France and Germany agree on truce over nuclear arms control committee as NATO works on Deterrence and Defense Posture Review

By Oliver Meier

On July 7, in a rare show of unity on nuclear issues between France and Germany, the ambassadors of both countries sent a joint proposal to NATO members on the future of the new Weapons of Mass Destruction and Disarmament Committee (WCDC). Despite this compromise, however, the Alliance's role in nuclear arms control remains a contentious issue.

In the run-up to the NATO summit in Lisbon in November last year, which adopted the Alliance's new Strategic Concept, Berlin and Paris were deeply divided on a range of nuclear issues, including on nuclear arms control. While the German government is keen to support President Obama's vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, France remains skeptical.

Part of the dispute was about the creation of new body to increase NATO's profile on arms control issues. In the end, the WCDC was set-up in Lisbon at the insistence of Germany and against strong French resistance.

German Foreign Minister Westerwelle praised the agreement afterwards: "Never before has there been so much disarmament in NATO!"

Germany pushed for a quick start of work of the WCDC. The committee was formally established by NATO Defense Ministers on March 10-11, but France continued to drag its feet, citing among other things the lack of terms of reference for the new body.

The dispute was threatening to undermine agreement on the mandate of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR), which is expected to produce a report on the appropriate mix between conventional and nuclear elements of NATO's deterrence posture. The WCDC will be one of three senior committees to give advice on the outcome of the DDPR, which is expected to deliver a report on NATO's future mix of deterrence capabilities to the Alliance's next summit in Chicago on May 20-21.

German diplomats describe the French-German paper as an interim solution to overcome the impasse between Berlin and Paris that had prevent the WCDC from beginning its work.

According to diplomatic sources, the one-page paper served as a basis for the Sept. 14 agreement in the North Atlantic Council on the DDPR "taskings" by circumscribing the WCDC's mandate. (See ACT October 2011.)

The working paper, titled "NAC Taskings to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Control and Disarmament Committee (WCDC)" suggests that the WCDC examine "possible reciprocal measures aiming to reinforce and increase transparency, mutual trust and confidence with Russia, including the [tactical nuclear forces] paper submitted by [Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland] at the Berlin Ministerial in April with a view to preparing a NATO position on the issues in question before taking them up with Russia within the [NATO-Russia Council]."

The four countries, with the support of six other NATO members, had jointly proposed a set of transparency and confidence measures to break the arms control deadlock on tactical nuclear weapons. Referring to the same proposal, which had been initiated by Poland and Norway, a Norwegian diplomat said Sept. 13 that "taking the Polish-Norwegian initiative on increasing transparency and confidence with regard to tactical nuclear weapons forward is [an] issue where we would like to see tangible progress." More specifically he said "one idea would be to talk with Russia about ways to categorize short-range nuclear forces with a view to identifying those categories of weapons that might be most easily included under future transparency and arms control measures."

A senior Polish official wrote in a Sept. 21 email that specific steps that could be taken by NATO with regard to transparency and confidence building on tactical nuclear forces are still under discussion. However, Poland expects "that the final product could be a list of joint projects to be developed together with Russia within [the] framework of NATO-Russia Council," he wrote.

The paper leaves open the eventual fate of the WCDC beyond the May NATO summit by stating that the WCDC for the period of the DDPR "will pursue its work on the basis of specific taskings by the Council" but that once the posture review is completed and "provided nations agree on the purpose" of the WCDC terms of reference "will then be adopted by the Defense and Foreign Ministers" of NATO.

Berlin would like to turn the WCDC into a permanent arms control body and is supported by Norway. The Norwegian diplomat said that his country "would like to see the WCDC as a permanent institution with a strong mandate, to discuss a range of issue related to arms control and disarmament."

France continues to favor a WCDC that will expire at NATO's next summit. It points to language in the Lisbon summit declaration that the WCDC is "to provide advice on WMD control and disarmament in the context of" the DDPR. In an April 2011 Nuclear Policy Paper, Paul Zajac, first secretary at the French embassy in Berlin, thus argued that "a standing committee on disarmament would only play a marginal or even counterproductive role in NATO."

The German-French paper implicitly raise the prospect of a life beyond May 2012 by stating that the WCDC "could also serve as a forum through which the U.S. consult with Allies on modalities for including [tactical nuclear forces] in possible future bilateral arms control negotiations with Russia." Nobody expects such talks to be concluded by May 2012.

DDPR Transparency Questions

Key stakeholders meanwhile are pushing NATO to conduct deliberations on the Alliance's future deterrence and defense posture transparently. Thus, in July 12 open letter to NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen, more than two dozen nuclear experts and former senior government officials had urged "NATO leaders to conduct all stages of its deliberations on the DDPR report in an open manner that is consistent with the democratic values of Alliance members." In his July 19 response NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he takes "seriously the need to engage" with expert communities, in parliaments, and in the wider public.

Yet, even initial discussions on the DDPR are taking place in secret. For example, NATO's international staff wrote four "scoping papers" in order to frame subsequent DDPR discussions. These papers were delivered to member states ahead of the summer break, at the end of the review's "exploratory phase", but remain classified, even though officials concede privately that the papers contain no sensitive information. Allies also have not been able to agree whether the DDPR's final report should be a public document.

In an interview a senior U.S official Sept. 15 said that discussions on the DDPR report are not likely to be open and transparent. "Public pressure is forcing us to come up with good reasons for changing our nuclear posture. Conducting these discussions behind closed doors is like increasing the heat on a pressure cooker without opening a valve. We can't let this happen," the official said.

This view is shared by some Parliamentarians. Uta Zapf, chair of the subcommittee on disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation in the German Bundestag argued Sept. 15 that "if NATO wants to increase the legitimacy of its policies, important issues such as the future of deterrence and missile defenses need to be discussed and decided in a transparent manner. Including the public and particularly parliaments in deliberations of the DDPR is therefore essential."