To the surprise of many, NATO foreign and defense ministers during their April 18-19 Brussels meetings agreed on a draft text of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) report. The agreement on the 3½-page draft was possible because Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States presented other allies with a compromise proposal, which was adopted with only minor revisions.
Even though the agreement still has to be approved by heads of state and government at the May 20-21 Chicago summit, it has emerged in confidential conversations with diplomats and officials from more than half a dozen NATO member states and from NATO headquarters that most expect this classified draft to be adopted without major changes.
The DDPR report apparently does not change any aspect of NATO’s current nuclear posture as outlined in the Strategic Concept agreed in Lisbon in November 2010. But some believe that it can provide the flexible basis for future revisions of NATO’s nuclear policy—and the deployment of some 180 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs in five European NATO countries—if and when the alliance chooses to act. The document was described by one official familiar with the deliberations as the foundation for change, but not the change itself.
Concrete adjustments, however, will not likely emerge in NATO nuclear planning or practices until well after the NATO summit—unless NATO leaders in Chicago give the sort of clear guidance for follow-on discussions that has been lacking up to now.
France has been a major obstacle to change. The French government has resisted the continuation of the NATO nuclear deterrence dialogue beyond Chicago, having been skeptical of the need for the DDPR in the first place. In an April 20 interview, a senior French diplomat directly involved in the negotiations said that through the DDPR report, “NATO members have reconfirmed the Alliance’s posture, as it was agreed in Lisbon. The DDPR report reinforces the fundamentals of that posture, which is a good thing as a robust deterrence and defense posture rests first and foremost on Alliance unity. In many ways, allies have come to the conclusion: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
Transparency Measures and Arms Control
NATO has apparently agreed on an approach by which it will seek discussions with Russia on reciprocal measures to address the remaining forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe and the larger number of Russian tactical nuclear weapons that are on Russian territory. The German magazine Der Spiegel on April 30 cited the DDPR report as saying that NATO intends to “consider options to further reduce tactical nuclear weapons” if Russia undertakes reciprocal measures.
According to diplomatic sources, NATO has agreed to offer proposals to Russia to increase transparency and build confidence on tactical nuclear weapons, yet some of the diplomats interviewed are skeptical that Russia would engage in such discussions anytime soon. The French diplomat said: “at no stage did anyone propose that the alliance take unilateral measures to increase transparency on nuclear weapons.”
In the DDPR report, the allies apparently decided to set up a new committee to inform discussions on nuclear arms control and confidence building, replacing the WMD Control and Disarmament Committee (WCDC). Germany argued that the committee “should continue to exist beyond the NATO summit”, France was opposed. Despite agreement to establish this new committee, the allies must still work out whether and how they will continue their discussions of NATO’s nuclear posture beyond the summit.
In interviews, diplomats said the DDPR will not contain a mandate for this new committee and that its terms of reference will be an issue for discussion after the Chicago summit. It took the alliance 10 months to agree on such a tasking for the DDPR itself.
The French diplomat said: “There will be no formal continuation of the DDPR. The report settles the key issues that had to be discussed.” He conceded that “NATO will continue to adjust different elements of its deterrence and defense posture, including its nuclear posture, as it has done in the past since 1949. Thus, the relevant NATO committees will continue to discuss the pertinent issues.” Others, however, insisted that the DDPR draft text preserves the character of discussions under the DDPR, and will frame future conversations.
What Are NATO Nuclear Weapons For?
A peculiar compromise was apparently reached on NATO’s future declaratory policy. In discussions on the DDPR some, including Germany, had argued that NATO should take on board the negative security assurances (NSAs) that the United Kingdom and the United States issued in 2010 for parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that are in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations. France, which has not issued similar assurances, has consistently refused to discuss the issue, arguing, for example, that NATO has no legal authority to issue NSAs. According to several sources, NATO in the DDPR report will now “acknowledge” the different nuclear doctrines of the three NATO nuclear-weapon states, but the DDPR apparently has not produced a single, unified NATO policy on the role of nuclear weapons assigned to NATO, nor a unified assurance declaration.
The French diplomat said that “there was a small handful of states that wanted NATO to have a declaratory policy” but pointed out that “none of the three NATO nuclear-weapon states was ready to have NATO issue negative security assurances” because the authority to release nuclear weapons remains in the hands of possessor states. Others sources said that the United States and United Kingdom were ready to agree to some form of joint NATO declaratory policy without legally binding NSAs, but were unable to overcome French opposition.
This suggests that even after months of discussions the DDPR has not moved much, if at all, beyond the language in the Strategic Concept of 2010 on the role of nuclear weapons.
One question left for the summit is to decide whether to make the report public. Only one country (not France) appears to be opposing this Given the general nature of the text, classifying it would be dangerously counterproductive because it would demonstrate that the alliance is unable to engage with its publics.
A Preliminary Assessment
While NATO has completed its homework in drafting the DDPR report in time for the summit, it has not finished the work necessary to provide a sustainable, coherent nuclear posture for the new century. In the view of some, the DDPR was set up to adjust the mix of military assets necessary to defend NATO and help make the transition away from Cold War-era defense involving the stationing of U.S. forward-deployed nuclear bombs in Europe under current nuclear sharing arrangements.
Unfortunately, it appears that NATO has so far failed to resolve its internal differences and ambiguities on these matters, leaving this issue to be dealt with later. For now, it is likely that NATO will be left with inconsistent nuclear doctrines, no clear declaratory policy, and publics left out of the discussion.
Senior U.S. officials have stated that “whatever military mission” tactical nuclear weapons serve “could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe”. But NATO continues to tie its hands by linking changes in its nuclear posture to Russian reciprocal measures.
As we argue in a detailed article— “The NATO Summit: Recasting the Debate Over U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe”—in the May edition of Arms Control Today, NATO leaders need to issue a clear tasking to the successor committee to the WCDC, so that it can come up with proposals on how NATO can best support the nuclear arms control process between the United States and Russia. The allies also need to give guidance to the relevant NATO committees to propose a detailed set of options on how the alliance can replace existing nuclear sharing arrangements. This is necessary to improve the relationship with Russia and to send a strong message to the 2015 NPT Review Conference that the alliance is living up to its commitment to reinforce arms control, promote disarmament and create the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons.
If NATO allies do not jointly move in this direction, they will inevitably stretch alliance unity and cohesion. The more progressive member states already feel the pressure from their own publics and fellow non-nuclear-weapon states to reduce reliance on nuclear deterrence generally and end nuclear sharing specifically. The DDPR report does not preclude such change, but NATO leaders at Chicago will need to do better and give future discussions on NATO’s nuclear posture meaning and direction.