European Leaders Call for New NATO Nuclear Policies

Volume 1, Number 24, September 29, 2010

In the run-up to the Nov. 19-20 NATO Summit in Lisbon, today a group of over 30 senior European leaders, including former Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers from Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Slovac Republic, and the United Kingdom, released a joint statement declaring that "NATO should make disarmament a core element of its approach to providing security."

Signed by former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, former U.K. Defense Secretary Des Browne, former Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes, and former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, among others, the statement arrives at a key time in NATO decision-making. The alliance is drafting a new Strategic Concept, which sets NATO policy on nuclear weapons and other issues for the next decade. This week, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reportedly circulated a confidential draft of the document to NATO members for review. The final version is scheduled to be approved at the Lisbon Summit meeting.

One issue in play is the future of approximately 200 forward-deployed U.S. tactical nuclear bombs that are currently deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Introduced into Europe five decades ago to deter and, if necessary, use against a Soviet conventional attack, battlefield nuclear bombs serve no meaningful military role for the defense of Europe today. As Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright acknowledged at an April 8 briefing in Washington on the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review Report, NATO nuclear weapons do not serve a military function not already addressed by other U.S. military assets, including its 2,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

The possible loss or theft of U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear bombs poses an unacceptable risk of nuclear terrorism.

The signers of the statement note that key European states, including three nations that host U.S. nuclear deployments, are pressing for changes in NATO's outdated "nuclear-sharing" arrangements. They note that NATO policy should support and not undercut President Barack Obama's call for concrete actions to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

The European defense and foreign policy leaders recommend that the new NATO Strategic Concept should state that:

  • "NATO will promote both nuclear and conventional arms control and disarmament based on greater international transparency and accountability."
  • "There is an urgent need for reducing the roles and risks of nuclear weapons in security policies globally. NATO is prepared to make a significant contribution to that process."
  • "The fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack."
  • "Non-strategic nuclear weapons have lost their original role of deterring massive conventional superiority. Therefore, NATO is willing to support a further reduction and consolidation of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe."

The statement also calls on NATO to engage Russia on nuclear, conventional and missile defense policy, leading to the eventual elimination of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

Successive U.S. administrations have sought to initiate talks with Russia on sub-strategic nuclear weapons, but Russia's increasing reliance on nuclear weapons and NATO's own nuclear policy inertia have stymied progress. Following ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, President Obama has pledged to pursue further reductions in all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons-deployed and non-deployed, strategic and tactical.

The European leaders' statement challenges NATO to conduct a full review of alliance nuclear policy in 2011 and to use that process to show leadership on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The European leaders find that "the challenge for NATO is now to simultaneously maintain its own cohesion while moving to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and further reduce urgent nuclear dangers," and that "the alliance has a responsibility to show more leadership on the nuclear challenges of the 21st century." - TOM Z. COLLINA and DARYL G. KIMBALL