BASIC held a joint workshop with Tallinn-based International Centre for Defence Studies on NATO’s Nuclear Deterrence Posture and Baltic Security on Tuesday 15th March, one of a series of roundtables around Europe to focus on Alliance nuclear posture in the context of the new Strategic Concept and the review of deterrence and review currently under way. Nuclear posture was a source of significant internal wrangling in the run-up to the NATO summit in November last year, and differences remain. All states involved in the debate within the Alliance value the principles of coherence, solidarity and burden-sharing, as well as recognising the responsibility of the Alliance to respond to the international disarmament agenda, but have different views about how to deliver upon them. There is little clarity on the role of the newly-created NATO Arms Control Committee, and little optimism that the review will come through with any significant resolution of the differences. The Alliance faces the very real possibility of policy being overtaken by events, in particular the aircraft assigned to nuclear roles no longer being capable and the unwillingness of national parliaments to invest in replacements at a time of tough budget cuts.
BASIC is travelling to the Estonia because the Baltic States have generally been assumed to be amongst the most hostile to changes in nuclear posture. Sitting on a vulnerable border with Russia, a state with continued considerable influence over their security environment and a history of dominance, they view with suspicion any moves that appear to weaken US commitment to security in the region. And though tactical nuclear weapons based in western Europe have little direct impact on their security, their withdrawal will mean a reduced US presence in Europe and influence balance at the strategic level. But such views are often based upon pronouncements from representatives based in Washington, and may not reflect a more complex and nuanced understanding in the Baltics that recognizes the dynamic nature of the assurance relationships. On balance Baltic security is indeed affected by US withdrawal – but US influence is waning in any case. Some within the Baltics see a renewed driver to deepening relationships with European states to the west, as necessary to their longer term security, and in incentivizing a more positive relationship with Russia. Playing a role that might in western Europe appear resistant to change and forcing host nations like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium to make decisions by default that lead to the withdrawal of TNWs from Europe in disarray, would not only be counter-productive to their immediate objectives, but could also harm the very relationships they need to be cultivating.
These are the personal views of the author.
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To read the full report NATO’s Nuclear Deterrence Posture and Baltic Security by Paul Ingram click here.