Saturday, 5 December 2009

No Public Statements on Nuclear Weapons and the Strategic Concept

Germany, Belgium and other nations recently committed to seeking the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from their soil had promised they would raise the question of NATO nuclear strategy this week. Foreign Ministers gathered at NATO HQ did discuss the future NATO Strategic Concept, but little was revealed of their discussions. If anything to do with NATO’s nuclear posture was raised, no-one was talking about it afterwards. The Final Statement of the meeting stated:

19. We are committed to renewing our Alliance to better address today’s threats and to anticipate tomorrow’s risks. At their Strasbourg/Kehl Summit, our Heads of State and Government tasked the Secretary General to develop a new Strategic Concept and submit proposals for its implementation for approval at the next Summit, keeping the Council in Permanent Session involved throughout the process. We have discussed the preliminary work of the Group of Experts which is helping to lay the ground for the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept. This work has so far covered the changing international security environment; NATO’s fundamental tasks; relations with other nations and organisations; and internal reform. We thank the Group for the work it has done until now, and encourage its continued close consultations with all Allies. We look forward to discussing the Group’s findings at our informal meeting next April in Tallinn. We encourage all our partners to continue to present their views on our new Strategic Concept during its elaboration. The new Strategic Concept will play an important role in guiding and shaping a 21st century Alliance to face existing and emerging threats and challenges, while maintaining strong collective defence.

Certainly the role of nuclear weapon sin NATO strategy, and the posture of forward deployment of some weapons from the US to Europe may have been raised in a discussion of “NATO’s fundamental tasks” the statement says were discussed, but no detail is forthcoming.

However, in the wider context, there are continued suggestions that change may be on the way. The Italian Atlantic Committee has published a discussion paper on the Strategic Concept review, in which they write that:

6. Nuclear Forces
·        In a troubled world, the nuclear deterrent remains the indispensable support for NATO conventional forces when facing serious dangers;
·        However, it is inevitable that the nuclear posture be considered afresh on the basis of agreed criteria, in order to ensure its continued relevance in our era with special mention to its connections with the vitality of the Transatlantic Link.

This paper was discussed at a seminar held in Rome by the IAC and the Italian Foreign Ministry on November 23rd. it certainly leaves room for considering the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, while maintaining a strategic nuclear deterrent for NATO.

In the UK, the government was questioned in the House of Lords recently on the NATO Strategic Concept. On November 25, Lord Hannay asked the government about possible changes to NATO nuclear strategy.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this review of the strategic concept will include NATO's nuclear posture? What input will the British Government make on that aspect? Will they ensure that any revision of NATO's nuclear posture is firmly in line with the unanimous decision of the UN Security Council under President Obama's chairmanship to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons?

Lord Brett: My Lords, yes.

It is thought that the UK government has expressed a private willingness to see all US nuclear weapons removed from Europe. This answer is in line with that position. The UN Security Council resolution calls for further efforts on nuclear arms reductions and disarmament, so any revision of the nuclear paragraphs of the Strategic Concept would need to move in that direction.

The German opposition SPD issued a call through MDB Uta Zapf, the SPD spokesperson on foreign policy in the Bundestag, for the government to make good on its promise to discuss nuclear withdrawal at the NATO ministers meeting, and also called on NATO to discuss a tactical nuclear weapons ‘zero option’ with Russia.

It is really too early, at least in the framework of the Strategic Concept revision, to expect much substance from NATO ministers. The US Nuclear Posture Review has not yet been reported to Congress, and that will send a major signal to US allies. The calls for withdrawal of US nuclear forces from NATO Europe have sent a signal of support to those in the Obama administration who support that goal. Undoubtedly NATO foreign ministers will return to this topic in the near future, perhaps as early as their informal Spring meeting in Tallinn.

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