NATO, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: An Alliance Divided?

By Meier, Oliver | Arms Control Today, April 2009 | Go to article overview

NATO, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: An Alliance Divided?


Meier, Oliver, Arms Control Today


NATO's April 3-4 summit in France and Germany is expected to initiate a review of the alliance's 1999 Strategic Concept, which is likely to lead to a lively debate over the role the alliance should play in arms control and nonproliferation efforts. Some alliance members, such as Germany and Norway, are expected to favor a broader role for the alliance on arms control and nonproliferation issues. Others, particularly those from eastern Europe, are likely to oppose such a departure from NATO's traditional mission.

The issue remains controversial among the 26 allies partly because it is a reflection of the debate about NATO's future more generally. Those who believe that NATO ought to concentrate on its core missions - defense of allied territory and interests - tend to argue that NATO's contribution to arms control is marginal and should remain so. According to this view, the alliance would be well advised to concentrate on successfully mastering key challenges, such as fostering stability in Afghanistan, and avoid getting distracted by secondary and potentially divisive issues, such as arms control and nonproliferation.

By contrast, others believe that, in order to remain relevant, NATO needs to speed up its transformation from a military alliance to a political organization. They tend to view arms control as a useful and necessary addition to the alliance's portfolio. From this perspective, arms control and nonproliferation are instruments that NATO must use to strengthen European and global security.

To be sure, NATO cannot avoid the issue completely. NATO members individually and the alliance as a whole regularly articulate positions on arms control, particularly conventional arms control. Moreover, NATO's military posture has an influence on efforts to reduce armaments and control the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Exactly how the debate over the Strategic Concept plays out and where the Obama administration places itself in the debate could affect issues from conventional arms agreements to the future of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Moreover, as the debate unwinds, NATO members will have to answer a series of specific and difficult questions: What relationship do the allies want with Russia? Does NATO need to rely on nuclear weapons for collective security? To what degree should the military alliance become operationally involved in counterproliferation efforts?

Dealing With Russia

NATO's formal dealings with Russia take place through the NATO-Russia Council, which has a mandate to discuss arms control, nonproliferation, and confidence-building measures with Moscow. Consultations in the council were suspended in August 2008 in response to Russia's military action in Georgia, but on March 5, NATO foreign ministers agreed to relaunch formal discussions with Russia in the council "as soon as possible after" the Strasbourg/Kehl NATO summit this month.

The decision came after the Obama administration announced its desire to hit the "reset" button in U.S.-Russian relations. NATO allies right now are generally "following the lead of the U.S. in relations with Russia," a U.S. official told Arms Control Today in an interview March 16.

On March 5, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton argued during a press conference after the decision was taken to re-engage Russia that nonproliferation and arms control are among the issues where the United States believes "we not only can, but must cooperate with Russia."

Similarly, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has supported a quick resumption of the NATO-Russia Council and consideration of a proposal by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss a new European security architecture.

In his March 5 statement announcing the resumption of formal discussions in the council, NATO's outgoing secretarygeneral, Jaap de Hoof Scheffer, concluded that "there's certainly a willingness in NATO.

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NATO, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: An Alliance Divided?
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