A Nuclear Posture Review for NATO
Meier, Oliver, Ingram, Paul, Arms Control Today
NATO leaders seem ready to adopt a new Strategic Concept defining the alliance's core mission for the next decade when they meet at the Lisbon summit November 19-20. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen submitted his draft to member states on September 28; a more extensive conversation will take place in the NATO Council among foreign and defense ministers on October 14.1
This schedule does not give the 28 member states much time to reach compromise, a point worth emphasizing in light of the serious remaining divisions on a number of key problems. Not least among them is the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO's defense posture, which Rasmussen, at a September 7 press briefing in Washington, called a "very central question."2
Rasmussen admitted "that there are different positions when it comes to our nuclear posture." In fact, the divisions among the allies are so serious that NATO defense ministers decided at their June 2010 meeting in Brussels to delete all references to NATO's nuclear policies from the final communiqué as there was no agreement on the wording.3 Rasmussen said that his "task will be to find the right balance and platform on which we can trace consensus," but it is highly unlikely that he will come up with a formula that will satisfy the divergent views on all the political and strategic elements of NATO's nuclear policy needed to develop military guidance. Thus, allies will probably merely agree to a lowest common denominator around the fundamentals of alliance nuclear policy within the new Strategic Concept, confirming a continued if reduced reliance on nuclear deterrence within a broader suite of capabilities for the immediate future but leaving many key issues ambiguous or open.4 "We will adopt a new strategic concept which, in broad terms, will give direction," Rasmussen said at the September 7 briefing. "And then, of course, it is for follow-up negotiations to produce more concrete facts and figures."
This phased approach presents an opportunity for NATO to commit itself in principle within the Strategic Concept to reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in its deterrence posture. Practical details of that policy, including the future of nuclear sharing arrangements and NATO's future declaratory policy, should be discussed among all allies in the context of a full review of NATO's nuclear posture.5 The alliance could launch that review at the Lisbon summit and conclude it within the following 12 months. Such an initiative would follow a similar effort recently completed by the United States and result in public policy guidelines determining the parameters of NATO's nuclear policy. In order to bring NATO's nuclear posture in line with requirements of the 21st century, such a review should:
* reduce NATO's reliance on nuclear weapons, open the way for transparency and reductions of U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear bombs, and endorse the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, in line with the policy of its member states to encourage moves toward global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation;
* comprehensively address all political and military aspects of NATO's nuclear policy, including declaratory policy, and thus reduce the commitment to ambiguity about the conditions under which the alliance might use nuclear weapons; and
* be conducted in an open and consultative manner by a group of member states' political representatives separate from the Nuclear Planning Group, which has had rather limited and more technical ambitions, but with military advice and within a clearly defined time frame.
Without such a thorough, public review, the Strategic Concept itself will likely establish only general principles and be too nebulous to shape operational doctrine. That would leave the real operational decisions to be made behind closed doors in a "business as usual" mode by the nuclear hawks among the military establishment at NATO headquarters and within national military establishments, which have an interest in maintaining the status quo. …