Saturday, 19 May 2012

DDPR2: Former European Leaders Adopt on NATO Deterrence Posture, Challenge Alliance to Lead Disarmament

Forty-Five members of the European Leadership Network, a network of former Prime, Foreign Defence and other Ministers (with a few retired generals) have published a declaration ahead of the NATO Summit on the Alliance Defence and Deterrence Posture Review.

The tone of the declaration is forward leaning. It warns NATO that:
To be of any value, it must reflect on and respond to these developments – and provide a strategy that will both reduce nuclear risks in Europe and strengthen NATO’s overall defence capabilities against 21st Century threats. If it does not do so, it will be an ineffectual Summit of little historic consequence.
 The ELN's headline is that NATO must aim for:
 .. the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – including through further reductions – and use the summit to play a constructive role in advancing this agenda
To achieve this they urge an immediate 50% cut in US nuclear weapons held in Europe. This is absolutely sensible, and unfortunately something that, as the ELN acknowledges, NATO is unlikely to do. France is playing the role of the intransigent Monsieur Non on disarmament and has refused to countenance reductions by other NATO states whose weapons are allocated to the Alliance for fear that their own arsenal might come under scrutiny. So, the declaration from an eminent group of former leaders is very welcome.

However, digging into the detail it is possible to discern some troubling elements in the suggestions the ELN makes for progress. They equate Russian elimination of warheads with the consolidation of US warheads to fewer sites in Europe, and eventually to the US - something they must know Russia would not agree to.

They also call for an adaptation of NATO's nuclear sharing programme. Under that programme, the US helps equip and train the air forces of The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy to use nuclear weapons. The US deploys nuclear weapons to those countries to be handed over to them at time of 'general war' - an old Cold War concept that has little or no meaning now. Nuclear sharing has long been controversial in nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the handing over of nuclear weapons to nominally non-nuclear states is illegal under that Treaty. the legality of the sharing programmes rests on the legal notion that if 'general war' comes then the NPT has failed and is consequently no longer in force. At that point, the US can arm whomsoever it likes with nuclear weapons.

(For a detailed treatment of this issue you can read Questions of Command and Control: NATO nuclear sharing and the NPT by the author of this blog and other colleagues)

However, in 2010 at the NPT Review Conference NATO nations all agreed in the Final Document that:

The Conference reaffirms that the strict observance of all the provisions of the Treaty remains central to achieving the shared objectives of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, preventing, under any circumstances, the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and preserving the Treaty’s vital contribution to peace and security.

This followed similar agreement in the 1985 Final Document. With this formulation NATO States have removed the legal basis for their sharing agreements, which was in any case only paper thin, and thus done away with any justification for the continuation of sharing programmes. the ELN should have reflected this reality in their text.

The declaration also calls for an appropriate role for, and development of, ballistic missile defences for NATO. it does suggest that this is done in conjunction with Russia, but while the authors acknowledge that this issue is blocking progress in further transparency, confidence and security building or disarmament measures with Russia, this is not enough to prevent the recommendation that NATO go ahead. This seems a little perverse, given the stated goal of furthering nuclear disarmament in cooperation with Russia.

The declaration does call for arms control to become a serious and permanent part of NATO's infrastructure, but only in the field of weapons of mass destruction. Russia links progress in the nuclear field not only to BMD, but also to the currently more or less defunct Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. It is vital for future arms control that some form of conventional arms control is included, not least as NATO has overwhelmingly conventional superiority against Russia - even European nations outspend Russia 5-1 on defence. A NATO arms control policy which ignored this would be meaningless.

All in all the declaration reflects the NATO mainstream quite well. Unfortunately, France and some of its Baltic and eastern European friends have stymied action in this field and President Putin is staying away from Chicago, knowing that nothing will be achieved there in this field. The mainstream European view will not, therefore be reflected in the results of the Summit.

It would have been nice to see a grouping like this, with the goals it espouses, push the policy envelope a little to advance the debate rather than simply reflecting what the majority of NATO governments want to do anyway. As welcome as it is, and as much as it is helpful in setting the status quo in a better place than France would wish, this declaration doesn't do enough to encourage those currently in government to go a little further or fight a little harder against the opposition of the hawks. Perhaps next time.

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