PENN Research Report 2000.1

Questions of Command and Control: 
NATO Nuclear Sharing and the Non-Proliferation Treaty  

Chapter Three: NATO Nuclear Doctrine Since the End of the Cold War

The New Strategic Concept of 1991

In its 1991 Strategic Concept, NATO agreed that it required “widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements”.[67] The remaining US tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe were now said to play a ‘political’ rather than a military role. They symbolized the US commitment to Western Europe as well as European countries’ commitment to share the risks and roles of extended deterrence. In the 1991 Strategic Concept, this link between US nuclear weapons and US commitment to Europe was expressed as follows: “The presence of North American conventional and US nuclear forces in Europe remains vital to the security of Europe, which is inseparably linked to that of North America”.[68]

US officials make two arguments for maintaining US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. First, the US will not withdraw its remaining nuclear weapons unless US troops are also withdrawn. Second, US nuclear weapons cannot be withdrawn from NATO Europe because of the opposition from non-nuclear-weapon states who perceive these weapons as the ultimate guarantee of extended deterrence. This rationale is reflected in MC400 approved in December 1991. [69] This is the core military strategy document implementing the 1991 NATO Strategic Concept.

MC400/1: Reinterpreting the 1991 Strategic Concept

At the North Atlantic Council meeting on 3 June 1996, NATO approved a revised version of that core military strategy, called MC400/1. MC400/1 commits the Alliance to maintain a reduced, but more flexible, nuclear posture for the foreseeable future. It neither mentions nor revokes NATO’s long-standing policy of retaining the option of “First Use” of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are described as having an essential stabilizing role in Europe, guarding against uncertainties (such as risks resulting from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction) and serving as a hedge, in case a substantial military threat to NATO re-emerges.[70]

NATO no longer maintains detailed plans for the use of nuclear weapons in specific scenarios. Instead, like the US, it is developing a so-called “adaptive targeting capability”.[71] This capability is designed to allow major NATO commanders to develop target plans and nuclear weapons employment plans on short notice, during a contingency or crisis, from pre-developed databases containing possible targets.

Changes in NATO Nuclear Strategy in 1999

The themes from MC400/1 were taken up in the Strategic Concept agreed at the Washington Summit in April 1999, which however, left the Alliance’s nuclear doctrine largely unchanged. The language adopted by NATO’s leaders is very similar to that used in 1991 NATO’s Strategic Concept. However, some textual changes have been made, the amount of language on nuclear issues has been somewhat reduced, and the Alliance committed itself to continue to review its nuclear policy. There is a debate as to whether the changes in the Strategic Concept leave the door open for adapting the implementation of Alliance strategy in line with US nuclear doctrine outlined inter alia in Presidential Decision Directive 60 (PDD 60). PDD 60 was issued by President Clinton in November 1997. This highly classified document gave new guidelines to the US military on targeting nuclear weapons. According to reports, the new PDD allows for the use of nuclear weapons against “rogue” states – those suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction. [72] 

As expected by observers, the language describing when NATO would consider using nuclear weapons was changed. It now reads:

The Allies concerned consider that, with the radical changes in the security situation, including reduced conventional force levels in Europe and increased reaction times, NATO’s ability to defuse a crisis through diplomatic and other means or, should it be necessary, to mount a successful conventional defence has significantly improved. The circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated by them are therefore extremely remote.[73]

While this represents a small change from the 1991 formula where nuclear use was said to be “even more remote” than in the past, the wording represents a defeat for those in the Alliance who had wished a commitment on the No First Use of nuclear forces. Far from moving in the direction of No First Use, NATO is unable to agree even a return to the formula of the London Summit of 1990, where nuclear weapons were said to be weapons of “last resort”.[74]

However, most of the language has been untouched:

62.    The fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war. They will continue to fulfill an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the Allies’ response to military aggression. They demonstrate that aggression of any kind is not a rational option. The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Allies.

63.    A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of Alliance solidarity and common commitment to war prevention continue to require widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements. Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance. The Alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe. These forces need to have the necessary characteristics and appropriate flexibility and survivability, to be perceived as a credible and effective element of the Allies’ strategy in preventing war. They will be maintained at the minimum level sufficient to preserve peace and stability. [75]

The 1999 Strategic Concept does not reiterate the political assurances given to Russia in 1997, that NATO would not deploy nuclear weapons in the Alliance’s new member states during peacetime. [See Annex 5: Concerns Prompted by NATO Expansion.] 

These developments in NATO strategy, based on previous changes in US doctrine have led observers to wonder if further shifts are underway in the direction of US national nuclear strategy. These concerns are prompted by Paragraph 41 of the Alliance’s Strategic Concept which states that: “By deterring the use of NBC weapons, they [Alliance forces] contribute to Alliance efforts aimed at preventing the proliferation of these weapons and their delivery means.[76]  

If “Alliance forces” in the above text were to include both conventional and nuclear forces, NATO would have prepared the ground for an extension of the role of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy in the future. NATO would in that case see nuclear weapons as a tool in the fight against proliferation. This formula would appear to leave the door open to the use of nuclear weapons against those possessing, or even thought to possess, nuclear or other WMD and their means of delivery, a doctrine the US is widely believed to have already adopted in US national nuclear strategy. US spokesmen refuse to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against potential adversaries who use, or threaten the use, of nuclear weapons or other WMD, even non-state actors. The US aims to have national doctrine incorporated into NATO policy, and historical precedent makes this a likely development.

3.1 Future Directions for NATO Nuclear Strategy: Between Disarmament and Tactical Nuclear Use

Only weeks before the international community reviews progress made on the world’s cornerstone document on nuclear nonproliferation, the NPT, new information has emerged that NATO might be in the process of substantially widening the role of nuclear weapons in the future conflicts. Nuclear weapons might be given a role in deterring or attacking possessors or possible users of WMD and the means of their delivery. While this widened role has already been assigned to nuclear weapons in the US national strategy, in NATO’s strategy their present role remains more limited, because European countries remain more cautious on these issues than the US. 

The change in strategy might occur as early as Spring 2000, in the period around the NPT Review Conference. Preparations for this change are well advanced. NATO is currently reviewing its classified cornerstone military strategy document, designated MC400. NATO’s Military Committee (MC) has readied a new version of this document, MC400/2, incorporating changes that result from the Alliance’s Strategic Concept adopted during the Washington Summit in 1999. MC400/2 was in NATO’s “silent procedure” in February 2000, which means that it has been adopted by the highest military body of the Alliance, the Military Committee and is now under preparation to obtain political approval. If no objections are raised to the contents, the document can be put forward for final political approval. This will happen in two steps, first at Ambassadorial level and then on Ministerial level. The first, Ambassadorial scrutiny, of MC400/2 is likely to come as soon as March 2000. NATO aims to have final approval by the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in Foreign Ministers session on 24-25 May 2000, when the NAC meets in Florence, shortly after the end of the NPT Review Conference.

NATO sources have confirmed that the process is well advanced, and that the draft version of MC400/2 will contain sufficient language to allow the US to interpret the document as being in accordance with US national nuclear strategy. It is believed, that the new document does not rule out using nuclear weapons against the possessors of biological and chemical weapons. According to a Reuters report of March 14, the document states that “An appropriate mix of forces” – i.e. conventional and nuclear forces – should be available to the Alliance when facing a threat by any WMD.[77] There is some question as to whether Ambassadors are ready, at the time of writing to push ahead, but no problems are expected in bringing the document before Ministers in May. One Senior NATO Diplomat told the authors that “It hasn’t been the subject of much debate. There’s general acceptance that the best deterrent is one that keeps a potential adversary guessing. So there’s never been a decision to rule it out”.[78] 

If NATO nuclear weapons are given a widened role against all WMD  the likely severe political consequences will affect both the international non-proliferation regime, and the future of nuclear arms control. By adopting such a policy:

  • NATO’s nuclear members would be signaling that they are prepared to violate the commitment under the Negative Security Assurances, they gave to the NNWS in 1995 in order to ensure the unconditional and indefinite extension of the NPT;

  • NATO’s non-nuclear members who participate in NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, if ever conducting a nuclear mission against a non-nuclear opponent, armed with other WMD, would clearly breach the NPT and violate their commitments under Article II of the NPT. This would be true even if such an operation were based on NATO’s highly controversial unilateral interpretation of the legality of the Alliance’s sharing arrangements under the NPT;   

  • The US would be demonstrating that it has the political will to violate Article I of the NPT, by providing nuclear weapons to NATO NNWS during such an operation; and

  • The NATO arms control review process would be deeply undermined. The new strategy would remove many options, such as the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe or adoption of a No First Use policy as a confidence building measure, which logically would form part of the review. 

The net affect of a new strategy would be to dramatically undermine confidence in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Furthermore, by adopting such policies within a classified military strategy document NATO’s military planners would pre-empt the possible results of the Alliance’s current review of NATO’s nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament policy, which is scheduled to present recommendations and options to NATO ministers by December 2000, although the review will continue for a further year. The agreement of a widened role for the Alliance’s nuclear posture in May 2000 would make it extremely difficult in December to suggest any arms control and disarmament measures of substance that might cut into the nuclear posture or significantly affect its role. 

NATO sources that spoke with the authors admitted that there might be problems with the NPT, and of Negative Security Assurances given by nuclear-weapon-states. The Senior NATO Diplomat interviewed said “It’s an uncomfortable topic that people prefer not to discuss. It does raise questions, I know, under the NPT, the negative security assurances”.[79]

Paragraph 41 of the 1999 Strategic Concept stops short of openly assigning NATO’s nuclear posture a role in offensive military counter-proliferation operations. However, it assigns nuclear weapons a role in deterring the threat of all weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore it does not indicate, that nuclear weapons might not be used against the owners of WMD and their means of delivery. 

There is good reason to believe that NATO is abandoning some of this ambiguity. While an examination of the text of MC400/2 is the only way to be certain that elements of US national nuclear strategy have been incorporated, the text is classified and will probably remain so for many years. However, precedent throughout NATO’s history indicates that where the US leads, NATO will follow - particularly in the field of nuclear strategy.

In 1999, the DoD told Senator Harkin that: “US national nuclear policy is established by the President of the United States and is in no way influenced by allies.” The answer continues: “NATO nuclear policy has historically been consistent with US nuclear policy”. [Emphasis added]  The answers also reveal that: “US strategic and theater nuclear doctrine is established by the President and set forth in a series of increasingly detailed documents. (deleted) US nuclear doctrine applies equally to US forces stationed or deployed anywhere in the world, to include those in Europe”.[80]

Indeed, from an historical perspective, NATO has followed suit if the US changed its national strategy. A close reading of developments in NATO policy from the 1950s onwards shows this link. The time lag between the development of a new US strategy of ‘flexible response’, and its adoption by NATO in MC14/3, was around six years.[81] Time lags in the 1950’s were much shorter.

3.2 US Perspectives on NATO Nuclear Strategy

The US is creating new roles for nuclear weapons. Based on the Nuclear Posture Review and the 1997 National Security Strategy, the newest version of the National Military Strategy foresees a change in the role of NATO-deployed nuclear weapons. Strategic nuclear forces serve as a vital hedge against an uncertain future, a guarantor of our security commitments to our allies, and a deterrent to those who would contemplate developing or otherwise acquiring their own nuclear weapons. Strategic weapons remain the keystone of US deterrent strategy. A mix of forward deployed non-strategic nuclear and conventional weapons adds credibility to our commitments.[82]

The rationale for maintaining non-strategic nuclear weapons is shifting. While NATO still perceives the function of nuclear weapons to be primarily a link between the US and its European allies and a symbol of intra-Alliance solidarity, US armed forces increasingly perceive the arsenal deployed in Europe as a mere add-on to the role of US strategic forces.

Changes in the role of nuclear weapons in the US national strategy have led to this difference. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their possible use against the US and its allies gained greater prominence in the first half of the 1990s. The US National Security Strategy of 1995 highlights:

The United States will retain the capacity to retaliate against those who might contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction, so that the costs of such use will be seen as outweighing the gains. However, to minimize the impact of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on our interests, we will need the capability not only to deter their use against ourselves or our allies and friends, but also, where necessary and feasible to prevent it. This will require improved defensive capabilities. To minimize the vulnerability of our forces abroad to weapons of mass destruction, we are placing a high priority on improving our ability to locate, identify and disable arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, production and storage facilities for such weapons, and their delivery systems.[83]

While the National Security Strategy does not mention that nuclear weapons might be used against WMD, it insinuates that the use of nuclear weapons is not ruled out. Developing fresh US military doctrine, the Joint Chiefs of Staff made use of the freedom to interpret such language. According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s new US Doctrine for Joint Theater Nuclear Operations, “the fundamental purpose of US nuclear forces is to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction” (nuclear, chemical, and biological) and their means of delivery by hostile governments.[84] The objective is to enhance freedom of action for US and allied forces in out-of-area missions as well as to protect US and allied territories. The mission also includes retaliatory strikes once opponents have used weapons of mass destruction.[85]

Retaining the option for ‘First Use’ is often justified as the logical consequence of a policy of deterring, and possibly retaliating against, the use of biological and chemical weapons by actors who do not possess nuclear weapons. However, US proponents do not exclude pre-emptive nuclear use to eliminate enemy WMD, their means of delivery and supporting infrastructure “before they can be employed against friendly forces. For these reasons, offensive operations against enemy WMD and their delivery systems should be undertaken once hostilities become inevitable or commence”.[86] The First Use of tactical nuclear weapons is now considered an option within offensive counter-proliferation missions and as part of an emerging doctrine for managing crises. President Clinton’s PDD 60 also reflects the increased role of US nuclear weapons in offensive counter-proliferation.[87]

Changes in the role of sub-strategic (and strategic) nuclear weapons in the US national strategy during the late 1990’s also indicate that the US no longer limits the threat to use nuclear weapons against states or government-controlled targets. Official US documents highlight the dangers of non-state actors acquiring and threatening to use weapons of mass destruction.[88] These non-state actors (such as terrorists, organized crime, transnational companies or fanatic religious groups) have come to the attention of US military planners. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff’s list of ‘likely targets’ for US sub-strategic weapons now includes “non-state actors (facilities and operation centers) that possess WMD”, along with underground facilities or WMD owned by enemy governments.[89]

To the authors’ knowledge, the United States is the only nuclear-weapon state considering the use of nuclear weapons against non-state actors. Even though the likelihood of use against terrorist targets is extremely remote, the shift is significant. It encourages military planners to study such options and to present them to politicians for consideration. In addition, non-state actors generally operate on state territory. The Joint Chiefs of Staff do not explain whether this fact would legally limit the use of nuclear weapons to US territory, or whether targeting against other countries would be considered as well.

However, if NATO were to adopt a military strategy that gives nuclear weapons a role against all types of weapons of mass destruction, as in the US, military planners and military staffs are likely include this role and elaborate on it during their daily work. It will play a role when collecting targeting information for nuclear weapons, gathering intelligence, creating scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be used, in exercises, while training soldiers and while developing decision-making options for presenting them to politicians, when they should ever have to decide on how to react to a WMD threat. It is easy to predict that the planners concerned with these tasks will develop schools of thinking about the role nuclear weapons will have under such circumstances. Some will see nuclear weapons as pure deterrence, others will tend to begin developing more or less sophisticated war-fighting models.

3.3 What Action Will NATO Take This Year?

The core question for the months to come is: will NATO adapt the recent US national strategy during 2000? There are good reasons to believe that this would be both imprudent for NATO’s future and contrary to international treaty commitment of NATO’s member states under the NPT. Most importantly, it would be seriously damaging to all attempts to safeguard the non-proliferation regime and make future progress on nuclear arms control. However, NATO sources have indicated to the authors that adapting to the US national strategy into NATO is likely. 

While the US has moved its national doctrinal developments a long way towards integrating nuclear weapons into offensive counter-proliferation missions, its European NATO allies have been more cautious. Since 1994, two senior NATO bodies have studied counter-proliferation. Their recommendations, as well as a special set of NATO force goals agreed in late 1996, focused only on improving intelligence capabilities and defensive military and non-military measures against the threat from weapons of mass destruction. No requirements for action on new conventional or nuclear offensive military capabilities were developed. This clearly reflects the more cautious course of action in the European NATO countries.

Most European countries are hesitant to follow the US path of active engagement in offensive counter-proliferation, especially if nuclear weapons are involved. European countries still perceive nuclear weapons as a tool of deterrence or a last resort; almost all cannot imagine giving these weapons a role in counter-proliferation. This is particularly true in the case of targeting non-state actors with WMD capabilities. In fact, serious European questions about the future of US nuclear weapons in NATO may be raised if US pressure to include such options into NATO’s officially acknowledged and agreed military options were to be mounted. Thus similar to earlier disputes between US and European perceptions of the role of nuclear weapons, the US is likely to make sure that NATO adopts a language that does not rule out actions in accordance with US national strategy and assume that the US perspective will prevail under the pressure of taking concrete decisions in an actual crisis. Even if the concepts are adopted into NATO strategy, and plans are laid on the basis of this strategy, European NATO members will remain immensely reluctant to ever sanction the use of nuclear weapons for counter-proliferation operations.

3.4 NATO Threats to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime

European reluctance is well founded in an understanding of potentially serious problems for the nuclear non-proliferation regime if the US is successful in imposing its national strategy on the Alliance. These difficulties include: 

Counter-Proliferation and Negative Security Assurances (NSAs)

The nuclear-weapon states have pledged in Negative Security Assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states unless allied with a nuclear-weapon state. Recent US statements have seriously undermined the credibility of such guarantees. The risk now is that NATO adoption of US policies will further undermine NNWS faith in the NPT as a guarantor of their security from nuclear weapons, or in the value of participation in Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZ). This argument was put well by Jack Mendelsohn in Arms Control Today:

The 1995 U.S. NSA reads:

The United States affirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in the case of an invasion or any attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.[90]

It is important to note that the NSA makes no exceptions to allow for a nuclear response to a chemical or biological weapons attack.

NATO’s First Use doctrine against conventional forces is clearly contrary to the NPT-related NSA commitments of the United States, Britain and France. In addition, the United States, the key NATO nuclear power, maintains the option to use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapons attack, and implies that NATO has the same policy. While this policy had been present in U.S. Defense Department documents in the early 1990s, it was articulated in April 1996 by Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council at the time of the U.S. signature of a protocol to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (ANWFZ) Treaty. Protocol I of the so-called Treaty of Pelindaba pledges the United States not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any treaty party. Bell, however, said U.S. signature “will not limit options available to the United States in response to an attack by an ANWFZ party using weapons of mass destruction”. [Emphasis added.] In December 1998, Walter Slocombe, under secretary of defense for policy, stated: “It is simply an issue of making sure that we continue to maintain a high level of uncertainty or high level of concern, if you will, at what the potential aggressor would face if he used [CBW] or indeed took other aggressive acts against the alliance”. [91] [Emphasis added]

For the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, and by implication NATO, the most powerful conventional alliance, to insist that they need the threat of first use of nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries raises the question why other, much weaker nations, confronted by hostile neighbors, do not need them as well. Moreover, a U.S. and NATO First Use policy against, in effect, conventional, chemical and biological weapons suggests that nuclear weapons have many useful military roles. This reinforces the value and prestige attributed to nuclear weapons and undermines efforts by the United States and other key NATO countries to persuade non-nuclear-weapon states to refrain from developing their own nuclear arsenals.[92] 

Clearly, the value of the NPT and of NWFZ treaties is brought into question by US policy. The question is now whether it is likely to be fatally undermined, for example, in the context of the African NWFZ by an extension of this policy to NATO as a whole.   

Counter-Proliferation Missions Under Sharing Arrangements and NPT Articles I and II  

Is it possible that NATO non-nuclear-weapon states could become involved in offensive counter-proliferation missions? The answer would seem to be, possibly, yes. As we have seen, the Alliance Strategic Concept continues to require that European allies demonstrate solidarity with the US in nuclear policy: 

The achievement of the Alliance’s aims depends critically on the equitable sharing of the roles, risks and responsibilities, as well as the benefits, of common defence.[93] 

A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of Alliance solidarity and common commitment to war prevention continue to require widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements.[94] 

The integration of European and US armed forces in Europe, under the command of NATO’s top commander, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), means that if NATO decides on a military action then many Alliance countries are involved in consequent operations. NATO air operations against the Former Yugoslavia provide an excellent example. The Alliance was keen to have as many of its members participating as possible. Thus NATO’s non-nuclear weapon states participating in NATO nuclear sharing could well be asked to provide their means of delivery, if NATO ever were to take the decision to use nuclear weapons against an opponent who possesses or used biological or chemical weapons. Would such a situation allow it to be argued that the NPT is no longer controlling? NATO argues that in ‘general war’ the NPT is no longer controlling and it becomes legal to arm European allies with nuclear weapons. However, NATO accepts that in circumstances short of ‘general war’ this would be contrary to the NPT. 

Without a ‘general war’, NNWS participation in counter-proliferation missions involving the use of nuclear weapons would certainly be in violation of the NPT. Article II would be breached by the NNWS NATO members, and Article I by the US. This is so, even by US and NATO interpretations. NATO sources have confirmed to the authors that they understand this point thoroughly. In addition, diplomatic sources who participated in the original negotiations confirmed that any interpretation allowing nuclear use against other WMD possessors would indeed contradict NATO’s interpretation of the NPT. In reviewing Senate and other historical records they added that the US saw the interpretation of when the NPT is ‘controlling’ in the Questions and Answers only in the context of deterring a nuclear-weapon state. 

This argument is strengthened by the action taken by the US to allow for the war time exception interpretation. As Adrian Fisher suggested, the Preamble of the Treaty says, inter alia, that: 

“Considering the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war...” 

The State Parties agreed to the Treaty. Thus even in the context of the unilateral interpretations of the Rusk-letter there is no way to argue, that war with a non-nuclear opponent could trigger a situation in which the US and its allies no longer have a need to feel bound by the Treaty.

NATO v. Rusk: Perceptions on the NPT and Multilateral Control of Nuclear Weapons  

Some NATO officials argue privately that any participation by nuclear sharing nations in a NATO counter-proliferation operation using nuclear forces would be legal, even short of a ‘general war’. They reason that since the pilots would not be acting in a national capacity, but as NATO soldiers, and NATO as a non-signatory is not bound by the NPT, the transfer of nuclear weapons would be legal. This argument is clearly spurious. Firstly, the US would still be in breach of Article I. Secondly, the pilots still serve in their national armed forces, whereas NATO is an alliance. As has been seen in Section 2, even the Rusk interpretation states that transfer of control to a multilateral entity, such as NATO, would be illegal.

International Perceptions of NATO Actions 

The NAM, and many New Agenda countries have already displayed considerable concern after learning more about NATO nuclear sharing. As described in Section 1, there have already been calls for a declaration or interpretation of the NPT to be issued that would make it clear that the arrangements within NATO are illegal. Significant concern has been expressed about NATO’s nuclear strategy as a whole, and when NAM and NAC countries learn about a possible widening of the role of nuclear forces in Alliance policy, it is likely that criticism of NATO within the NPT process will not only be perceived as justified, but become even stronger.

Widening the Role of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of the NPT  

As a consequence of the inaction of the NWS, the NPT is a Treaty in some difficulty. A Canadian Government policy paper on the NPT, prepared in advance of the 2000 Review Conference and shown to the authors, records that the NPT is a “treaty under stress”. It then goes on to give the adoption of the new NATO strategy as one of the reasons for that stress. 

Adoption of MC400/2 and the widening of the role of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy can only increase that stress. The US government argues that no state will abandon the NPT because non-proliferation is in the security interest of all signatories to the Treaty. The adoption by NATO of a counter-proliferation role for nuclear weapons, attacking the basis of the NPT and NSA’s, brings that assumption into doubt. In the future, if chemical or biological weapons possession (or potential possession) is enough to prompt a possible NATO nuclear strike on a country, that country might lose interest in restraint – it might well learn a new lesson: there is no deterrent other than the nuclear deterrent. It could therefore decide to go nuclear. NATO is in danger of acting as a spur to nuclear proliferation, exactly the end that its Strategic Concept says it is aimed at avoiding.

Widening the Role of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of NATO’s Arms Control Review  

Adoption of MC400/2 in the spring of 2000, if it were to include the widening of the role of nuclear weapons in NATO policy, as the authors understand is the current proposal, would clearly undermine the nuclear arms control policy review that NATO is currently undertaking. Certain outcomes of that review would be precluded, for example: 

  • Withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, either unilaterally or as part of a deal for their elimination in a treaty with Russia, would be made much more difficult, if not impossible. Therefore much of the basis of the 1997 Helsinki package of an agreed framework for future deep cuts would be invalidated.

  • NATO support for NWFZ's would be seen to be meaningless, and any engagement made by NATO to respect the African NWFZ in particular would be extremely suspect. The status of Negative Security Assurances by NATO nations would be thrown into doubt.

  • The already blurred distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear members of NATO would be blurred still further, calling into question the good faith of all Alliance members in their adherence to the Treaty.

  • Adoption of a No First Use policy by NATO would, by definition, no longer be an option that NATO could pursue as a confidence and security building measure.

NATO sources who spoke with the authors confirmed that adoption of MC400/2 would indeed close off options that could otherwise be considered in the arms control policy review. The implication is that the order in which these two processes were taken forward by the Alliance was intended to have that effect.

Will NATO Push Ahead?  

The US is pushing NATO to agree to widened nuclear tasks within the new MC400/2 interpretation of the Strategic Concept. They seem to have the upper hand at the time of writing over those countries more interested in arms control and verifiable disarmament will prevail. The debate will be complicated. However, elements in the US military support reducing the role of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Air Force General Eugene Habiger, commanded-in-chief of US Strategic Command, stated in March 1998, “It is time for us to get very serious about tactical nuclear weapons. If you look at the gross numbers of tactical nuclear weapons that are in Russia today, we must begin to parlay that element into START III, and I have every expectation that we will”.[95] In a CBS TV show in early 2000 he reiterated these concerns: “The fact that we have not been able to get to lower and lower levels of nuclear weapons is troubling to me”.[96] The role of European nations in NATO will also be important. Traditionally, they have been prepared to go along with US policy in the interests of Alliance unity. However, on this occasion they are being asked to participate in a policy that would violate commitments under the NPT, even by the somewhat dubious interpretation they themselves accepted thirty years ago. Whether they are ready to go so far remains to be seen. 

It would only be in the best interest of the NPT, and in the security interests of all NATO members, that NATO ministers should move slowly. Indeed, they would be wise to reject MC400/2 if it includes any role for nuclear weapons in operations against opponents armed with biological or chemical weapons, and at least to delay it until after the arms control policy review reports, if it in any way limits options for the arms control review. 

In the interests of transparency, and of the preservation of the NPT, NATO should now make public the MC400 series of documents, including MC400/2, as previous core military strategy documents such as the MC14 and MC48 series have now been made public. There is no reason to object to such transparency if nothing objectionable or controversial is contained in the MC400 documents.

<- Front Page    /     Annexes and Footnotes ->


BITS Homepage