Saturday, 31 October 2009

Benelux Countries to Discuss Nuclear Withdrawal

Following the inauguration of a new German centre-right coalition government calling for the removal of US nuclear weapons from Germany, the discussion is spreading to involve the Benelux countries.

This week, Belgian Foreign Minister Yves Leterme told the Belgian Senate that he will discuss the issue with German, Dutch and Luxembourgeois colleagues in the course of the coming week. He said that Belgium is a partisan for a nuclear weapon free world and that removing US nuclear weapons from Europe is a crucial step towards that goal. Like Germans, Leterme advocates achieving this goal in a NATO framework. Leterme said that he would like the NATO ministerial meeting this December to discuss the issue.

That may be a little quick for the Germans who have talked about nuclear negotiations as part of the Strategic Concept debate, currently in a reflection phase and due to move into serious negotiations next Spring.

Obstacles to withdrawal remain. In mid-October the Dutch government had rejected resolutions in the Dutch parliament for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons based at Volkel airbase. However, privately the foreign ministry has been more amenable to discussing the issue and the German government action has changed the debate significantly.

It is not known how Turkey will react to this new initiative, but they have not been notably positive in the past on denuclearisation, despite ending their role in nuclear sharing. Also, some countries in the 'new Europe' like Poland may well have a strong reaction against the removal of this visible symbol of US commitment to Europe.

Bilateral Belgian-German discussions will take place this coming Tuesday when German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visits Brussels.

More details in Dutch and French.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Ministers on Defence Transformation

The transformation of NATO for the 21st century has been a major topic at ministerial meetings for some time, and the Alliance has a military command dedicated to transformation based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Ministers discussed transformation at their working dinner in Bratislava, and a major part of that discussion was the prioritisation of resources. In the midst of recession, and deep cuts in government spending in years to come, the debate for NATO is no longer how to increase defence spending, but how to do more with less. Ministers agreed the Secretary General´s decision to appoint a high-level group of officials from defence ministries to address this question directly at the NATO level. One way that NATO adds value to national defence budgets is with collective projects, which include initiatives such as Allied Ground Surveillance and Strategic Airlift Capability.

In fact the core of the transformation debate is how NATO can acquire the capability to project forces quickly across the globe. This means military transformation, but also major change sin the decision-making structures at a NATO level which were not designed for an Alliance of 27 states, and are increasingly unwieldy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave a speech prior to the opening of the Defence Ministers meeting, in which he addressed defence transformation from the NATO perspective:

.. the new Strategic Concept will need to urge continued military transformation – to allow us to cover the full spectrum of tasks, from collective defence to peace support operations. It should also encourage Allies to work more closely together in acquiring key capabilities and in funding operations. Needless to say, the current financial crisis and the budgetary problems faced by all our nations only make this a more pressing requirement. This is also about taxpayer’s money. We have to make efficient use of our resources, through better cooperation, through better coordination and through collective solutions.

He also dealt with the issue during the question and answer session:

[On] modernization of NATO. Actually, it's my ambition that the Strategic Concept as such, should serve as the leverage for modernization, transformation and reform of NATO. And I fully agree that we need such transformation. Let me just mention a few areas. Firstly, militarily. It strikes me that 70 percent of the armed forces in Europe are stationary. I spoke about our core task territorial defence, but I also ask myself, how can we make territorial defence critical if we cannot deploy military forces, if we cannot move them around, if they are not flexible?

So we need transformation in a direction of more flexibility, more mobility, more deployability. Which leads me to my second point. We also need to streamline our structures. Our command structures, our Headquarters, of course, including civil headquarters in Brussels. And recently I had the opportunity to present to the NATO Ambassadors in Brussels some of my ideas as to how I would like to gradually modernize and reform our Headquarters.

As far as our military headquarters are concerned, I also think there is a potential for streamlining. However, I also think this should be an integrated part of our Strategic Concept exercise.

And finally, it's my ambition to ensure that NATO can become an efficient decision-making body. If we are to ensure NATO relevance on the international stage then we also have to speed up our decision-making processes. You touched upon the number of committees, but even more important than the exact number of committees, and I agree with you, we should look closer into that. Actually we have an ongoing exercise, a review of our committee system. But even more important than the number of committees, is the procedure as to how we use the committees. I don't think they should delay decisions, but they should improve the quality of decisions. So it's a very important point.

The ministers debate at the dinner was discussed by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai earlier in the day. He was quite blunt about the financial situation:

The bottom line, when it comes to money, is this: In the next few years we foresee a shortfall of several hundred million euros between what governments have committed to do within NATO budgets when it comes to operations and capabilities, and what they have allocated in terms of money to pay for that. That shortfall will only grow as NATO's responsibilities grow as well. The Secretary General is going to draw attention to that this evening and ask allies to look at where we can do a number of things. One is to prioritize the things that we do, the things that are more important, the things that are less important. Second, to see how we can pool resources, pool assets, do better at being cost effective in the way in which we acquire equipment, in the way in which we do our logistics.

Appathurai also addressed the question of deployability:

A second aspect is capability. In essence less than half of our forces are deployable outside of the country which provides them. Less than 10 percent are sustainable outside of the country for any extended period of time. There has been a lot of improvement in the last four or five years in raising those numbers, but it is still not enough, because not only can forces that can't move not be sent very far out of area, for example, to Afghanistan, they're also quite limited in the kind of support they can provide even to allies in an Article 5 contingency. So more deployable forces, more sustainable forces make sense, both for collective defence and for out-of-area operations and the Secretary General is basically going to want to put before allies the idea of having more concrete timelines for reaching higher targets for deployability and sustainability of their forces.

For NATO, the bottom line is, as the Secretary General told the press following the meeting “To me, the discussion on transformation is very simple: we need more capability for the money we spend on defence. And we are not doing well enough.”

On can question whether the idea of NATO as a global security provider, ready to intervene across the globe is a good one. Opinion is divided. However, it is undeniable that NATO is not well suited to the role at present. The experience in Afghanistan has cruelly highlighted that fact. However, it has also shown that however good the decision-making procedures, however well adapted and trained the military, whatever resources are provided, the main ingredient that is necessary is political will to do what is necessary for operational success. In Afghanistan the Alliance is seen as united in theory, but divided in practice, and all the transformation in the world won’t compensate for that.

Germany Will Press for Nuclear Withdrawal - Will Not Act Unilaterally

There are a couple of updates on the German coalition decision to seek the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.

Agence France Presse notes that the withdrawal of the nuclear weapons may become an issue when Merkel addresses a joint session of Congress next month:

But he has said Berlin should start by demanding the removal of the estimated 10 to 20 US nuclear missiles on German soil -- a stance that could raise a few questions when Merkel travels to Washington next month to deliver an address before both houses of Congress.

Deutsche Welle reports that FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said that he will personally take up the challenge, while Chancellor Merkel said there will be no unilateral action:

Speaking at a meeting of his business-friendly FDP party in Berlin on Sunday, Westerwelle said the new German government would support the vision of US President Barack Obama for a world free of nuclear weapons.

"We will take President Obama at his word and enter talks with our allies so that the last of the nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany, relics of the Cold War, can finally be removed," Westerwelle said.

"Germany must be free of nuclear weapons," he said, adding that he would personally make efforts towards that purpose.

No unilateral move to remove nuclear arms

His comments came a day after his FDP party reached agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives for a new center-right government scheduled to take office on October 28.

The coalition agreement reached by the two sides calls specifically for talks with NATO and the US to remove the weapons.

Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this goal, but emphasized no unilateral action would be taken to remove the nuclear warheads. "We do not want any independent action here," Merkel said on Saturday in Berlin.

The website notes (in French) that while the sentiment for withdrawal has regularly welled up in Germany, this initiative is more important than past ones as it is written into the government programme. That programme has been endorsed by the members of both parties, giving it extra political force.

This insistence on agreement within NATO before any withdrawal can take place reflects the general pro-atlanticist tone of the coalition. It also mirrors wider opinion in Europe that President Obama’s commitment to disarmament means that negotiations are the best way to achieve progress on reductions at present, and that a move such as this by the coalition will be better received in Washington DC than was the case under Presidents Clinton or Bush.

Time Magazine reports that the coalition document endorses the German presence in Afghanistan as in the ‘German national interest’. This removes one potential area of major disagreement with the White House, and removes a shadow that has hung over US German relations, smoothing the path for discussions on nuclear weapons.

Overall the level of coverage is still low, but more and more news organisations are beginning to report the coalition policy on nuclear weapons. However, economic policy reporting far outweighs that on foreign policy. Some examples of coverage include: Bloomberg; Associated Press; Iranian government English language Press TV; and the Irish Times.

There will be other obstacles. It is far from clear that Turkey will be ready to accept US extended deterrence without the physical presence of nuclear weapons on Turkish soil. Turkey’s region makes it much more nervous on this issue than other NATO nations, although Turkey has given up its participation in nuclear sharing programmes.

Secondly, some nations in central and eastern Europe, notably Poland and the Czech Republic have been agitating for a greater role in NATO nuclear strategy – with Poland privately requesting the right to participate in nuclear sharing.

Given the lack of coverage in the press, it would seem that when Chancellor Merkel visits Washington DC there will be an opportunity to make the new coalitions withdrawal policy better known, and also a need to offer strong support to prevent the DoD suffocating this initiative at birth, as has done in the past – notably in 1998 when all Germany was calling for was debate inside NATO on the continued need to deploy these weapons to Europe.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

It's Official - German Coalition Wants US Nukes Out

Confirmation from Oliver Meier of the Arms Control Association that the the new German government is committed to working for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany. Oliver’s translation of part of the arms control section of the new government’s agreed programme reads:

"We emphatically support President Obama’s proposals for new far-reaching disarmament initiatives – including the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.


We observe with concern the erosion of the international disarmament and arms control architecture. We are convinced that follow-agreements to those treaties that expire have to be negotiated and that the missing ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the adapted CFE-Treaty have to be completed.

We will support the conclusion of new disarmament and arms control agreements. We want to use the 2010 NPT review conference to initiate a new dynamic for treaty-based accords.


Against this background, and in the context of the talks on a new Strategic Concept for NATO we will advocate within NATO and towards our U.S. allies a withdrawal of remaining nuclear weapons from Germany. With a view towards preserving the agreements within the CFE-regime, we are ready on our part to ratify the adapted CFE-treaty."

(You can read the german version at the Der Spiegel website.)

This represents a major development in Christian Democrat policy – as Chancellor Merkel’s party has steadfastly defended the small remaining deployment of US nuclear weapons in Germany. (It is worth remembering that the CDU will likely control the defence ministry in the new government.)

The question of these deployments will now have to be raised in the context of the NATO Strategic Concept Review – currently in a research phase as a series of seminars are held exploring the issues that the review must address. Germany is likely to seek withdrawal in the context of an Allied policy, rather than as a unilateral action.

A series of questions are also raised by this new policy. If US nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Germany, will the storage facilities for the bombs remain, so they could return? Will Germany end its participation in NATO nuclear sharing, under which German pilots are trained and equipped to deliver nuclear weapons in the vent of ‘general war’, despite Germany’s nominal status as a non-nuclear weapon state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

It is clear that many NATO states still have security concerns that lead them to continue to rely on a US policy of extended deterrence. However, in the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, the ways in which that extended deterrence are provided are being considered, and it is by no means certain that the US will wish to maintain a small number of Cold War weapons in Europe indefinitely. Concerns over extended deterrence can be met in the short term, while the Obama goal of a nuclear weapon free world is pursued, by US and UK Trident forces allocated to the Alliance. The relevance of free fall nuclear bombs intended for use in a central European bloc-to-bloc conflict, for attacks on large Soviet tank armies, and rear base areas like then Leningrad, is not at all clear today.

While the small number of residual free-fall bombs are in no way sufficient to be part of a negotiation with Russia over tactical nuclear weapons, their withdrawal would help open the way for the inclusion of those weapons in future US-Russia arms control talks to which those parties are committed, and which the US wishes to use to involve other nuclear weapons states.

To NATO’s south, there is no nuclear threat. The countries of Africa have brought the Pelindaba Treat into force. This creates a nuclear weapon free zone in Africa, and there is no reason to doubt, with the end of Libya’s abortive nuclear weapons programme, that any nation is developing nuclear weapons in Africa.

NATO nations, as many others, have concerns about Iran. And, bearing in mind the African example, that is precisely why a commensurate effort should be placed in achieving successful negotiations with Iran individually, and in the Middle East WMD Free Zone in general.

There is still a long way to go. Until recently, the nuclear planning staff at NATO were advocating a widening of the role for nuclear weapons in NATO strategy, mirroring the policies of the Bush administration. That gained no traction with European allies. The German coalitions new policy document is an excellent contribution to the Strategic Concept debate on deterrence and the future of US nuclear weapons in Europe.

NATO Agreement on Obama BMD Proposals Deepens

It seems that the NATO Monitor suggestion that there was still deep divisions amongst European allies on the Obama administration BMD plans may have been overdoing it- notwithstanding the outspoken statement by Slovak prime Minister Robert Fico this week.

On Thursday, Fico met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen this week, and came out of the meeting declaring to journalists that “As long as I'm the Slovak Prime Minister, Slovakia will never agree to any anti-missile shields being placed on our territory”. This was somewhat strange, since no-one had asked Fico to allow basing in Slovakia of any element of BMD, nor are they going to.

This statement has much more to do with Slovak internal politics than with any NATO plans. And Fico also welcomed the reorientation of NATO and US plans for missile defences in Europe. This chimed with the statement of the Secretary General to the press after the meeting:

On missile defence, Secretary Gates kicked off the discussion with a short briefing on the new US approach to European missile defence. Ministers welcomed the fact the new US approach puts European missile defence more in a NATO context. That is good for the Alliance. It is good for solidarity. And to my mind, it is important for the defence of Europe that we are talking about rolling out a system within a couple of years that can provide European and North American citizens defence against a real and growing missile threat.

A major element in European willingness to support the Obama administration’s proposals is that they do not antagonize Russia, and that there remains a possibility of NATO-Russia collaboration.

The Bush administration had intended to deploy mid-course BMD interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. Russia claimed the system was deeply dangerous to its national security, and all independent scientific experts agreed that the system would have been very ill-suited to dealing with threats from its claimed target – Iran -, and very well suited to monitoring and countering launches from Russia.

In the context of the administration’s desire to counter potential launches from Iran, the proposed system that will see a phased deployment across south-eastern Europe as part of an integrated NATO system, is actually targeted at shorter range systems than the ICBMS the mid-course system targets (and that, incidentally, Iran does not possess). US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also told journalists that radars in southern Russia could make a useful contribution to this new proposed system.

From a NATO Europe perspective the new system has several advantages. It is far more developed than the proposed mid-course system, which simply doesn’t work. It poses no strategic threat to Russia, and thus does nothing to harm relations. Finally, in contrast to President Bush whose administration virtually ignored NATO and pursued bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic, the Obama administration has briefed and consulted with allies at a NATO level regularly. They are rebuilding faith in the US commitment to the Alliance which was severely eroded by President Bush.

A number of NATO ministers made supportive statements after the meeting and during the course of this week, while Vice-President Biden has been visiting Europe. Notably, Bulgaria and Romania supported the new proposals, when they had been deeply skeptical of the Bush proposals which would not have covered south-eastern Europe – even supposing it worked. Ministers did insist again that the indivisibility of security of the Alliance was a vital principle and that BMD must cover all NATO nations.

This system remains at the proposal stage, and a lot of work is still to be done. NATO has been discussing whether or not to develop an Alliance wide BMD system since the 1990s. However, Secretary General Rasmussen told the press conference after the meeting that:

I think NATO Foreign Ministers will look to take this forward in December. And I hope that, by our Lisbon Summit next fall, we can agree to make European missile defence fully a NATO mission.

The intention is to have the proposed system up and running by 2015. NATO Monitor suggests that it would be sensible to put as much effort as has gone into brokering this deal into working with NATO’s neighbours to end fears of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons attack. Arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament can play a major role in enhancing Alliance security in this field, perhaps rendering unnecessary the billions in spending that will be needed to put this NATO BMD system into the field.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Will Germany Call for Removal of US Nuclear Weapons?

Just as NATO Ministers began to meet in Bratislava, the German press was full of stories yesterday about the new coalition and it's likely policy on the remaining US nuclear weapons stored in Germany.

A Reuters report, picked up at said that the foreign policy section of a draft coalition agreement that is expected to be approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Free Democrats (FDP) later this week, states:



"... we will strive within (NATO) and with our American allies for a withdrawal of the last U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany."

The head of the Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, is likely to become Foreign Minister in the new government. During the election campaign, he had committed his party to negotiating the withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons on German soil. In recent years, as numbers of nukes deployed to Europe has fallen, they have already been removed from the UK and Greece. Turkey has ended its participation in NATO nuclear sharing programmes, and the presence of the weapons has become more and more controversial.

If this coalition agreement does contain this commitment, it will mark a change in policy by Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrat party which had, up to now, remained supportive of the nuclear deployment. Such a move would also be very interesting in the context of the US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech on non-proliferation this week in which she talked of the need to provide assurance to allies while meeting non-proliferation goals:

.. the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review will be a key milestone. It will more accurately calibrate the role, size, and composition of our nuclear stockpile to the current and future international threat environments. And it will provide a fundamental reassessment of U.S. nuclear force posture, levels, and doctrine. Carried out in consultation with our allies, it will examine the role of nuclear weapons in deterring today’s threats and review our declaratory policies with respect to the circumstances in which the United States would consider using nuclear weapons.

As part of the NPR, the Nuclear Posture Review, we are grappling with key questions: What is the fundamental purpose of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal? Will our deterrence posture help the United States encourage others to reduce their arsenals and advance our nonproliferation agenda? How can we provide reassurance to our allies in a manner that reinforces our nonproliferation objectives?

Behind the scenes it is clear that the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe is on the agenda, and the question is how to provide extended deterrence without keeping the symbols of that policy on the continent?

This German statement is most interesting. The new Norwegian government has committed itself to a similar debate within NATO. With major figures like former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers (who championed the unpopular arrival of nuclear armed Cruise missiles in the Netherlands in the 1980s) stating that the US nuclear deployments to Europe should be ended, the debate on deterrence in the NATO Strategic Concept review should prove extremely interesting.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

NATO Defence Ministers Meet in Bratislava

NATO Defence Ministers are gathering in Bratislava for their regular Autumn informal meeting.

The meeting starts this evening with dinner, at which ministers will discuss defence transformation. Investment in military technology and maintaining defence budgets is a difficult, if not impossible, task in the current economic climate. The UK is considering cancellation of major programmes, like future aircraft carriers. The US will next year cut its defence budget for the first time in a decade, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has begun to eliminate some spending programmes. Overall, it is unlikely that the mood for this discussion will be positive. The NATO announcement for the meeting says that Ministers will focus on resources prioritisation in a difficult economic environment. This puts a premium on collective solutions, with an important role for common funding arrangements and common projects where appropriate. Participants are also likely to discuss how best to ensure the availability of usable and sustainable forces for NATO missions. Ministers will also discuss the tasks assigned to the NATO Response Force, including its role in enhancing Allied collective defence and overall cohesion of NATO.

(The NATO Bratislava meeting page is here)

Tomorrow morning, the main discussion will be on Afghanistan, as well as other NATO missions such as Kosovo. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that:

I believe we need a general agreement on the approach we need to take in Afghanistan: and that should mean an endorsement of the approach set out by General McChrystal. To my mind, it is clear. Hoping that Taliban extremists will never again host Al- Qaeda is not a strategy. They did it in the past. We can only assume they will do it in future. Which means that Afghanistan needs to be made strong enough to resist the insurgency, if it is to be able to resist terrorism. It’s as simple as that. And that is the essence of the McChrystal approach. What does that mean? It means more and better reconstruction and development. It means holding the new Afghan Government to account, to deal with corruption effectively and visibly. And it means building Afghan Security forces strong enough to provide security in Afghanistan, with us in a supporting role.

(You can read his full briefing here)

This will also be a difficult discussion. Political support for the mission is sapping away. There is an intense debate in the UK as to whether Afghanistan is worth British dead and British investment. Australia is considering the withdrawal of its 1500-strong troop contingent. Even in the US the public mood is swinging strongly against future involvement in Afghanistan. The commitment of much of Europe has been in doubt for a long time. So Ministers have their work cut out to justify the future NATO role, especially with the massive corruption evident in Afghan elections and the increasingly obvious failings of the Karzai government.

The abandonment of the mid-course ballistic missile defence deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, together with proposed deployments of shorter range systems as part of NATO BMD proposals will also be discussed. The handling of this issue by the Bush and Obama administrations has left many in Eastern Europe angered, and the political fallout with Russia had previously angered many in the west. NATO is divided on BMD, and much work will be needed to overcome these divisions.