NATO Defense, Diplomatic Chiefs to Mull Strategy Document

(Oct. 12) -NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, shown Friday. Senior officials from NATO governments are expected this week to review a draft strategy document for the alliance (Getty Images).
(Oct. 12) -NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, shown Friday. Senior officials from NATO governments are expected this week to review a draft strategy document for the alliance (Getty Images).

Top defense and foreign officials from NATO member nations are set Thursday to discuss a proposed update to the military alliance's strategic concept that includes a new call for nuclear disarmament, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Oct. 1).

The meeting is expected to address protection against missiles and other threats, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said (see GSN, Oct. 4). The talks would mark the final chance to address the proposed strategy document before next month's NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal (Associated Press/Google News, Oct. 11).

"My firm intent is that the Lisbon summit will put in place an alliance that is more modern, more efficient and better able to work with our partners around the globe," Agence France-Presse quoted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as saying yesterday. "The new strategic concept must reconfirm NATO's core task -- territorial defense -- but modernize how we do it, including cyber defense and missile defense."

He stressed, though, that "missile defense is not a substitute for nuclear deterrence." The leader last week said the strategy paper would balance the goals of nuclear disarmament and deterrence.

More than 30 nations hold or are seeking ballistic missiles, posing a "clear threat" to the military alliance, Rasmussen said yesterday. "Even in this time of budgetary restrictions, we can allow ourselves this kind of spending," he said, adding that a European missile defense system would cost no more than $277 million over one decade.

Iranian and North Korean missile threats made missile defense an important issue to to consider, one high-level U.S. official said. "We would like NATO to take a decision on missile defense first," the official said.

Calls by Germany and other European states for the strategic concept to prominently promote the elimination of nuclear weapons have placed those nations at odds with France, a nuclear-armed state that believes NATO involvement in nuclear matters could threaten French self-determination.

"The Germans wanted the strategic concept to say that NATO commit to nuclear disarmament," one diplomat said.

In talks Friday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Rasmussen plans to attempt to alleviate French anxiety over the disarmament language, according to diplomats (Agence France-Presse/Expatica.com, Oct. 12).

Although the strategic concept does not specify the timing or terms for elimination of nuclear weapons, some NATO members nations have voiced concern it would commit them to eventually relinquishing stocks of U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs, Time magazine reported.

The alliance would not consider curbing today's deployment of roughly 200 nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe unless Russia reduced its own battlefield nuclear weapons, Appathurai indicated.

"The allies look at tactical nuclear weapons in the context of Russia," the spokesman said. "While NATO has cut its tactical weapons to the low hundreds, Russia still has thousands of these things. That's of concern to allies. There is an imbalance there."

Some analysts, though, contended Russia saw its nonstrategic nuclear weapons as a necessary force to counter China as well as the superior non-nuclear armaments possessed by NATO (see GSN, July 21).

France, the United Kingdom and the United States possess strategic nuclear arms sufficient to prevent Russia from initiating conflict, said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

"NATO needs to get its message straight: Is Russia an adversary for the nuclear weapons deployed in Europe?" Kristensen said. "If not, then the weapons should be withdrawn so Europe can get out of the Cold War. Anyone who suggests that Russia would somehow ignore the other considerable conventional and nuclear capabilities if the weapons in Europe were withdrawn needs to see a nuclear therapist."

Fielding B-61 bombs in NATO nations also appeared to run against the intent of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's ban on nuclear-weapon transfers between member states, Kristensen and other specialists said.

Further, extremists could seek to acquire the compact tactical bombs, according to Time. A 2009 U.S. Air Force report referred to security shortfalls at U.S. and European military facilities holding the weapons.

Agreement on removing the alliance's nuclear deterrent would be difficult to achieve, said Steve Andreasen, a former top arms control official for the U.S. National Security Council.

"It is crucial for that review to be properly framed from the outset, with a clear direction in support of further reductions (in tactical weapons) -- and, that the review itself be conducted under high-level political direction," Andreasen said. "In short, progress will require a little more leadership, a little less lethargy" (Eben Harrell, Time, Oct. 7).

Germany refuted a media assertion that it would remove all U.S. nonstrategic nuclear bombs from within its borders by the end of next year, Interfax reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 7).

"I cannot confirm this report, because it is based on false information from a German newspaper," German Ambassador to Russia Ulrich Brandenburg said.

Curbs to NATO nuclear deployments in Europe were still necessary, but "a decision whether to withdraw these armaments or to keep them will be political. We must bear in mind the large amount of tactical nuclear weapons deployed in the European part of Russia," Brandenburg said (Interfax, Oct. 11).

An undisclosed preliminary version of NATO's strategic concept does not directly address nuclear-weapon deployments in Germany, and it calls for the alliance's disarmament decisions to be made in relation to Russia's short-range nuclear missiles, Der Spiegel reported yesterday (Der Spiegel, Oct. 11).

October 12, 2010
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Top defense and foreign officials from NATO member nations are set Thursday to discuss a proposed update to the military alliance's strategic concept that includes a new call for nuclear disarmament, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Oct. 1).