NATO's dated nukes
The 60th anniversary this weekend of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was supposed to be a well-orchestrated and tame affair. The Americans arrived in Strasbourg hoping to get Canada and the 26 other NATO allies to pony up a few more military trainers for Afghanistan, and more aid. Fractious relations with Russia were to be patched up. And NATO was to launch a strategic rethink.
But with his push to reduce nuclear arsenals and restrict the spread of weapons, U.S. President Barack Obama has challenged the alliance to update its strategic thinking. Obama wants to lower the American and Russian strategic stockpiles to about 1,500 warheads each, a 40 per cent cut. He has a longer-term vision of "a world without nuclear weapons." That is ambitious, given the 23,000 warheads that still exist, a tempting target for terrorists. And tomorrow in Prague he plans to unveil a new non-proliferation strategy.
This is a healthy course correction from George W. Bush's recklessness. He favoured greater U.S. reliance on nukes. He quit the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. And he pushed to deploy missile defences.
During the Bush era, Canadian policy-makers went largely silent on nuclear issues. With Washington under new management, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an opportunity to make Canada's voice count again, as a member of NATO's non-nuclear caucus. Ottawa was once an active advocate for disarmament. It can be again.
Obama wants existing weapons taken off hair-trigger alert. He's not keen on developing new weapons. He favours ratifying the treaty banning nuclear tests. He's prepared to negotiate a global ban on producing fissile materials. And he's skeptical of missile defence.
Suddenly, NATO's insistence that nuclear weapons "continue to fulfill an essential role," as its 1999 "strategic concept" dictates, seems debatable, and dated. The International Court of Justice back in 1996 described nuclear weapons as "the ultimate evil."
While there's no likelihood the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India or Pakistan will dismantle their arsenals any time soon, Obama says a world rid of bombs "is profoundly in America's interest." Certainly, a world in which countries such as North Korea and Iran scramble to build nuclear weapons is profoundly not in America's best interest. Yet the U.S. and other nuclear powers look hypocritical in demanding that others forswear The Bomb.
Given all this, why should Canada and the 24 other non-nuclear NATO allies continue to play cheerleader for a nuclear doctrine that hasn't made a lot of sense since the Cold War ended 20 years ago? NATO's large non-nuclear bloc should question the premise that nuclear weapons are "the supreme guarantee of the security of the allies," as if the alliance's massive conventional forces count for naught.
At 60, NATO should have the maturity to acknowledge the fact that far from being "essential," nuclear weapons are not even desirable. Fewer is better, as the Americans and Russians now agree. None at all would be best.