NATO Deterrence Review Gets Under Way

Oliver Meier

NATO has agreed on the process for its deterrence and defense posture review, launched at the alliance’s summit in Lisbon last November.

The North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO’s political decision-making body, on Sept. 14 approved specific posture-review taskings to guide drafting of the final report, which is to be adopted at the summit next May 20-21 in Chicago.

Although there is now agreement on the process, several diplomats and officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed differing expectations about the focus and outcome of the review, particularly its nuclear elements.

In Lisbon, the leaders of the 28 NATO members had agreed 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.” The review was one way to avoid a clash over differences on NATO’s future nuclear posture in the alliance’s new Strategic Concept, adopted at Lisbon. (See ACT, December 2010.)

In the new Strategic Concept, NATO pledged to “ensure the broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements.”

Under NATO nuclear sharing arrangements, the United States keeps an estimated 150 to 200 B61 gravity bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. These countries could provide aircraft that could deliver U.S. nuclear weapons to their targets in times of war, although the strike mission of the Turkish air force may have expired.

The posture review will examine the details of those arrangements. According to diplomatic sources, the mandate of the senior advisory body to NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) on nuclear policy and planning issues, called the High Level Group, is to develop proposals for the nuclear elements of the posture review. The group’s mandate includes giving advice to the NAC on options for NATO’s nuclear posture on issues such as numbers, basing, and arrangements for U.S. nuclear weapons deployments in Europe.

Meanwhile, the development of a new directive for military implementation of the Strategic Concept, updating the existing classified guidance adopted in May 2000, has begun but with the caveat that its results may have to be revised in light of the posture review’s conclusions.

The planned modernization of NATO’s nuclear infrastructure in Europe, which includes the procurement of new dual-capable aircraft by allies and the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, remains a contentious issue. (See ACT, December 2009.)

According to a May report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. government plans to replace all existing B61 bombs with modernized weapons under a $4 billion life extension program. The replacements would occur between 2017 and 2022.

The stated goal of the program is to increase the safety, security, and effectiveness of the weapons, but according to the report, the new bomb will also contain a new tail kit “designed to increase accuracy, enabling the military to achieve the same effects as the older bomb, but with lower nuclear yield.” The Department of Defense and NATO allies agreed in April 2010 on the military characteristics of the new bomb to be deployed in Europe, the report said.

There are different views as to whether plans for replacing U.S. weapons in Europe need to or should be approved in the context of the posture review. Publicly, officials from NATO headquarters and member states maintain that NATO members do not need to agree to such new deployments. For example, a senior Polish official wrote in a Sept. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “the political decision about this program will be undertaken by the U.S. side as an owner of the nuclear weapons.” Likewise, in reply to questions by Green Party spokeswoman for arms control and disarmament Agnieszka Malczak, German Minister of State Cornelia Pieper on June 8 argued that the B61 life extension program is a “national decision by the United States and independent of the organization of nuclear sharing arrangements within NATO.”

However, a senior U.S. official argued in a Sept. 15 interview that plans for future deployment of the modernized B61 in Europe are within the purview of the posture review. “For any change to NATO’s nuclear posture, consensus has to exist,” he said.

Uta Zapf, chairwoman of the subcommittee on disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the German Bundestag, went a step further. In a Sept. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, she said, “We need a discussion among all NATO members about U.S. plans to deploy new types of B61 weapons. Until a political consensus is reached, such plans must be put on hold.”

There is continuing disagreement within NATO whether the posture review should revise NATO’s nuclear doctrine. The new Strategic Concept did not restrict NATO’s options for using nuclear weapons and simply states that “the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote.” By contrast, the United States and the United Kingdom have recently expanded their so-called negative security assurances by ruling out the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations. (See ACT, May 2010.)

Some member states believe that NATO should modify its nuclear posture to bring it in line with the revised U.S. and British declaratory policies. In a Sept. 13 interview, a Norwegian diplomat said he is “not expecting any dramatic changes in NATO’s nuclear posture” as a result of the review, but that “Norway’s point of departure is that we would like the [review] to signal reduced reliance on nuclear deterrence.” The diplomat said that “negative security assurances are the issue where such change is most likely to occur from our perspective.”

France, which does not participate in the NPG, takes a different position. For example, Paul Zajac, first secretary at the French Embassy in Berlin, maintained in an April paper that, from a French perspective, NATO should not and cannot have a nuclear weapons policy that spells out the conditions under which NATO would use or would not use nuclear weapons. “There can be no question of NATO committing itself on the issue of negative security assurances, which are unilateral legal acts adopted by nuclear[-]weapon states,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, some countries are apparently considering ways to circumvent the French veto on changing NATO’s declaratory policy. The Polish official wrote that, from his country’s perspective, “declaratory policy is an important part of deterrence policy, therefore it shall also be discussed.” Emphasizing the preliminary nature of discussions on nuclear issues in the posture review, he cautioned, “We don’t think that adoption of the negative security assurances in line with the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review is the only solution NATO might adopt, especially given growing nuclear proliferation risks.” Some officials mentioned the possibility of a political declaration adopted by NATO heads of state and government at the Chicago summit that would support the expanded negative security assurances of the United States and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. official said that, “in the [Obama] administration, there is no consensus yet on what the United States would like to see as the outcome of the [posture review]. Our position is being painfully and slowly crafted through the interagency process and will then have to be approved at the highest level. Thus, Washington has still not decided whether it would support NATO adopting negative assurances, if by any other name.”

The newly created Weapons of Mass Destruction Control and Disarmament Committee (WCDC) has been charged under the posture review with elaborating NATO’s role in arms control. In Lisbon, NATO members had agreed on the committee at the insistence of Germany and against strong French opposition. (See ACT, April 2011.) In a rare show of unity on nuclear issues, the ambassadors of the two countries on July 7 sent a joint proposal to NATO members. The one-page paper, which, according to diplomatic sources, served as the basis for the Sept. 14 agreement on the WCDC mandate, suggests that the WCDC examine, among other things, “possible reciprocal measures aiming to reinforce and increase transparency, mutual trust and confidence with Russia,” particularly on tactical nuclear weapons.

The paper states that the WCDC “could also serve as a forum through which” the United States consults with allies “on modalities for including [tactical nuclear weapons] in possible future bilateral arms control negotiations with Russia,” although member states still disagree whether the committee should continue to exist beyond the 2012 summit.

Three senior committees will now begin to draft input on the four separate elements of the posture review: the NPG High Level Group on nuclear issues, the WCDC on arms control, and the Defence Policy and Planning Committee, which is the NAC’s senior advisory body on defense matters, on the contribution of conventional weapons and missile defenses to the mix of defense and deterrence capabilities at NATO’s disposal.

Drafting of the final posture-review report will begin with national statements on the reports from the three committees at the NATO defense ministers’ meeting on Feb. 2-3. The joint meeting of defense and foreign ministers in March would then preview the final report. According to the Sept. 14 decision, the NAC will play a key role in drafting the report, but it is not clear to what degree staff at NATO’s Brussels headquarters and the office of Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be involved. The senior U.S. official said that “the current timetable leaves allies extremely little time for drafting of the final report.”