The Time for NATO to Act is Now

Alliance Foreign Ministers meet near the end of this week, and whilst the media will be talking Libya and Afghanistan, Ministers will also be agreeing the work plan for NATO’s deterrence and defence posture review (DDPR), as well as the work of the newly-formed WMD Control and Disarmament Committee. Presidents and Chancellors fell out at the summit last November over future policy on the deployment of theatre nuclear weapons and future missile defense in Europe, and diplomats are still sore about this. The issues remain unresolved, hence the move to open a review that should be reporting to the next summit in April 2012. But there is little energy on either side right now to continue the diplomatic battle, even behind closed doors, as officials fear that because compromises are not obvious it could adversely affect cohesion. A close colleague to BASIC, Oliver Meier, reports that whilst the annual Bundestag disarmament debate last Friday contained little new, parties remained united behind the position that theatre nuclear weapons should be taken out of Germany.

And this largely boils down to beliefs summarized not as pacifism, but rather a belief that the Cold War has ended and disarmament has value, in beliefs that global regimes can reduce the salience of nuclear weapons and lock countries into commitments that reduce and then eliminate nuclear weapons. It is a narrative that involves a more benign view of the possibilities of reconciliation with Russia, an approach that seeks to achieve sustainable security. It includes an assumption that you don’t achieve a positive direction of travel by always engaging in threats or building up leverage for the next negotiation in a manner that leaves one’s negotiating partner feeling vulnerable beforehand and that seeks to achieve maximum security at others’ expense. There is no doubt the Bundestag will resolutely refuse when the time comes, with tough budgetary choices and growing anti-nuclear sentiment, to invest in aircraft with the capability to deliver American nuclear bombs. And as it is clear that Germany intends to get out of the business, so too it becomes true of the Netherlands and Belgium. This leaves Italy and Turkey, a situation of ‘consolidation’ that simply is not sustainable as a form of ‘burden-sharing’ for Alliance nuclear deterrence. And, whatever the merits, it is for this reason that allies like Germany are talking about cooperation over missile defense, and other activities, as a substitute for nuclear burden sharing.

The current temporary compromise in NATO agreed at November’s summit that makes further reductions in theatre nuclear weapons contingent on the results of negotiations with Russia seeks the best of both worlds but instead falls between stalls and will fail. The Alliance is in a poor negotiating position in attempting to negotiate on tactical nuclear weapons, partly because the Russians see the position in Germany as clearly as anyone. Put it this way, if you were sitting in Moscow right now and of the mind that NATO is a strategic competitor and potential threat, would you not see the deployment of NATO’s TNW in Europe as a positive asset? After all, they present a next-to-insignificant strategic threat to Russia and will be withdrawn in any case after a big bust-up that could weaken the Alliance. It is time that NATO members realized they can no longer palm leadership off onto someone else or delay further in the mistaken belief they can be used to extract concessions from the Russians. Those interested in Alliance cohesion would be well advised to sort the situation out this year within the DDPR whilst the opportunity is there.
These are the personal views of the author.

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