Andrew Futter, a specialist on US missile defence, joins EA to evaluate the future of NATO's nuclear policy:
In just over a week’s time, the 28 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will meet in Lisbon, Spain, to debate and hopefully agree the alliance’s new Strategic Concept. Whilst discussions at the summit will cover a wide range of topics –-- from Afghanistan to the new threat from "cyber-warfare’"–-- a central theme of the meeting will be the future role of nuclear weapons in Europe.
Although it is clear that NATO will remain a nuclear alliance well into the future, with the US, Britain and France pledging their nuclear weapons for the protection of NATO allies, it is less clear exactly what form NATO's nuclear policy will take. Much of the discussion next weekend will be on the 200 or so US tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe under the policy of "nuclear sharing", on NATO's declaratory policy, and on the ballistic missile defence.
At first glance there would appear to be a reasonably strong case for the removal of the American nuclear arsenal, currently guarded by US troops on airbases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, from European soil. Public opposition in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands is becoming more vociferous, other nations such as Norway and Luxembourg are keen to see US tactical nuclear weapons repatriated, and there is little political or financial will in any of these countries to replace the aging aircraft needed to deliver these weapons.
However, it seems unlikely that such an agreement will be reached in Lisbon. New NATO members in Central and Eastern Europe, along with more established partners such as France, see little need to rock the boat and change policy. It is hard to see President Obama and US representatives countenancing the removal of nuclear weapons without a linkage to reductions in the Russian tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, estimated at around 2000 weapons. This is especially so given Obama's domestic difficulties over ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Moscow
Yet,, if the new Strategic Concept will be more a continuation of the status quo than a radical change, there is considerable scope to alter NATO’s nuclear declaratory policy. NATO currently adheres to a doctrine of "strategic ambiguity", maintaing the right to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons in response to any kind of attack against any kind of aggressor. But, with recent developments in British and American nuclear doctrine, this now seems out of line with the policies of NATO member nations and unnecessarily broad. Consequently, the alliance could remoe the possibility of nuclear weapons being used to threaten or attack any state that is party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their obligations. This would reaffirm the alliance’s commitments to the goals of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the vision of a world free from nuclear weapons, outlined by President Obama in April last year.
Real progress may also be possible over ballistic missile defence (BMD). NATO established and began developing the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence System (ALTBMD) in September 2005, but BMD may now be expanded into a core alliance mission. Although there are still questions about the shape of the system, against who it should be aimed, and who will pay for it, it seems likely that delegates will agree to begin deploying their own missile defence capabilities –-- in conjunction with US assets –-- to defend Europe from the threat of ballistic missile attack.
If NATO endorses and pushes ahead with missile defence this may also create an important new opportunity to strengthen relations with Russia. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has worked tirelessly to encourage Russian participation in the BMD system. If a cooperative agreement can be worked out, it would not only bring Moscow closer to the alliance, increasing levels of trust between NATO and Russia, but also help pave the way for the eventual removal of all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
Those expecting a radical change of NATO nuclear policy, or even an agreement to withdraw the 200 US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, are likely to be disappointed. But this not equate to lack of "progress": to the contrary, modifying its nuclear declaratory policy, NATO will begin moving towards a position where these weapons can be removed or at least ensure that its policy is broadly supportive of the international non-proliferation regime and the quest for a nuclear free world.