03 November 2000
Dutch Parliament


NATO’s Arms Control Review, the NPT and the Future Of Arms Control
Presentation prepared for the Conference "NATO, Nuclear Arms Control and the NPT

von Otfried Nassauer


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me here to comment on NATO’s options to contribute to the future of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. I’d like to use this opportunity to present to you the case that that there is a very urgent need for change. To my understanding the current speed and scope of making progress in NATO is inadequate. The Alliance responds too slow and too conservative to the changes happening in the European security environment. Thus we are probably in the process of missing some really great opportunities to conduct additional steps of nuclear disarmament and strengthen existing non-proliferation regimes. Why?

NATO is facing two big challenges during which the Alliance will have to make decisions on alternative courses of action.

First, NATO will have to decide whether it is going to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons or to widen it. This alternative became visible during the discussions on NATO's new military strategy MC 400/2 earlier this year. Within the Alliance there was a debate whether NATO should assign nuclear weapons a role in deterring and/or fighting the owners of biological or chemical weapons as well as the owners of delivery means for weapons of mass destruction. This would imply to assign nuclear weapons a role against inter alia non-nuclear countries. Such a role exits in US national nuclear policy but is not known to be officially part of NATO's nuclear policy. As a result of the debate MC 400/2 does not say anything about whether or not nuclear weapons do have such a role. The same is true for the controversial first use issue. MC 400/2 does not answer the question whether the Alliance would use nuclear weapons first. It deliberately omits the problem. However, NATO’s traditional way of behavior is to argue that what is not explicitly excluded could become an option if necessary. So both first use as well as the deterrence use of nuclear weapons in the context of chemical or biological weapons might become NATO praxis if the Alliance judges this is necessary. The decision however, on whether that would happen would probably be taken under time pressure and in the unfortunate environment of a concrete crisis. This is surely not the best time to decide such important questions. If NATO finally decides to include the deterrence of chemical and biological weapons in Third World countries into the role of nuclear weapons then these weapons will again become more important for NATO’s policy. In the mid- to longer term and if non-proliferation efforts fail, they will be reassigned a warfighting role.

Secondly, NATO will have to decide whether or not it wants to have an impact on the coming US Nuclear Posture Review. This review has been mandated by Congress the new president elected will be bound to conduct it. I believe, the Alliance’s article 32 review currently underway is an excellent opportunity for NATO to prepare some constructive input and recommendations for the US national review. However, the Alliance could also opt to take a "lets wait and see approach". This would limit NATO’s options to reacting on the decisions unilaterally made by the United States.

NATO’s future course of action on both issues, the future role of nuclear weapons - further reduced or widened - and on whether to provide constructive arms control and non-proliferation oriented recommendations for the US national Nuclear Posture Review will have a great impact on the future of the nuclear disarmament and the 2005 NPT Review Conference. NATO’s activities will either help to develop a constructive environment for new achievements on non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament by 2005 or contribute to prolong the lasting stalemate, create new hurdles for nuclear disarmament and weaken the non-proliferation regime. If the Alliance remains passive, this too will probably strengthen the latter, more negative developments.

While what is known about NATO’s current approach to the Alliance’s review process is not encouraging, there is some hopeful signs as well. I would not like to exclude them from my presentation. All NATO members voted in favor of both the New Agenda Coalition resolution and the Japanese resolution on nuclear disarmament at the 1st Committee at the UN General Assembly. This is a first. The Japanese resolution sets a deadline for CTBT entry into force by 2003, which is a strong commitment issued by the American government and goes beyond the one issued during the NPT Review Conference.

I’d now like to share some thoughts with you on concrete steps the Alliance could consider during its article 32 process in order to strengthen nuclear arms control and non-proliferation.

Even though NATO is not negotiating about START II and Start III - this is Russia and the United States - NATO could conduct a number of helpful initiatives to promote such negotiations and help to make them successful.

First, NATO could support to negotiate a treaty that really covers all types of nuclear weapons and thus includes sub-strategic weapons, tacnukes. I think the most prudent structure for a new START III treaty would be to agree one upper limit for all types of nuclear weapons, no matter whether strategic or substrategic, no matter whether they are active, inactive or hedge. This could help to create the basis for a treaty in which warhead dismantlement could for the first time be made verifiable. If a treaty covers all warheads and not just specific types of warheads, there is no need for a verification system that allows to reliably distinguish the warhead types and thus overall eases the verification procedure.

Second, NATO should support a "freedom to mix" all different types of nuclear weapons approach for such a treaty. This could make it much easier for Russia to enter a new treaty and show some flexibility on the number for the upper limit.

Third, NATO should not exclude unilateral initiatives that could help achieve a future arms control treaty that covers tactical nuclear arsenals. Unilateral initiatives could help as confidence building measures. Transparency is one area in which NATO could opt for such an initiative.

Fourth, the Alliance should signal Moscow some understanding for the problems Russia faces when considering whether to enter a new START-treaty. One of these problems probably is that the Russians honestly don't know whether they could meet the strict requirements for a reliable data exchange on tactical nuclear weapons. Possibly they don't reliably know whether they really have a complete historical record for each of their tacnukes. The problem could result from the speedy but also hasty process of withdrawing their nuclear weapons from the Baltics, the Southern Soviet Republics and other Warsaw Pact countries during 1990 and 1991. Things had to happen so quickly that Gorbachev even decided to ask Germany for its consent on retaining some nuclear weapons in Germany beyond reunification and well into 1991. Russia might feel unsafe about the necessary reliability of her data. One could imagine to help solving this in a future treaty in a flexible and easy manner by providing for several consecutive data exchanges, allowing for ever narrowing error margins. From let's say a hundred to fifty to zero. Or from 100 to 50 to 10 to zero. This might allow the Russians to come around on one of their problems that currently limit their political will to discuss tacnukes and transparency.

Fifth, I believe that NATO should consider to signal to Russia that substrategic nuclear weapons (air-launched and sea-based) are no longer necessary in the European security environment. Indicating that there is a chance to conclude a treaty which foresees the withdrawal and elimination of these weapons, might provide Russia with an incentive to enter negotiations on substrategic weapons, which from the Russian perspective are an add-on to Americia’s strategic posture since they could be targeted against Russia.

Finally; NATO could also help making a treaty covering substrategic weapons more likely by indicating to Russia that NATO countries would be willing to help Russia to finance the dismantlement of tactical nuclear warheads. They are part of the common heritage of the Cold War and their elimination thus could be described as a common responsibility. Today, Russia has such a constrained defence budget – significantly less than one-third of the German one – that Moscow’ has to have financial priorities other than agreeing to additional commitments from new arms control treaties. Feeding the troops, buying clothes and providing housing is much higher a priority these days than paying for the dismantlement of nuclear weapons instead of simply storing them for future dismantlement. I strongly believe that is a field for Western support. NATO, an international organization, could organize to provide it.

I’d now like to a look at some options for NATO other than making a new nuclear arms-control treaty possible.

NATO could make a substantial contribution to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons by describing it in a different way. In 1990 the Alliance described nuclear weapons as weapons of 'last resort'. This language was helpful. It made it clear that nuclear weapons had a role in deterrence but no longer in nuclear war-fighting. Today the Alliance should re-adopt the London language. In addition it should describe what 'last resort' means. The Alliance could combine the 'last resort' language with the results of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. If NATO would describe nuclear weapons as weapons of last these the use of which would only be considered if the very existence of an Alliance’s member state would be at stake, this would represent a clear language and change to the positive. It would clearly state that the Alliance would consider using nuclear weapons only under the specific circumstances, the IJC did not agree to be clearly illegal.

In addition, NATO could consider to issue a negative security assurance to all non-nuclear countries in order to complement the assurances given by the nuclear weapon states. Thus the Alliance would make it clear that it no longer considers giving nuclear weapons a role against all types of weapons of mass destruction.

In another move NATO could engage Russia over a serious review of options for joint initiatives to strengthen existing non-proliferation regimes. Under her new President, Vladimir Putin, Russia has already suggested some constructive measures to strengthen non-proliferation, e.g. a Global Control System for missiles and missile technology.

NATO as a whole in its Art 32 review should reiterate all commitments accepted by the individual member states at the 2000 NPT Review Conference and while adopting the New Agenda and Japanese Resolutions in the First Committee.

To conclude my remarks on the nuclear field, I’d like to make one more proposal. To my understanding it might be a very important one. Those non-nuclear weapon states in NATO that fully participate in NATO nuclear sharing, should consider to give up the technical capability to employ US nuclear weapons in times of war. They could do so either individually or collectively. At the same time they would continue to fully participate in the nuclear planning and consultation process. This initiative would result in all non-nuclear members to NATO having the same level of involvement in NATO nuclear affairs. NATO’s new members and Canada would serve as the model.

If adopted, this step could have a number of positive effects.

Today there is a lot of different levels of involvement in NATO nuclear policy for NATO’s non-nuclear states. Some countries do not allow peacetime deployment of nuclear weapons, others deploy US nuclear weapons for the use with US and/or their own Air Forces. Some countries operate units that could use US nuclear weapons in times of war. Others do not have such units. Finally, there are the new members for whom a politically binding commitment exists, that the Alliance has no plans, no intentions and no reasons to deploy nuclear weapons on their soil, create new or modify existing infrastructure to allow such a deployment, train pilots or conclude Programs of Cooperation. However, independent from their involvement all non-nuclear members of the Alliance are eligible to participate in the Alliance’s nuclear planning and consultation processes.

Bringing all non-nuclear NATO member states to the same level of involvement, i.e. the status of the new members, would immediately end the debate about the different classes of membership or security in NATO and thus strengthen cohesion. The new members would no longer feel at disadvantage. All non-nuclear member states would nevertheless have a joint interest in maintaining and strengthening the Alliance’s nuclear consultations. I would predict, that a review of the 1992 Gleneagles political guidelines might be very helpful in that context.

Taking this initiative NATO’s non-nuclear member states could make two substantial contributions of their own to non-proliferation and disarmament. They would ease negotiating a START III treaty that includes tacnukes and they would help NATO to be no longer accused of violating either the spirit or the letter of articles I and II of the NPT. The technical capability of non-nuclear NATO states to use US nuclear weapons in times of war, not the consultation aspect of NATO nuclear sharing, is causing these suspicions.

Let me finish by going beyond my job and making a provocative remark on Mient Jan Faber's earlier question on CFE.. I think it is indeed very important that non-nuclear aspects are included in the article 32 review. NATO should have a look at the future of CFE.

To my understanding CFE II is a much less helpful treaty than CFE I was. Its simply worse. I don't believe that it will prove helpful to really develop stability in Europe. I believe we need to reconsider our approach to conventional arms control in Europe.

First, while CFE I stressed stability by preventing sudden force concentrations that could allow for successful surprise attacks, CFE II emphasizes flexible options to reinforce threatened regions. Russia agreed to this approach because it needed greater flexibility than legal under the existing CFE flank agreement. Russia constantly violates the flank agreements and probably will continue to do so, because CFE restricts Russian deployments exactly where they believe they have the strongest needs - in Russia’s troubled South. The Caucasus and Central Asia is where Russia expects the real disturbing crisises to come up over the next five or ten years. CFE limits for the flanks force Russia to seek flexibility to ensure the integrity of the Russian Federation as a nation-state, while Russia’s national interest vice versa the conventional superior West would dictate stability to be the approach required.

Second, this makes clear that CFE II does not sufficiently reflect the changes in political geography, in Russia’s security environment and thus in Russia’s interests. This way the CFE-process as it is today is unlikely to contribute to stability. It could even contribute to more instability. We are facing a real problem here that probably requires a very different approach in future.

Thank you very much for your attention.


Otfried Nassauer, Director of the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS)


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