NATO Summit
by Jim Wurst


While the war in Kosovo overshadowed NATO's 50th anniversary summit on April 23-25, the backroom debate over the role of nuclear weapons in the Alliance also strained consensus. Largely at the insistence of Canada and Germany, the US plan to keep NATO's nuclear policy in its Cold War mode was blocked. These two major non-nuclear allies had publicly stated that NATO's deterrence doctrine was outdated and that NATO's strategic doctrine should reflect that reality.

As a result of this split, the summit's two key documents - the Communiqué and the Strategic Concept -- send mixed signals about the role of nuclear weapons.

Most importantly, the Communiqué, in paragraph 32, says: "In the light of overall strategic developments and the reduced salience of nuclear weapons, the Alliance will consider options for confidence and security building measures, verification, non-proliferation and arms control and disarmament. The Council in Permanent Session will propose a process to Ministers in December for considering such options."  In other words, the Alliance has put off the day of reckoning. Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said at a news conference during the Summit, "I think we have now gained an acknowledgment that such a review would be appropriate and that there would be directions to the NATO Council to start the mechanics of bringing that about." While the US probably hopes it will be able to work its will behind closed doors, it is also an opportunity for the allies that want to change NATO's doctrine and for NGOs to promote alternative strategies.

The Strategic Concept, however, reaffirms NATO's reliance on nuclear weapons, stating: "Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the risks of aggression against the Alliance incalculable and unacceptable. Thus, they remain essential to preserve peace." (Para 46). The Concept also affirms NATO's intention to maintain nuclear forces in Europe, stating: "Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance."

On the other hand, the Concept recognizes the changing security situation in Europe, and concludes that  "the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated... are therefore extremely remote."

The Concept also deals with threats from other weapons of mass destruction and announces the creation of a WMD Initiative, to "enhance existing Allied programs which increase military readiness to operate in a WMD environment and to counter WMD threats." Paragraph 22 of the Concept refers to WMD "on NATO's periphery." While these are statements of fact, given the context of the document and the Alliance's "out-of-area" operation in Kosovo, this is also the setting up of the justification for out-of-area actions.

The full texts of both documents can be found on the NATO website:  www.nato.int

 

 

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