NATO Sets Up Arms Control Committee

Oliver Meier

NATO defense ministers agreed in principle during a March 10-11 meeting to set up a new arms control body, but discussions about the committee’s task and its relationship to a broader review of NATO deterrence posture continue.

The creation of the new body, known as the WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Control and Disarmament Committee, was in response to a directive from member states at last November’s Lisbon summit, where they agreed to a new Strategic Concept to guide alliance actions in the coming years. At that meeting, the members directed the NATO Council, the alliance’s principal political decision-making body, to establish a new arms control committee in the context of a larger review of NATO’s deterrence and defense posture. (See ACT, December 2010.)

A senior U.S. official told Arms Control Today March 17 that he expects the new committee not only to provide arms control and disarmament input into NATO’s deterrence review, but also to offer a forum for appropriate consultations among NATO members on nuclear and conventional arms control more generally. “We hope that this committee would remain completely independent of the deterrence review and will become a permanent body, though that is still opposed by one party,” he said, clearly referring to France. Paris in the past has argued the disarmament body should cease to exist once the deterrence review is completed. (See ACT, March 2011.) Germany supports the U.S. positions, diplomatic sources said.

The committee could meet at the level of deputy heads of NATO missions in Brussels, but could be reinforced by officials from capitals when needed, the U.S. official said. There is no agreement yet on the mandate of the committee and how it will be related to other NATO bodies concerned with arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation, he said.

The U.S. official described possible areas of work of the disarmament body by saying that “it could support NATO’s role in arms control if and when tactical nuclear weapons are included” in talks about a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty follow-on agreement or “if we have talks on a [Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty] follow-on agreement.”

Defense ministers also approved terms of reference for the deterrence and defense posture review, but NATO members continue to disagree on the focus and timing of that review. Because of these disagreements, diplomatic sources said, the classified guidelines simply repeat broad language from the Lisbon summit declaration, which stated that essential elements of the review “would include the range of NATO’s strategic capabilities required, including NATO’s nuclear posture, and missile defence and other means of strategic deterrence and defence.”

A work plan for the deterrence review is likely to be approved by NATO foreign ministers when they meet in Berlin April 14-15. That meeting also could mark the beginning of an exploratory phase, to last through the summer, during which member states are expected to present their views on the scope and purpose of the review. Even though the terms of reference do not explicitly say so, most observers expect the review to be finished by the next NATO summit, likely to take place in the United States during the spring of 2012.