NATO's Response to the Proliferation Challenge

By Joseph, Robert | Strategic Forum, March 1996 | Go to article overview

NATO's Response to the Proliferation Challenge


Joseph, Robert, Strategic Forum


Conclusions

Proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons is increasingly perceived by members of the North Atlantic Alliance as a political and military threat that could undermine NATO's ability to conduct essential defense missions, both in protecting Alliance territory and populations and in out-of-area regional conflicts.

* Alliance progress in addressing the NBC challenge is impressive. Allies have agreed on an assessment of the risks, and on the security implications of, and the military requirements to meet, the growing threat. Allies have identified a set of capabilities--in such areas as intelligence, active and passive defenses, and command and control--needed to give NATO the ability to project power and conduct operations in an NBC environment.

* The success of the NATO initiative to counter the proliferation threat, however, will only be assured when allies make national and collective commitments to field the necessary military capabilities and embed the threat in the Alliance defense planning process. To succeed, Alliance leaders will also need to rethink existing positions on nuclear deterrence and on the need for wide-area missile defenses.

* NATO's ability to respond effectively to the NBC and missile threat may well be the key indicator of the Alliance's ability to adapt to the new security environment and the most important stimulus for force planning and defense analysis in the decades ahead. Acquiring the capabilities to deter and defend against the proliferation threat is essential to the future credibility of the Alliance.

Proliferation Challenges are Dynamic

During the Cold War, proliferation was associated almost exclusively with nuclear weapons--viewed by the Alliance as an important political problem, but not central to NATO security. By the time of the Brussel's Summit in January 1994, this view had changed fundamentally. Mounting evidence--from post-Desert Storm Iraq, from North Korea and from Iran and Libya--demonstrated that potential adversaries in regions of vital interest were determined to acquire NBC weapons and missiles as political and military tools to advance very aggressive, and in most cases, anti-western agendas. In the eyes of proliferant states, possession of NBC weapons would not only add to their regional stature, but would also offer an asymmetrical counter to the West's superiority in conventional forces. Longer-range delivery systems would optimize the political effect of brandishing NBC and, thereby, add to the value of these weapons in deterring outside intervention.

Previous Alliance efforts undertaken after the Gulf War were now considered insufficient to the emerging threat, especially in the field of defense measures. As a first step to remedy the perceived inadequacies, NATO leaders at the Brussels Summit directed the preparation of an "overall policy framework." A comprehensive approach across the spectrum of political and military measures was considered essential.

Prevention of proliferation would remain the primary goal, although NATO leaders had concluded that a determined proliferant could likely succeed. Traditional methods had not worked with states like Iraq and North Korea, who violated arms control commitments without detection and manipulated export controls to gain access to sensitive technologies and materials. As a result, Alliance members would need to be prepared militarily to protect their populations and forces against the proliferation threat.

To conduct an assessment of the threat and the appropriate response, NATO established two expert groups. The first, the Senior Political-Military Group on Proliferation (SGP), was tasked to develop the broad policy framework. The second, the Senior Defence Group on Proliferation (DGP), was charged with examining the implications of proliferation for defense planning, identifying allied capabilities to protect against the threat and recommending additional capabilities that might be required. …

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