Saturday, 20 November 2010

Nuclear Weapons Aspects of the Strategic Concept

Over the next few days NATO Monitor will take a look at different aspects of the Strategic Concept, starting with a first take on the nuclear aspects of the new paper.

The new Strategic Concept has both similarities and striking changes on nuclear policy with the Concept agreed at the 1999 Summit in Washington DC. It reflects, as do most NATO documents, the divergent positions of member states trying to come to a consensus. Thus, the the Preface to the Concept says that it:

.. commits NATO to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.
Some have expressed disappointment at this, seeing it as a statement of the status quo. (See for example the BASIC and the Arms Control Association joint press release) For another, more positive analysis of the new Concept see Hans Kristensen’s blog for the FAS here.

However, it is necessary to look at the policy as a whole, and to differentiate between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, to see the possibility for change built into the new Concept. NATO leaders were never going to make a dramatic announcement on the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe, especially given Eastern European and French opposition. What it has announced is the creation within the Alliance of the circumstances under which that withdrawal can happen.

On nuclear forces the concept now says:

16. The greatest responsibility of the Alliance is to protect and defend our territory and our populations against attack, as set out in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. The Alliance does not consider any country to be its adversary. However, no one should doubt NATO’s resolve if the security of any of its members were to be threatened.

17. Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

18. The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Allies.
Thus far, the language is drawn fairly closely from the 1999 Concept. The US, UK will continue to provide strategic nuclear forces so long as they have them and NATO requires it. These strategic forces provide the ‘supreme guarantee’ of Alliance security, and the circumstances for their use are still said to be ‘extremely remote’.

However, on tactical nuclear forces (precisely the area of most controversy) the differences are striking. This is the culmination of a year in which first Germany, then others including The Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, have worked for change in NATO policy, particularly that regarding European based US nuclear bombs.

The old Concept was explicit on the need for tactical nuclear weapons in Europe:

63. A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of Alliance solidarity and common commitment to war prevention continue to require widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements. Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance. The Alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe.
In the new Concept the statement on these weapons as an essential transatlantic link has gone. This is a major change in an area where the alliance had come under strong criticism. In addition, the language on Allied participation in nuclear policy has also been significantly weakened. The Alliance now wishes to:

.. ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements;
It places less importance for the alliance as a whole on cross-NATO participation of nominally non-nuclear states in alliance nuclear operations. The new Concept clearly allows for NATO nations deciding to opt out of the nuclear sharing process, under which some nations host US nuclear forces and train their own air forces for nuclear missions in wartime. This possibility of change is reinforced by new language:

National decisions regarding arms control and disarmament may have an impact on the security of all Alliance members. We are committed to maintain, and develop as necessary, appropriate consultations among Allies on these issues.
This allows individual nations to take decisions to reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons, the nuclear sharing countries which wish to opt out can do so. Only consultations are necessary to facilitate this process, not the permission of the Alliance Thus Germany, which has expressed a strong desire to end nuclear sharing and have US nuclear weapons withdrawn from its territory now has a mechanism blessed by NATO under which this can occur, and most importantly it is a national decision.

NATO has also committed itself to further multilateral arms control:

With the changes in the security environment since the end of the Cold War, we have dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and our reliance on nuclear weapons in NATO strategy. We will seek to create the conditions for further reductions in the future.
This is placed in the context of ambitions to achieve a nuclear weapons free world:

We are resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all.
One can argue that the continued nuclear role of the Alliance runs counter to this desire, but the fact that France has signed up for it at all in a NATO context is striking.

The Concept says that NATO has no adversaries, thus no targets for its nuclear forces, but it explicitly links US forces in Europe and Russian tactical nuclear forces in a  a curious echo back to the Cold War The purpose it seems is to get Russia engaged in future arms reductions talks beyond the New START Treaty currently bottled up in the Senate. NATO will work with Russia to try to encourage a reduction of tactical nuclear forces by Moscow, but NATO appreciates it is in too weak a position to force reductions as a quid pro quo for its own 200 or so nuclear bombs in Europe, seeking transparency and deployment changes:

In any future reductions, our aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members. Any further steps must take into account the disparity with the greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons.
NATO send s a strong signal to Russia that this arms control is part of a wider security building process in Europe:

NATO-Russia cooperation is of strategic importance as it contributes to creating a common space of peace, stability and security.
This sends Russia a very positive signal that NATO wishes to engage it as a partner, and sees that as so important that the desire for partnership is written not only in a communique but in the Alliance's main document on security. It will be interesting to see how far progress on issues like BMD cooperation goes at the NATO Russia Council today and in the future. Cooperation over Afghanistan is also vital to NATO.

Overall this could have been much less positive. There was no chance that this concept would state that the weapons would be withdrawn. A more decisive change might have been to remove rather than weaken the stated need for Allied cooperation in nuclear policy. However, France led very strong opposition to any kind of change, resisting to the last moment the slightest weakening of NATO policy. Some states in Eastern Europe have also been concerned at allowing anything that might dilute US security guarantees for NATO against Russia, at the same time as the US is trying to build a more friendly security relationship with its former foe. Easterners are none too happy at this. All this constricted options for change, but the new Concept is positive in that it allows for change on the tactical nuclear front in a way that France cannot block.

There will need to be a rewrite now in the Military Committee paper which is the basis for implementing changes in the Strategic Concept. This process is much more secretive even than the Strategic Concept negotiations which, since the experts group began meeting a year or so ago has been opaque and undemocratic. This revision will need to incorporate something that went unmentioned in the Strategic Concept. Both the US and the UK have rewritten their nuclear doctrines this year. They have said they will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries that are not in material breach of the NPT. Since NATO as an Alliance cannot override national doctrine, NATO doctrine has itself changed de facto. During the Bush years the Alliance was shifting, however slowly and in however ambiguous a fashion, towards US counterproliferation doctrine which allowed for the (possibly preemptive) use of nuclear forces against nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and other targets. (For a detailed treatment of this topic see a previous report) This more recent shift, even unheralded, has taken NATO in a much more positive direction towards the devaluing of nuclear forces in Alliance strategy.

The work will continue. It is thought, and the communiqué is likely to say more about this, that the Alliance will conduct a ‘deterrence review’ in 2011 and the possibility for change is very strong. The concept says:

.. continue to review NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance, taking into account changes to the evolving international security environment.
Sources within the Alliance have said that there was a drive to conduct a ‘nuclear posture review’ along American lines, but that this was blocked by the French. The 'deterrence review' will most likely happen in the coming year or so. Involving the full range of conventional and nuclear forces, France will participate.

In conclusion, this new Strategic Concept contains some change in reduced role for nuclear forces, but there is a lot of work to be done. Non-nuclear states in the NPT are unlikely to be satisfied and will continue to pressure the alliance for more change.

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