Friday, 23 April 2010

NATO Nuclear Policy Discussed in Tallinn

NATO Monitor has been quiet of late, but returns to the fray to discuss developments at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Tallinn.

As the NATO website says:

Ministers discuss future of NATO's nuclear policy and prospects for missile defence

In itself, this is fairly unusual. Issues of NATO force structure are the province of Defence Ministers, and Foreign Ministers rarely if ever get involved. Even the once significant Nuclear Planning Group has been reduced from biannual two day meetings to an annual hour long check-in. Nuclear weapons have a very low salience in day to day NATO affairs. Strange for weapons which are said by the Alliance to be essential for trans-Atlantic unity.

So to have a North Atlantic Council debate reported in a banner headline on the NATO website makes this a far from ordinary occasion. The report is short, and fairly anodyne (see below). One point that NATO chose to highlight does strike the Monitor as strange.
a broad sharing of the burden for NATO's nuclear policy remains essential
The Alliance has 28 members. Three are nuclear weapons states with their own arsenals. Four other states participate in NATO sharing programmes – The Netherlands, Belgium, German and Italy – and their air forces are equipped and trained for nuclear missions. In addition, Turkey has US weapons based on its soil.

This hardly represents a broad sharing of the nuclear burden. Less than 1/3rd of NATO nations have any direct involvement in nuclear defence. More than 2/3rds of NATO members turn up for the NPG once a year and rely on the US nuclear umbrella for their defence.

If this is so important to NATO, why is it so little discussed and why do so few participate? Just asking.

The NATO website report reads:

NATO Foreign Ministers discussed in Tallinn how to take forward the Alliance's nuclear posture, with an eye to the new Strategic Concept, as well as issues surrounding missile defence.
Ministers agreed that the nuclear issue is important in NATO's work on the Strategic Concept, and that the Alliance remains, as always, firmly committed to maintaining the security of its members, but at the lowest possible level of nuclear weapons.
They stressed that a broad sharing of the burden for NATO's nuclear policy remains essential and that decisions on the Alliance's nuclear policy will be made together. NATO's unity will remain absolutely firm.
Allied ministers highlighted that NATO must continue to maintain a balance between credible deterrence, and support for arms control disarmament and non-proliferation.
According to the Secretary General, in a world where nuclear weapons exist, "NATO needs a credible, effective and safely managed deterrent. Nevertheless, the Alliance must also do what it can to support arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation". Foreign Ministers stated that missile defence, while not replacing deterrence, can complement it.
Allied representatives considered during a dinner discussion issues related to missile defence, including cost, command and control, as well as how to engage Russia on this issue “to the benefit of Europe’s security and its political unity”, as the Secretary General has said.
At the Lisbon Summit in November, NATO nations will decide whether to take on Alliance missile defence as a NATO mission.