NATO Unveils 'Strategic Concept' at 50th Anniversary Summit

Wade Boese

AT ITS 50TH anniversary summit April 23-25 in Washington, NATO adopted a new "strategic concept" formally recasting the alliance's Cold War-era mission from collective defense to one that, in the words of NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, will guarantee European security and uphold democratic values "within and beyond our borders." While the new strategy, particularly nuclear weapons policy, departs little from the strategic concept approved in 1991 when the Soviet Union still existed, the new language officially sanctions NATO out-of-area action—such as the air campaign against Yugoslavia launched one month earlier. The alliance also reaffirmed its "open-door policy" for new members, but opted not to name any at this time. Russia condemned the summit results.

Unveiled on April 24, the strategic concept identifies the UN Security Council as having primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, but does not tie alliance action to Security Council endorsement. Some European allies, such as Greece and Italy, had questioned whether NATO could act without Security Council authorization prior to the launching of NATO's attacks against Yugoslavia on March 24. Alliance leaders dropped from the new strategic concept a 1991 statement that NATO is "purely defensive in purpose: none of its weapons will ever be used except in self-defense."

According to the 1999 concept, NATO's 19 members must "safeguard common security interests" and be prepared to act in conflict management and crisis response operations, including those beyond alliance territory. Yet, NATO's air strikes during the Bosnian war and the on-going air war against Yugoslavia, which muted what was to have been a summit celebrating alliance membership for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, suggest that the alliance was already willing to engage out-of-area.

Side-stepping German and Canadian calls last year to review NATO nuclear policy in the strategic concept, including consideration of a no-first-use policy, the alliance reiterated that nuclear weapons provide a "unique contribution in rendering the risks of aggression against the alliance incalculable and unacceptable."

In a separate communique on April 24, however, NATO noted that the "reduced salience of nuclear weapons" would permit consideration of options for "confidence- and security-building measures, verification, non-proliferation and arms control and disarmament." Proposals for a process to review such options, presumably including revival of the no-first-use debate, are to be readied by December.

NATO described the circumstances for contemplating the use of nuclear weapons as being "extremely remote," a change from the 1991 language of "even more remote." This falls shy, however, of 1990 language in the London Declaration that the alliance would make nuclear arms the "weapons of last resort."

Excluding British and French national forces, NATO is estimated to have between 150 and 600 nuclear gravity bombs in seven European countries: Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and Britain. NATO has stated that it has "no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons" on the territories of its three new members.

NATO nuclear and conventional forces, according to the strategic concept, will be kept at a "minimum sufficient level." At the same time, however, the document assigns these forces with the tasks of securing freedom of action and fulfilling all alliance missions. While the new concept judges large-scale conventional aggression against NATO "highly unlikely," it claims that "the possibility of such a threat emerging over the longer term exists."

Describing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery as a "serious concern," NATO, at the insistence of the United States, launched a "WMD Initiative" to strengthen "common understanding among Allies on WMD issues and how to respond to them." A "WMD Center" for coordinating alliance policy will be central to these efforts. European allies, some of which question the threat posed to NATO by proliferation beyond Europe's borders, had resisted past U.S. efforts to give the issue greater attention within the alliance.

Further Expansion Promised

Alliance leaders opted not to extend membership to any of the nine aspiring states (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia), but stated that "the three newest members will not be the last." The common refrain that "no European democratic country" will be excluded from membership consideration was repeated, raising Russia's ire. Moscow fervently opposes Baltic membership in NATO, and released an April 28 Foreign Ministry statement charging that the NATO summit represented a "claim by the alliance for domination in European and world politics."

NATO stated in the strategic concept that it did not consider itself to be "any country's adversary," and that it saw a strong NATO-Russia relationship as essential to European stability. But current NATO-Russian relations, already strained by NATO expansion and exacerbated by Russian economic ills, have been frozen because of NATO's war with Yugoslavia. On March 24, Moscow suspended its participation in both the Partnership for Peace program, a military cooperation program between NATO and 25 non-NATO countries, and the Permanent Joint Council, a body for NATO-Russia consultations.