NATO and Nuclear Weapons
The Future of NATO: Discussions at the Munich Security Conference 2009
As global leaders gathered at the 45th Munich Security Conference, 6 - 7 February, there was substantial discussion of the future of NATO on several levels. Many Europeans were waiting to hear how the promise of change from the Obama administration would translate into different ways to engage with NATO, particularly on the Alliance mission in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has yet to undergo a review of its policy towards NATO, and key figures like the US Ambassador to NATO and the DOD official responsible for NATO and European policy have yet to be named or confirmed. Still, expectations were high for indicatons of a new direction from the US in speeches by Vice-President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor James Jones.
The other aspect of the debate was the ongoing discussion between NATO members, especially between Europeans, about the future direction the Alliance should take. This has been going on for many months, and it is clear that while positions are becoming better developed, they are not being reconciled.
Some believe that NATO's central rationale continues to be common defence of member states territory; others that NATO must become a 'global security provider', working to enforce the will of the UN. Within this main debate there are variations concerning future enlargement with the Euro-Atlantic area, the extent to which partnerships can be built up bilaterally or on a regional basis across the globe, and about the philosophical basis for NATO's existence as a community of values.
This all matters because NATO is coming up to its 60th anniversary Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl at the start of April. NATO leaders are drafting a Declaration on Alliance Security. According to some sources, this will provide the basis for the rewriting of the Alliance Strategic Concept, NATO's overarching political vision on which military policy and doctrine are based.
These theoretical debates meet the real world in two particular areas - relations with Russia, and NATO's mission in Afghanistan. If NATO members cannot improve relations with Russia, then it is likely that territorial defence will become more important. Events surrounding the Russian war with Georgia last summer showed how quickly trust can break down between NATO members and Russia, particularly those in Eastern Europe. Equally serious, in Afghanistan NATO has taken on a huge task which has exposed many cracks within the organisation. Many in NATO and its member states believe that Afghanistan is where NATO must stand or fall as a credible military Alliance.
One of the early speakers, Vice-President Joe Biden, picked out some key themes that are important to the new US administration:
This is the message that Obama brought to Berlin, but in the euphoria of the end of the Bush administration many in Europe did not hear. The US will commit seriously to NATO, but in return it requires European nations to more in the defence field. This applies especially to Afghanistan (and Kosovo before it) where the US has become extremely frustrated with the micro-managing of military operations by the North Atlantic Council and the caveats that many European nations have placed on the use of their forces in country. NATO must take action, and reform its structures to do so effectively, in return for the more collaborative approach that they have been demanding for years.
This signal that the US is ready to work together with Russia to build security in common in Europe will be welcome to some, but will worry Eastern Europeans who still tend to see Russia as a major threat. They were pleased with the hostile attitude of the Bush administration to Russia, and its attempts to expand NATO as afar and fast as possible to hem Russia in. Biden talked of the possibilities of cooperation in the fields of arms control, missile defence, Afghanistan and on policy towards Iran. This positive signal to Russia was well received in Moscow.
National Security Advisor General James Jones (a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe) added to Vice-President Biden' speech:
Having laid out this general vision, which would be a genuine and far-reaching transformation of the Alliance in itself, he went on to tie the long tern future of NATO very firmly to short-term success in Afghanistan:
This message was strongly underlined by Representative Jane Harman, the influential leader of the House Intelligence Committee, who told the conference that:
President Obama, having won election while promising to end the war in Iraq, has adopted the war in Afghanistan as his own. Having taken that risk, he now wants his Allies to stand by him strongly. Clearly, in such circumstances, success is a must, both for Obama and for the future of NATO. If it cannot credibly bring an end to the conflict in Afghanistan then the idea of NATO acting globally in theatres such as Darfur, or preventing piracy off Somalia, will ring very hollow. The problem for NATO is that it is not united in a strategy to follow; it has little idea of what success in Afghanistan means; and its member states show little sign of being ready to unite in the way that President Obama and his administration are asking.
In this they have the support of the conservative government of Canada, whose Defence Minister told the conference that:
Similarly, the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that:
With one Summit in April, and another planned for lat 2010, it is likely that NATO will continue to debate its future direction and structures intensively. The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called for the creation of a a process similar to that which led to the seminal 1967 Harmel report on the future of the Alliance. He recommended that a group of 'eminent persons' be established to examine potential NATO reforms and to make recommendations to Ministers. The German Defence Minister Franz Jozef Jung offered some concrete proposals for this process:
This list of ideas represents a mid-point between the two main camps in the debate, an attempt to reconcile the old 'out of area or out of business' idea, and the need to provide for collective defence. It is noteworthy that while Jung would like to see a reduction in nuclear weapons, he calls for NATO to retain a 'wide spectrum of capabilities' for deterrence, rejecting an end to the nuclear capabilities of the Alliance. It is not clear whether Germany wishes to retain nuclear weapons in Europe, or simply the strategic deterrent based on British and American Trident forces. In either case,
David Miliband, also supported a broadened vision of the alliance's contribution to global security. It will be no surprise that the UK has moved quickly to align itself with the Obama administration on how NATO should address security concerns..
The message from the newer members of NATO was far less about global responsibilities, and far more about the need to ensure European security through collective defence. For example, Czech Vice-Prime Minister Vondra told delegates that:
There is no room here for the global security vision of the NATO Secretary General or the US. The purpose of NATO is to defend its members, and it must reorient tightly around that goal. It is also clear, although not directly stated, that Russia is the main security threat that the Czech Republic perceives. These points were backed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was firmer in his focus on Russia, when he said that:
Tusk is concerned that the US commit itself fully to the defence of Europe, and clearly doubts that this is the case. He went on to reiterate that Poland wishes to move forward with the mid-course missile defence system he agreed to host last year. Vondra also made the same point. Both nations are feeling somewhat betrayed by the Obama administration's intent to review the BMD system, and in so doing to slow or stop deployment for the foreseeable future. Tusk is also clearly signaling that Poland does not trust Russia, and that the US needs to take this into account while settling its NATO policy.
The President of Estonia, Toomas Ilves, was stronger still. He spoke of the "collapse" opf the European security order last August, and that NATO and the EU allowed "borders to be changed unilaterally by force." He went on:
This hardline vision of the role of NATO contrasts starkly with that laid out by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. He talked of the need to strengthen the relationship with Russia, and also to strengthen the trans-Atlantic bridge.
So, the lines of debate are clearly drawn. This was the most lively discussion on the future of NATO in years. There are very real differences between Allies. The US and the UK are united in promoting a new vision for NATO. In their desire to build on the Afghanistan mission and to transform NATO, they have the support of Canada. Eastern Europeans are far less concerned with this than with territorial defence. The Germans try to straddle both camps. Beginning in April, NATO leaders will have to begin to resolve these contradictions. There is little sign that the divides can be bridged in the short term.
The desire for a strongly reinforced arms control policy for the Alliance working in tandem with Russia, will also have to be reconciled with the desire of some to retain nuclear weapons in Alliance deterrence policy. There is a limit to how long countries beyond NATO will be prepared to tolerate Cold War nuclear programmes as part of its defence strategy. NATO ministers must also consider the effect that their policies have on wider non-proliferation and disarmament goals. If nuclear weapons remain 'essential' for NATO's defence, then how can they be less so for other nations? If NATO will not reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the collective defence, then why should others do so? This is the kind of debate that NATO cannot avoid, and yet shows no signs of a willingness to engage in. it is good that many mentioned the need to engage Russia in arms reductions, but the wider context matters too.
Can NATO reform its internal structures and methods of working to enhance its chances of success in Afghanistan? Are member states ready to give up consensus as the rule for decision-making even on the smallest tactical decisions? Will they accept, as they did during the Cold War, that military commanders must be allowed to conduct operations unhindered by political considerations? Or will the current situation prevail? What role is there for NATO in global security making? Indeed, is there a role for NATO? For the moment, the Alliance has adapted itself a little, but must do much more to abandon its old Cold War ways of thinking if it is to survive in the 21st century.
© 2009 The Acronym Institute.