obama team's efforts to square the circle on the ABM issue through a collaborative programme with Russia will fail. Washington tried this before in more favourable circumstances, and got nowhere. The simple reality is that the Russian leadership regard any U.S. ABM as directed against their security. Deploying an ABM close to their borders is additionally an affront they feel they must reject. Interestingly, the Russian military have given some indications that a sea-based system would not be an insuperable negotiating problem, but Moscow is holding firm on systems in Poland.
The Obama team has said all along it will evaluate those planned deployments in terms of technical capacity and cost effectiveness. The latter quality is a loophole through which any system can be judged worthy or worthless.
Given the complex issues involved and the limited time remaining, a reasonable expectation would be for an interim treaty before the end of this year to commit both sides to substantial reductions in their nuclear ceilings (in fact, both are already well below their existing treaty limits). This is important before next year's review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Work will likely then start between Washington and Moscow on a broader treaty aimed for ratification on the U.S. side before the next presidential campaign.
The Moscow summit agreement on transit of US supplies and equipment to Afghanistan is more important than it may appear. The logistics lines through Pakistan are under greater peril than most Americans realise, and could even be cut altogether. Effective northern supply routes are not just important now, they may become essential soon. The Russians served their own interests by signing a wide-ranging deal on transit because using the Russian route will make transit through/over Georgia and Azerbaijan that much less important to the United States. Moscow is serious about Afghanistan, though it certainly wants the US to depend on its support to avoid failure there. The big question is how the transit deal will work in practice. Anyone with experience of air
travel in and through Russia knows that problems with authorities are the norm, even when the Kremlin actually wants things to go smoothly.
This will bear close watching.
The third summit agreement was to establish a mechanism for other bilateral cooperation under the immediate supervision of the two foreign ministers. According to many reports, in London Obama proposed a commission headed by Vice President Biden and Prime Minister Putin, along the lines of the old Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission of Clinton-Yeltsin days. This, predictably, was rejected outright. Many ex-Clinton administration people look back on the Clinton-Yeltsin years as a golden age, whereas the Russians (leadership and man on the street) see the Nineties as a period of humiliation and national disgrace never to be repeated. This ill-judged proposal communicated to the Russians that the Obama team thinks of a "reset" as a return to the Nineties, rather than starting a new type of relationship. In addition, the proposal equated Putin with Chernomyrdin -- a slap in the face for the dominant figure in the current Russian leadership.
Thus, in Moscow the agreement was for a commission run by Secretary of State Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The problem is that foreign ministries everywhere are weak players within their domestic governing machines. Hillary Clinton brings greater power to her role by her own political status, but Lavrov does not. He is a top-notch professional diplomat, one of the smartest around these days, but not a heavy hitter at home. It remains to be seen who will be assigned on both sides to make this new commission setup actually work. The two governments are not symmetrical, so in Washington the White House and NSC must be engaged, while in Moscow many of the ministries concerned fall under Prime Minister Putin's chain of command rather than under Medvedev's presidential staff. A likely major figure on the Russian side will be former ambassador in Washington Yuri Ushakov, now Putin's chief foreign affairs aide.
Each of the three areas of titular agreement at the Moscow summit -- arms control, Afghan resupply and transit, and the bilateral commissions -- are works in progress at early stages of development. Any or all could get bogged down due to inherent difficulties or because of an erosion of the broader bilateral climate. Others remain on the table, where there is not even the tincture of agreement. For example, Vice President Biden's trip to Ukraine and Georgia will be a delicate diplomatic mission, designed to convey to both countries that their interests have not be compromised by the United States but also to communicate to the leaderships in Kiev (if there is one) and Tbilisi (if its president can be called a leader) that Washington has major equities with Moscow that they should not compromise - as Georgian President Saakashvili did in spades last summer.
On form, President Obama did not perform as well on this foreign venture as on previous ones. Granted, Moscow was the toughest foreign house where he has yet performed, with his charisma making nary a dent in Russian scepticism toward the United States. Still, he did not handle things as well as he should have. Obama's clumsy effort before the summit to drive a wedge between Medvedev and Putin was, bluntly, the act of a neophyte on the world stage. He had to backtrack on the
issue repeatedly while in Moscow, looking ineffectual from a Russian perspective.
Obama also did not use his limited time well. Taking his family to Ghana was a public relations coup, but in Russia achieved nothing. A single breakfast meeting with Putin was a missed opportunity. Putin is the leading figure in the Russian leadership, and may continue to be throughout Obama's tenure. Given the historical precedents, it would not be a surprise if Putin were in power long after Obama is retired. Not to engage Putin in depth and with full courtesy was a mistake.
Again, Putin is not Chernomyrdin.
Finally, Obama's speech to students received only polite applause for a good reason; it was not an effective speech. True, there is precious little good feeling among the younger Russian elite toward the United States at this time, but still Obama's approach was poor. In common with similar speeches by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama condescended to the Russians, making sanctimonious tributes about their history and culture not likely to persuade a youthful audience. A speech dealing candidly and directly with issues such as nuclear proliferation, the economic crisis, global warming, or other problems these young Russian will have to live with might have earned their respect. To talk down to these Russians, as Obama did, could not. No one likes being talked down to, least of all educated Russians by an American who is a newcomer to their country. The speech was definitely a missed opportunity for a change of tone in communicating with Russia.
In sum, the relationship is more or less on track on substance, but within the context that American-Russian relations are narrow and mostly zero-sum, especially for Russia. Moscow's foreign policy experts fear a successful Obama presidency will come at Russia's expense, because Russia succeeds in the world largely where America fails (as in Venezuela). Only a few months of Obama in office demonstrate again that the world, in bad times as in good, is centred on the United States, while Russia's global standing is a shadow of what it was two decades ago and much removed from the fantasies of only two years ago. The days when Russia could think of itself as shoulder to shoulder with America are long gone, and with China already a thing of the past. As the G-8 gives way to a G-20, Russia's place at the global top table will be below the salt. Investors are now saying that instead of BRIC, one should think in terms of BRIM (Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico), reflecting the comparable size of the four economies. For Russians of the new elite to watch China join a new superpower status with America while they are paired with not one but two Latin American countries is simply unendurable. This is the psychosis American diplomacy must reckon with in trying to manage those issues with Russia where America's national interests are engaged. Not an easy task, and one requiring the new U.S. administration to perform better than it did in Moscow.
The danger of another open war in the Caucasus - one much worse than the August conflict between Russia and Georgia - is all too real. Frustration in Azerbaijan with a seemingly endless multilateral mediation effort has led opposition factions and, more recently, even the government to speak openly of a military option to restore Karabakh to Azeri sovereignty. The country's oil and gas earnings have reequipped its military, although with untested results. Russia recently sent a massive arms shipment to Armenia, while the Karabakh Armenians reportedly interpret the failure of Georgia's military last August as proof that Azerbaijan's army would fare no better in an assault on Karabakh or in a preventive war launched by the Armenian side. These views are dangerous and are riddled with error. The prevention needed is diplomatic, from Washington and Moscow working in tandem.
The apparent reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey announced on April 23, while very positive in itself, has largely ground to a halt. Ankara is unwilling, and politically unable, to move substantively in its ties with Yerevan without at least the appearance of movement on Karabakh. Unfortunately, the positive atmospherics of the meeting of the Armenian and Azeri presidents in Prague May 7 quickly dissipated in mutual accusations of bad faith. Experienced observers have seen this on-again, off-again process many times. Without progress on Karabakh, progress between Turkey and Armenia will be limited to symbolism at best.
This is not the place to review the origins or grim chronicle of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict (Thomas de Waal's "Black Garden" of 2003 is the best and most objective study in English). The problem is that the fifteen-year no-war-no-peace standoff is increasingly fragile, and its failure would entail huge costs for the two countries, for the broader region and for the interests of the United States.
The Karabakh dispute has territorial, ethnic, and confessional content, but is also a product of Stalinist divide-and-rule nationality policy which produced open war when the Soviet system collapsed. The three-year war was by no means one sided, but its outcome was. The 1994 ceasefire left Armenians in control not only of Nagorno (mountain) Karabakh but of large surrounding territories and a secure corridor to Armenia. Beyond the claims to Karabakh itself, the fate of the lowlands and their former Azeri residents - refugees for almost a generation - are key to any settlement.
Mediation and working-level diplomats have not been lacking. The so-called Minsk Group co-chairs (the United States, France, and Russia) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have several times produced a draft peace framework. In each case, the political environment in the warring countries was unfavorable. Occasional political-level interventions by one or more Minsk Group capital also could not achieve the transition from negotiation to realization.
An inherent deficiency of the Minsk Group is that the three are not neutral mediators; they are themselves interested parties and at times partisan. In different ways, Washington, Paris and Moscow all tilt in their domestic politics toward Armenia. Their economic interests tilt toward Azerbaijan. To oversimplify, Armenia has an effective diaspora, while Azerbaijan has oil and gas. In Washington, the Congress loves Armenia but the Pentagon loves Azerbaijan. At the outset of the Minsk Group, Washington and Moscow had roughly common agendas, but in recent years have increasingly operated at cross purposes.
The alternative to multilateral mediation is direct negotiation, which in truth has proceeded episodically all along. Leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia (though not of Armenian Karabakh) have met repeatedly under a variety of auspices, and more than once were near an agreement. The obstacle was the same as for the Minsk Group: any workable deal is anathema to much of the population and political establishment of each.
Doomed hopes of settlement
The outlines of a settlement have been clear for fifteen years and reflect both the realities of war and the needs of peace. These realities transcend the standard rhetoric of "sovereignty and territorial integrity" as well as that of "national self-determination". In a settlement, Armenia will get Karabakh and a land corridor to Armenia, while Azerbaijan gets back the lowland surrounding territories. This is not about justice, nor right and wrong, but is the inescapable and necessary formula for peace. To be sure, there are a multitude of details (where the devil always lurks) and implementation problems (where the costs for outside powers will be substantial). The alternative is war, which is far worse and more costly.
Clearly, the greater burden of compromise is on Azerbaijan, whose people must confront truths about diplomacy and war at odds with their hopes and expectations. Diplomacy - even that of great powers - is not itself a force in international affairs but a mechanism. Diplomacy formalises and even rationalises reality, but does not alter basic reality. Diplomacy can promulgate peace and avoid war, which are its prime goals. However, diplomacy ratifies the battlefield, it does not reverse the battlefield. In any competition between war and diplomacy, war wins.
In history there have been a few instances when concerted great power diplomacy compelled a victorious smaller power to give up its battlefield gains for the broader interests of the great powers. In the case of Karabakh, such an outcome would require the United States, Russia, Europe (basically France), Turkey and perhaps even Iran to combine against Armenia in favor of Azerbaijan. The chances of this happening are nil. America and France have powerful domestic Armenian lobbies, Russia has a centuries' long strategic partnership with Armenia, and Iran has much better ties with its Armenian neighbour than with Shi'ia, but Turkic, Azerbaijan. Of the relevant outside parties, only Turkey is clearly on the side of Azerbaijan, and Turkey is wholly unable to reverse the policies of Washington, Paris, Moscow and Tehran to conform to its own. Thus, Azeri hopes that outside diplomacy will compel Armenia to give up its wartime victory are a chimera. The Azeri people need to taste this bitter cup.
Warning to Azerbaijan
Unfortunately, in Azerbaijan the tendency has been toward resumption of the sword rather than acceptance of an unpalatable peace. In the increasingly bellicose rhetoric across much of the political spectrum, a significant detail is missing. In a renewed war, Azerbaijan would almost certainly again lose, and with even worse consequences than its defeat in 1994. How can this be true, they ask in Baku, when we have shiny new weapons purchased with our gas exports? To begin with, if money equated to military capability, neither Saudi Arabia nor the Gulf Arab states would require the military protection of the United States.
To retake Karabakh by military means, Azerbaijani forces would need to overcome five objective factors which give the Karabakh Armenians immense defensive strength in depth. First is ground or terrain, in that Karabakh is a natural highland fortress currently surrounded by the wide depth of field of the occupied territories. Second is firepower, in a man-made fortress of multiple overlapping fields of fire, employing the heavily-mined occupied territories as killing zones before any attacker could reach the edge of Karabakh itself. Third is reserves of ample weaponry and munitions so the attackers would run out of young men before the defenders would run out of ammunition, while Karabakh can call on extensive manpower reinforcement from Armenia. Fourth is operational art in which the Karabakh Armenians have a clear record of superiority they would exercise in the inherently advantageous role of defenders of a skilfully prepared position. Fifth is strategic depth in Russia, which in a showdown would support its permanent security partner, while the American military would no more come to the aid of a failing Azeri offensive than it did in Georgia.
This panoply of obstacles should persuade any rational Azeri not to resort to war. Even the most favourable battlefield outcome would leave Azerbaijan immeasurably worse off than before. Beyond the toll in blood, the country's export pipelines and foreign revenues would be cut.
Indeed, it is not out of the question that the existence of an Azeri state could hang in the balance, as in a major renewed war it might be in the combined interests of Armenia, Russia and Iran to redraw the map of the eastern Caucasus. Unlikely, but history is replete with precedents.
Warning to Armenia
Caution should also be the watchword for Armenia and its cousins in Karabakh. Even a successful war would be pyrrhic and leave Armenia immeasurably worse off than before, while victory is often a bitterly relative term. Karabakh and its people would doubtless suffer greatly from modern Azeri long-range bombardment weaponry, and there is some evidence that Karabakh's edge in operational skills has eroded. In both instances, the price would be paid in blood.
In addition, Armenia's prospects for economic development would be retarded by years if not decades, its border with Turkey even more effectively closed than now, and its Metsamor nuclear power station a potential target of enraged Azeri bombing. Thus, Armenia proper might pay a greater long-term price for a Karabakh victory than would Karabakh itself.
After another war, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis could abandon any prospects their children will live better or their countries enjoy greater rule of law or participatory government. War would empower the worst sort of people in the politics of both countries. The opportunity costs for both nations would endure for generations, with real peace a lasting casualty.
Alternatives to war
What are the alternatives? Most obvious is continuation of the status quo, along the lines of Cyprus or Kashmir (neither much of a recommendation). Karabakh remains a small garrison state. Armenia remains critically limited by its landlocked geography and closed frontiers to west and east. Azerbaijan remains a kleptocracy with its finite oil and gas wealth dissipated in corruption and malfeasance. Talented young people migrate if they can or retreat into alienation from the tasks of building attractive modern societies. These prospects are pretty much what is currently on offer on both sides. Surely, there is something better?
There is, it is acceptance of peace. Peace requires compromise, in an environment where both terms are spoken on both sides with revulsion. Azerbaijan must accept the consequences of defeat in war, while Armenia must abandon expansive territorial ambitions. Partisans will argue that a return to arms somehow "cannot be worse" than giving up national aspirations and "rights". They are wrong. A renewed war will be worse than the most distasteful compromise.
Historians have judged that halfway through the First World War all the contending parties would have been better off accepting the peace demands of the opposing side than by continuing the struggle. That is certainly true for Armenia and Azerbaijan. A renewed war would be Verdun in the Caucasus.
Great power collusion needed
As noted above, the basics of a peace settlement have been on the table for years. Peace will reflect the outcome of the war, as peace almost always does. The solution will involve de facto and ultimately de jure redrawing of international borders, the resettlement of many but not all refugees, compensation where resettlement is not an option, assistance in the returned territories for extensive de-mining and rebuilding, and an international peacekeeping force of indefinite duration.
The peacekeeping effort will be a major challenge. The manpower and money will need to come principally from North American, European and Eurasian governments. The job will not be easy. In addition to difficult logistics, there will certainly be vengeful violence when the returnees see the condition of their former homes. Lasting peace will be long in coming, but the international effort is far preferable to the current illusory stability of no-war-no-peace.
What is needed is old-fashioned great power collusion by Washington and Moscow. Mediation is not enough. Armenian and Azeri political leaders will need outsiders to blame for giving up the "national dream" and accepting reality. Even if the two great powers cannot entirely impose a peace, they can certainly move the parties away from the status quo decisively in favour of compromise and settlement.
Washington and Moscow today have far too few mutual interests; their relationship is often zero sum, in that Russian diplomacy succeeds where American fails, and vice versa. There are people in both capitals who view Karabakh as zero sum. With a thoughtful and disciplined approach by the new US Administration, this need not be the case. Washington can accomplish nothing - nothing - on this issue without Moscow, so true partnership is both a necessity and a benefit in its own right. Karabakh could be a success story not just for peace in the Caucasus but for renewed great power co-operation between America and Russia.
Danger signs in the Caucasus include an escalating arms race, mutual misperceptions of intentions, a belief on each side that time is on its side, and dreams that renewed war would "solve" the dispute. Great power diplomacy is never easy, but the benefits in this case justify the effort. It is time for the outside powers and the combatants in the Karabakh dispute to give peace a chance.
This week's editor
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50
Heather McRobie is a regular contributor to 50.50