NATO’s defence ministers meet in Brussels this week (Wednesday-Thursday), and will discuss a number of priorities for NATO. Longer term planning and the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) is likely to be eclipsed, in public at least, by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces’ last desperate attempts to resist the transfer of power and the role NATO has in the coming months, by the plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan and by the debates over NATO’s missile defense plans and proposals for cooperation with Russia.
Expectations within NATO of any significant changes next year to nuclear posture have always been low, ever since last year’s summit gave birth to the DDPR, but hopes of a change must now be even more diminished, given the low profile accorded to the DDPR in recent communications. The official 23 Sept NATO announcement of the 2012 summit failed to mention the DDPR at all, and Secretary-General Rasmussen in a speech on Friday only mentioned it in passing: “To fulfil its essential purpose of safeguarding our security, the Alliance needs the appropriate mix of capabilities: conventional, nuclear and missile defence. We are currently reviewing that mix for approval at Chicago.”
In private communications with BASIC staff, officials have said that the DDPR will need to contain ‘deliverables’ if it is not to contribute to the perception that NATO is unable to evolve in the new century. But this is more than perception. The DDPR is an essential opportunity to ask the challenging questions around NATO’s priorities and allocation of dwindling resources. Of course this issue goes way beyond nuclear matters, but nuclear deterrence and the clashing opinions about the direction of travel sits behind and overshadows these debates.
It is perhaps inevitable that in an ever-changing world multilateral institutions with a fixed purpose and constitution designed for a different era will be circumvented by their member-states, led by individuals that value flexibility and nimbleness over the constraints of their grandfathers. NATO has put a great deal of effort, since the end of the Cold War to evolve, in new operations and in a significant degree of draw-down after the Cold War. Changes have clearly been dramatic. But it has failed to truly open up discussion on the core sacred cow of nuclear deterrence for the 21st century. When a crucial chance has presented itself in the DDPR, the desire to sweep under the carpet the differences between its members for fear of shaking up the cohesion upon which it so heavily depends is set to triumph for now. But this is short-termism at its worse. The long-term effect on cohesion could be dramatic.
These are the personal views of the author.