(RFE/RL) -- The foreign ministers of Sweden and Poland are calling on the United States and Russia to sharply reduce their arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons, saying they pose a threat to Europe.
Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski made the call in an article published in "The New York Times" ahead of a three-day international conference on nuclear disarmament opening today in Paris.
Calling tactical nuclear weapons "dangerous remnants of a dangerous past,” Bildt and Sikorski urged the former Cold War foes to "greatly reduce" such weapons, by negotiations or unilateral moves, as steps toward their total elimination.
Bildt and Sikorski said the time has come for an arms control regime to also cover tactical nuclear weapons -- one which has already been established for the more destructive strategic nuclear weapons.
They cited a recent report by the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament as indicating that the United States is believed to store about 200 warheads in Western Europe, while Russia holds about 2,000 warheads, mostly in the Western part of the country.
In particular, they urged Moscow "to make a commitment to the withdrawal of nuclear weapons” from areas bordering the European Union, singling out the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea and the Kola Peninsula of northwestern Russia.
Bildt is scheduled today to address the summit of the antinuclear initiative Global Zero, which was to discuss a practical step-by-step plan for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons and to launch a global grassroots campaign.
The 200 opinion shapers, from political leaders, former national security advisers, and former military commanders to economists, artists, and academics from around the world meet as the United States and Russia are negotiating on a new arms reductions accord. The talks, started last year, are meant to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired in December.
Ian Davis, a senior advisor to the International Security Information Service-Europe, a Brussels-based research and advisory group, tells RFE/RL that a replacement to START is the key in a global effort toward reducing nuclear stockpiles.
"Globally, we're talking about something like 23,000 nuclear warheads still being in existence, and 90 percent of that 23,000 are retained by the Russians and the Americans," Davis says. "So without movement with the two major players in the nuclear field, getting down to what's often described as 'minimum deterrance' -- which is certainly under 1,000 warheads each side -- then you're unlikely to get some of the other nuclear weapon states to come into play and take forward multilateral discussions to get toward zero."
The tactical nuclear weapons referred to by Bildt and Sikorski are designed to be used on a battlefield -- as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons, which are designed to threaten large populations, to damage the enemy's ability to wage war, or for general deterrence.
Nuclear disarmament has long been a priority of historically neutral Sweden.
Poland, along with the Czech Republic, was due to host elements of a missile-defense shield planned by the U.S. administration of George W. Bush to protect against possible long-range attacks.
However, U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped the plan, considered by Russia as a threat to its security.
The revised plans foresee a more mobile system of missile interceptors at sea and on land aimed at protecting against the threat of short- and medium-range missiles.
In a consolation to Poland, perturbed by what it says is Russia's more assertive foreign policy, the administration agreed to deploy Patriot-type missiles in the country to upgrade its air defenses.
with agency reports