Saturday, 18 December 2010

Senior UK Leaders on NATO Nuclear Policy

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Owen and Lord Browne, all former ministers, have written an article on NATO nuclear policy for the website of the European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, in which they are prominent members.  They write that:
the new Concept must allow for NATO’s founding ideas of collective defence, the transatlantic link, and burden-sharing to be retained but applied to challenges far different from those faced at the time of the Alliance’s formation. This is far from an easy task but it is a vital one, and nowhere is it more needed than in the area of NATO nuclear policy.

This is surely correct, and nuclear policy has been an area where the Alliance has been , most resistant to change, with its members (except perhaps the Balts) all knowing that the current situation is untenable, but tip-toeing around a rather awkward problem. Indeed, they write:
In our view, if NATO is to remain of central relevance to the security challenges we face today, the Alliance must address this issue head-on and not seek to by-pass it.
In order to achieve a 'reduction and consolidation' of the 180 or so US nuclear weapons still forward based in Europe, the ELN urges NATO to work with cooperatively with Russia and:
To facilitate this engagement, we are also calling for an updated Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and for the NATO-Russia Council to support cooperative dialogue with Russia on ballistic missile defence.
They also call for a reduction in the salience of nuclear forces in NATO doctrine, for the Alliance to state that the only role for nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack. This would build on US and UK changes in doctrine which have, de facto, already shifted Alliance nuclear use doctrine in this direction. They warn to that if the Alliance doesn't act together then a series of uncoordinated unilateral national decisions will undoubtedly weaken the Alliance. This is surely true. NATO members including Germany and Belgium are very unlikely to spend the billions of Euros needed to renew their dual-use aircraft over the coming decade or so, without which their nuclear mission will simply wither away.

In addition, the basis of NATO nuclear sharing is a legal ruling in the US in the 1960s that, in times of 'general war' the NPT has failed in its purpose and is no longer in force. The NPT RevCon this spring agreed unanimously that the NPT remains in force under all circumstances. This opens NATO policy up to international challenge, since all NATO states agreed with this RevCon interpretation.

As the NATO deterrence review moves forward, the Atlantic Alliance can either take hold of this issue and decisively lead in international non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, or it can just let the drift continue, thus weakening the Alliance, as these former defence and foreign ministers of the right and the left have so correctly said.

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