PENN Research Report 2000.1

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

Chapter One: The Debate Over Nuclear Sharing Since 1995

“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”. (Emphasis added)  

NATO Strategic Concept, Paragraph 63, April 1999. 

The international debate over NATO nuclear policy in general, and NATO nuclear sharing arrangements in particular, has built steadily since 1995. The non-proliferation implications of these arrangements have come to disturb more and more states party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under NATO policy, the US presently deploys up to 180 nuclear weapons in Europe.[1] These weapons are intended for delivery by US aircraft, and by aircraft belonging to NATO members which are non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) during peacetime.[2]

At the same time, NATO members regard the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime.[3] NATO states worked hard to achieve their goal of indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. They continue to emphasize the importance of Treaty interpretations that do not allow loop-holes through which proliferation might take place amongst other states. 

All NATO members are committed to exposing possible Treaty violations to international criticism and sanction. There is also growing support in NATO for decisive counter-action, including the possibility of offensive military counter-proliferation operations. NATO members clearly perceive a Treaty prohibiting nuclear proliferation to be in their national interests. 

Criticism of NATO nuclear policy in general, and nuclear sharing in particular, has been growing since the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the NPT. In papers and a research note, members of the Project on European Nuclear Non-Proliferation (PENN) have provided evidence that questions the compatibility of NATO nuclear sharing with the commitments NATO’s member states entered into under Articles I and II of the NPT. Evidence was made available in increasing detail as more declassified and other historical documentation  emerged.  This evidence was used in 1995, and at the three Preparatory Committees (PrepComs) for the 2000 Review Conference of the NPT (RevCon), to question the NATO policy.


1.1 Nuclear Sharing Debates from 1995 to 1999: International Concern Over Nuclear Proliferation in NATO  

At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, several State parties raised serious concerns as to whether NATO nuclear sharing arrangements comply with Articles I and II of the Treaty. During the debate that ensued, NATO members proposed that the report of the Conference endorse NATO nuclear sharing arrangements. NATO members offered language stating that, “existing security arrangements are implemented in full compliance with Articles I and II of the treaty”, and that the “provisions of Articles I and II are fully compatible with the commitment undertaken by State parties in existing security arrangements.”[4] 

Mexico recorded its reservations on the subject of nuclear sharing, asking for clarification from NATO nations about allegations in reports by Greenpeace and BASIC/CESD about NATO nuclear sharing. Both Belgium and Germany responded that they had not breached the NPT and that the allegations were groundless.[5] Nonetheless, the Non-Aligned Movement[6] later took up the Mexican concerns in language which was included in the draft report from Main Committee I. The draft stated that:

5. The Conference acknowledges the declarations by the nuclear-weapon States that they have fulfilled their obligations under Article I, [with exceptions noted by the international community. The Conference underscores the need for nuclear-weapon States to remain in full compliance with the letter and spirit of Article I...][7]

Many other non-NATO countries took a different perspective from NATO nations, proposing that the Conference note that “among State parties there are various interpretations of the implementation of certain aspects of Articles I and II which need clarification”.[8] Another proposal was for language expressing “grave concern” about NATO nuclear sharing and the Conference being “convinced that such acts run counter to the spirit and letter of the Treaty”.[9] Seven out of eight draft proposals for language highlighted the fact that there is no joint interpretation of Articles I and II. These proposals either called for clarification and additional information or more generally reminded all State parties to ensure that they live up to their commitments under Articles I and II. 

The Conference was unable to agree a text and the report of Main Committee was never accepted by the Conference as whole. Indeed, the Conference was never able to agree a review document, in part because of disagreements between NNWS and nuclear-weapon states (NWS) on Article I and Article II questions.


1.2 The 1997 PrepCom: NATO Expansion Prompts Concerns Over Nuclear Strategy 

The 1995 debate on nuclear sharing was short and no agreement was reached. NATO members hoped the question would simply not be raised again. However, the compatibility of NATO nuclear sharing with Articles I and II of the NPT caused serious debate at the 1997 PrepCom. PENN members presented diplomats with a memorandum containing a series of questions on NATO nuclear sharing, which was the basis for the debate that took place at the PrepCom.  

Furthermore, NATO expansion prompted general concern about the NPT and NATO nuclear policies and strategy. Belarus, China and Russia objected to NATO enlargement. Belarus proposed a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central and Eastern Europe.[10] China and Russia suggested that states with nuclear weapons deployed outside their borders should withdraw all these weapons to their own territory.[11] 

South Africa was even more explicit. South African representatives expressed concern “about the non-proliferation implications of the plans for the expansion of NATO…. The planned expansion of NATO would entail an increase in the number of non-nuclear-weapon States which participate in nuclear training, planning decision-making and which have an element of nuclear deterrence in their defence policies.”[12] 

In 1997, the prospect of the admittance of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to NATO and a resulting increase in the number of countries eligible to participate in NATO nuclear sharing and nuclear policy planning worried some NNWS. This concern made the question of NPT compliance more relevant, despite assurances that NATO does not intend to deploy nuclear weapons in the territory of new member states.[13] 

NATO’s strategy, last revised at the Washington Summit in April 1999, requires the widespread participation of NNWS members in nuclear sharing during peacetime, crisis and war. It still requires several NNWS members to be prepared to take control of US nuclear warheads in time of war. 

In addition to repeatedly stating that it does not intend to station nuclear weapons on new members’ territory, NATO clarified in the NATO-Russia Founding Act that it will not construct new nuclear storage facilities in these countries. In the Founding Act, NATO members reiterated the  “three no’s” in which they have “no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members”.[14] This agreement, however, is not legally binding. The US Administration points out that: “NATO retains its right to modify its nuclear posture or policy should circumstances warrant”.[15]  

The Czechs, Hungarians and Poles have now joined the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and its subordinate bodies and participate in nuclear consultation during exercises and crisis. 

The 1997 PrepCom ended without any agreement on proposals on substantive issues that could be passed on to the 1998 PrepCom or the 2000 RevCon.


1.3. The 1998 PrepCom: First Proposals Tabled to End Nuclear Sharing   

The debate in 1997 was carried over and deepened at the 1998 PrepCom meeting. The PENN publication, NATO Nuclear Sharing and the NPT – Questions to be Answered, presented historical evidence concerning nuclear sharing to diplomats for the first time.  This report used declassified US documents to show why NATO needed to be questioned over possible breaches of Articles I and II of the NPT, and why further clarification was necessary as to whether NATO nuclear sharing should be considered legal or illegal under the NPT. Several countries used this information to question the practice of nuclear sharing and make proposals to reconcile NATO nuclear sharing with NPT Articles I and II. For example, the 113-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) proposed that the PrepCom agree to the following: 

The States Parties agree that the strict observance of the terms of Article I remains central to achieving the shared objectives of preventing under any circumstances further proliferation of nuclear weapons and preserving the Treaty’s vital contribution to peace and security.[16]  

The working paper called on NWS parties to the NPT to “reaffirm their commitments to the fullest implementation” of Articles I and II, and 

to refrain from nuclear sharing with nuclear-weapons States, non nuclear-weapon States, and States not party to the Treaty for military purposes under any kind of security arrangements.[17] (Emphasis added) 

Criticism also came from Egypt. While “certain interpretations of the NPT… would have the Treaty apply only in times of peace,” Egypt called for the 2000 Review Conference to clearly state that there should be no exceptions allowed to Articles I and II, and that the NPT is legally binding under all circumstances.[18] The contrast with NATO positions was sharp. As these illustrations demonstrate, there is a clear need to reconcile NPT obligations with NATO nuclear sharing. 

As in 1997, the 1998 PrepCom ended without agreement on Article I and II issues, or indeed any substantive questions.


1. 4 The 1999 PrepCom: NATO Nuclear Sharing Under the Microscope  

From the opening day of the 1999 PrepCom, representatives of NATO nations felt themselves under pressure. Challenging the basis of NATO nuclear sharing, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) for the second year in a row submitted a Working Paper, which contained proposals for review document language on Article I and II identical to the previous year. 

Algeria, backing the NAM position, strongly criticized “[T]he very recent adoption of the [NATO] Strategic Concept which reaffirms the essential importance of nuclear weapons in security and the preservation of peace, contradicting by word and deed the hopes cherished by many countries”.[19] Mongolia warned that the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept could provoke other nuclear weapon states to adopt similar policies while NNWS might question the utility of the NPT. 

The New Agenda Coalition (NAC) for the first time joined the criticism of NATO and nuclear sharing. In their statement to the general debate, they criticized lack of progress to disarmament and the fact that “.. the continued possession of nuclear weapons has been re-rationalised. Nuclear doctrines have been reaffirmed”.[20] The NAC further emphasized that any loophole in Treaty interpretation that might allow for nuclear sharing must be closed, stating that “it must be stressed that all the articles of the NPT are binding on all States Parties and at all times and in all circumstances”.[21] 

In 1999, rhetorical criticism of NATO policy was translated for the first time into action.  Egypt formally proposed that the Preparatory Committee of the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference adopt an interpretation of the Treaty that would outlaw current NATO practices and possible future European Union nuclear weapons cooperation. Referring to Articles I and II of the NPT, which prohibit the transfer of nuclear weapons from nuclear weapon states to non-nuclear-weapon states, Egypt emphasized that: 

Neither Article I nor Article II suffer any exceptions.


Notwithstanding the clear and unambiguous nature of Articles I & II of the NPT, NATO’s so-called ‘Nuclear Sharing’ arrangements and its concepts regarding nuclear deterrence, as reflected in its latest declaration on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, raise significant doubts over the extent of compliance of some NATO members with the provisions of both of these Articles and the extent of conformity and compatibility of commitments undertaken by participants in such arrangements with the provisions of the NPT.


Furthermore, Egypt is concerned about proposals for a Europeanized nuclear force based on the policy of ‘concerted deterrence’. These questions need to be addressed by these nuclear and non-nuclear-weapon States.


The delegation of Egypt proposes that the PrepCom recommend that the 2000 Review Conference state in clear and unambiguous terms that Articles I and II of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons allow for no  exceptions and that the NPT is binding on States Parties in times of peace and in times of war alike.[22] 

Egypt’s  intimate involvement in the negotiations that created the NPT in the 1960’s  gives particular weight to its concerns today. South Africa also made a statement criticizing NATO policies and the revised Strategic Concept adopted at the 1999 NATO Summit in Washington. This recalled their earlier concerns “placed on record at the previous two PrepComs about the non-proliferation implications of an expanded NATO [] in the light of the outcome of the Washington Summit which has, for the time being, left the policy of nuclear sharing unchanged”.[23] 

The Chair carried these concerns into the two draft working papers he presented to PrepCom participants. The first stated that 

7. Reaffirmation by non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the Treaty, of their commitments to the fullest implementation of Article II and to refrain from nuclear sharing with nuclear-weapon States, non-nuclear-weapon States, and States not party to the Treaty for military purposes under any kind of security arrangements.[24] 

The Chair’s second draft statement included a paragraph which reads 

8. Affirmation that all the articles of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons are binding on all States Parties and at all times and in all circumstances. 

The 1999 PrepCom ended in acrimony, barely avoiding complete failure. In part, this was because NATO members could not bring themselves to accept any criticism of their policies and practices. In the end, participants were only able to agree the minimum of procedural points necessary to allow the 2000 Review Conference to take place. 

However, concern in the NPT process over nuclear sharing spilled over in 1999 into the United Nations. The New Agenda resolution, which passed the First Committee and then General Assembly, includes as one of its points the phrase, “Stressing that each article of the NPT is binding on the respective States Parties at all times and in all circumstances”, a clear reference to the debate over nuclear sharing.[25]


1.5 The US Rejection of Any Impropriety by NATO in Relation to the NPT  

The debate over nuclear sharing in the NPT forum, together with proliferation concerns over NATO expansion, has forced alliance members and the US in particular into a defensive position. US government members have been obliged to answer criticism that they are promoting proliferation through NATO policy. 

Some NNWS have argued that by tying new member states into nuclear planning and deterrence, NATO is engaging in a form of nuclear proliferation.[26] US Secretary of Defense William Cohen responded to these criticisms by saying that “there are no ‘Non-Proliferation Treaty problems associated with NATO expansion.’”[27] He went on to note that since the new members are all signatories to the NPT, attempts by these states to receive, manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons, “would break their commitment to the NPT, whether they were in NATO or not”.[28] 

In response to the same question, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the participation by NATO NNWS in the activities of the Nuclear Planning Group:

[I]n no way contravenes Article I of the NPT. This question of NPT Article I and its impact on NATO nuclear forces was debated at length during the negotiation of the NPT. All concerned accepted that the final language of Article I would not preclude the type of nuclear planning, basing, and consultative arrangements that have taken place in NATO since NPT entry-into-force in 1970.[29] 

However, at the time of signing the NPT, non-NATO signatories were not made aware of the US interpretation (shared by NATO allies) preserving the Alliance’s nuclear sharing arrangements and stating that the NPT would not be controlling in time of war; neither were they made aware of what exactly constitutes nuclear sharing. For example, diplomatic sources have revealed that Sweden signed the NPT in 1968 with the assumption that other European powers would also relinquish their programs for acquiring nuclear weapons.[30] However, the US interpretation that in wartime NATO allies could become nuclear-weapon powers contravened Sweden’s (and probably other nations’) basic reason for signing.[31]

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