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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 11, December 1996

NATO Expansion and Nuclear Disarmament: Are They Compatible?
By Paul C. Warnke


Without careful planning and accompanying nuclear security arrangements, the proposed eastward expansion of NATO could threaten the implementation of existing agreements on strategic arms control and reduction. Continued strong Russian opposition to such a move could also stall indefinitely any further progress on the nuclear disarmament at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

Constructive consideration of and response to Russian concerns, however, could defuse an otherwise explosive situation and even advance the cause of a nuclear-weapons-free world. This should involve an analysis of the role of NATO in the post-Cold War world and whether this role requires continued forward deployment of NATO nuclear forces. Some disarmament enthusiasts may contend that the time has come for NATO's demise, rather than its expansion. But the governments of the Alliance are unanimous in the view that NATO retains its cardinal importance to European security.

NATO's mission

Perhaps the most memorable statement of NATO's mission is attributed to Lord Ismay. He is quoted as saying at its inception that NATO was created for three purposes: "Keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." Certainly today, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the task of keeping Russian troops out of Western Europe is hardly a formidable, or even a realistic, one. And a resurgent militarized Germany can no longer be regarded as an alarming possibility. A unified Germany, with that unification having been accomplished with a great deal of help from the United States and other NATO members, is securely housed in Western Europe. Its two principal and most special relationships are those with France and the United States.

But despite these developments, there remain valid purposes for NATO's continuance. There is no question that the Western Europeans will feel far more comfortable with the Americans remaining in an enduring NATO alliance. They all still must live with Russia which, though smaller than the former Soviet Union, is nonetheless by far the largest country in Europe, with a remaining massive military potential and undergoing an uneasy transition.

NATO also still serves important security interests of the United States. In the absence of a strong Western military alliance, the United States would find itself faced with the choice between two extremes. It could opt to become the world policeman, unilaterally exercising its unparalleled military power to enforce a world order that would protect its enduring political, economic and security interests. Congressional resistance, reflecting general public opinion, would prevent adoption of any such policy and the funding needed to implement it would not be available. Indeed, American intervention in foreign conflict situations is unpopular even when it is part of a multilateral effort.

At the other extreme, the US could withdraw from any global responsibilities and adopt an isolationist posture. Unfortunately, this might meet with the approval of an appreciable segment of the American public. But world security would be irreparably injured. The best hope for maintaining world peace is for the United States to work in common with other like-minded nations with significant military capability. These, fortunately, can be found in the NATO membership. The collective military forces of NATO have demonstrated that they can work effectively together. No other institution has remotely comparable means, skill and cohesion.

As I see it, NATO is needed to deal with the emergency situations that almost surely will come up even as the former Cold War adversaries establish a useful, close and stable relationship. Success in pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait was achieved largely through the forces of the NATO countries.

The Bosnian calamity should be proof enough that NATO is and should continue to be a vital part of the international security apparatus. Tragically, when Tito died and the Soviet Union collapsed, the common fear that had held Yugoslavia together was replaced by historic and abiding animosities. Outside intervention became essential. It was air strikes conducted by NATO aircraft that brought Serbia into serious negotiations and it is NATO personnel that have made up the major share of the 60,000 troops that were deployed to implement the Dayton Accord. Russian participation in IFOR is important not only in this instance but as an augury of future cooperation. At the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting in Brussels on 10 December, NATO's Stabilization Force for Bosnia was approved. This follow-on force of 30,000 men will also contain Russian troops.

Regrettably, NATO was slow to act in the Balkan crisis. In an OpEd piece in the Washington Post in May of 1993, I complained about the failure of the Alliance to take prompt action. I concluded my piece by saying: "But a strong NATO response to the present crisis would more than justify its post-Cold War existence." I believe that this justification has now been provided. Now that NATO has shown itself willing to operate outside the area of the North Atlantic Treaty countries, it can and should be expected to move into action whenever European security is threatened as it was by the disorderly and barbaric breakup of Yugoslavia.

The initial central NATO purpose of collective defense against an attack on NATO countries in Europe and North America is now, happily, obsolete. But the interests of the Alliance could again be threatened by developments in central and southern Europe, in the Middle East, and even in Asia. NATO should also concentrate on developing policies and programs to deal collectively with terrorist activities conducted by, or sponsored by, rogue nations.

At some point, the United Nations itself may be given the capability to conduct peace enforcement operations with its own multinational forces. But given the disrepute from which the UN now suffers, this prospect is well in the future. For now at least, NATO forces are those that must primarily, though not exclusively, be relied upon to carry out peacemaking as distinguished from peacekeeping operations.

NATO's new willingness to do so was foreshadowed by the North Atlantic Council communique of December 1992, confirming NATO's readiness "to respond positively to initiatives that the UN Secretary General might take to seek Alliance assistance in the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions."

It might also be noted that common membership in NATO serves to curb conflict between NATO members Greece and Turkey. Without that bond the Cyprus situation could well have escalated by now into major hostilities. Indeed, one of the reasons given for urging the expansion of NATO to the east is that the prospect of NATO membership might serve to prevent conflict between nations that have substantial minority populations. Hungary and Romania have already agreed to honour existing national borders - a move intended to further their chances of admission.

For all these reasons, I am quite confident that NATO will endure. The principal immediate questions are whether and how and when NATO membership should be expanded and how its military forces should be structured.

NATO expansion: merits, dangers and consequences

The idea of expanding NATO to include central European nations sparked an immediate negative reaction from Russia, whose leaders felt that its security would be threatened by the movement of NATO military forces, and particularly nuclear weapons, closer to its borders. They were prompt to caution that such a move would seriously interfere with the implementation of existing arms control agreements and could foreclose continuation of the process of nuclear disarmament.

Russia's former national security chief, Alexander Lebed, said in his first visit to the west in early October that hasty enlargement of NATO could doom the already doubtful ratification of START II - the treaty cutting US and Russian forces to 3,500 strategic warheads each. He claimed it could also endanger the negotiated CFE limits on conventional forces in Europe or even the INF Treaty eliminating intermediate range nuclear missiles. Mr. Lebed asserted that the most urgent action required to ensure Europe's new security environment was to reach a formal agreement between Moscow and the West spelling out all rights and obligations. He said that: "Success will come only when the West realises that partnership must be based on equal security because Russia represents half of Europe." Although he is now out of office, we may well hear from General Lebed again in some capacity. In any event, his comments merit serious consideration.

More recently, at the two-day conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin asserted on 2 December:

"We have decided clearly, and clearly declare now, our firm opposition to the North Atlantic Alliance's plans to move itself and its military infrastructure toward our territory... Is it not clear that the appearance of new dividing lines would lead to a worsening of the whole geopolitical situation for the entire world?"

A few days earlier, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov warned that NATO expansion into what was once considered a buffer zone on Russia's western periphery could lead to a new rearmament campaign and to the targeting of Russian nuclear missiles at States in Eastern Europe.

Were this confrontation to continue and intensify, the progress made at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference in the spring of 1995, which led to a decision to extend the Treaty indefinitely, and by the Conference on Disarmament in preparing a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which was overwhelmingly approved by the UN General Assembly last September, could be stopped and even reversed. The non-nuclear-weapon States participating in the Conference on Disarmament have been insistent that the nuclear powers live up to their commitment to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Indeed, India blocked the formal adoption and transmission of the CTBT by the Conference on Disarmament because of the failure of the nuclear powers to adopt a specific timetable for total denuclearization.

A strongly adverse Russian reaction to NATO expansion thus could stall the entire agenda of the Conference on Disarmament. Accordingly, the priority task must be to work out a mutually satisfactory Charter between NATO and Russia. Absent such an accord, the incorporation of three or more, but certainly not all, Central and Eastern European States could in fact lead to instability and less security for those not granted membership.

Western European leaders have made it clear that they will not vote for the inclusion of any former Soviet republics in NATO. In the recent session of the UN General Assembly, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister echoed Russian concerns about any movement of NATO nuclear forces to the military bases of new Eastern European members. He said that "the possible deployment of nuclear weapons on the territories of our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe is a matter of great concern to us." American officials, moreover, have confirmed that there are no plans and no prospects in the foreseeable future for offering NATO membership to the Baltic States - Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. For many years, they were referred to correctly as the 'Captive Nations.' Latvia and Estonia have very large Russian minorities, and a separate chunk of Russia, Kaliningrad, is imbedded between Lithuania and Poland.

As an immediate step, therefore, and whether or not NATO is to expand, the current NATO nuclear doctrine must be revised and all the remaining nuclear forces deployed for NATO support should be eliminated.

Reform of NATO's nuclear doctrine: an urgent priority

NATO's present Strategic Concept was set forth in an agreement with the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Rome on 7-8 November, 1991. While noting that the new strategic environment created by political changes "which have radically improved the security environment in which the North Atlantic Alliance seeks to achieve its objectives," the NATO leaders reaffirmed that:

"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."

Subsequent NATO nuclear policy statements have specified that this deterrence and security require the visible deployment of tactical nuclear forces at NATO military bases.

As a prelude to NATO expansion, this anachronistic Strategic Concept should be brought up-to-date. The Rome agreement of November 1991, while asserting that "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," went on to state: "There is no requirement for nuclear artillery or ground-launched short-range nuclear missiles and they will be eliminated."

Accordingly, the only tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe for NATO support are the bombs on dual-capable aircraft. Some American officials have argued that NATO must reserve the option to deploy such nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members because otherwise they would be consigned to a second-class status. In his speech at the Ministerial Meeting on 10 December, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher went a long way toward repudiating this argument and revising the outdated NATO Strategic Concept. In a significant effort to allay Russian concerns, he announced:

"We are declaring that in today's Europe, NATO has no intention, no plan, and no need to station nuclear weapons on the territory of any new members and we are affirming that no NATO nuclear forces are presently on alert."

More can and should be done to update NATO military doctrine. The NATO countries should recognize that there is no reason for any forward deployment of nuclear weapons. Norway, Denmark and Spain have never accepted such deployment and, of course, the Western European countries of Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland are not even members of NATO.

Tactical nuclear weapons were stationed in NATO countries pursuant to the doctrine of "flexible response." Under this doctrine, a massive assault by the Warsaw Pact, headed by the Soviet Union, could be countered initially by the use of tactical nuclear weapons. With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself, the doctrine and the nuclear forces intended to implement it are provocative anachronisms of no value in NATO's new role.

In his 10 December speech Secretary Christopher stressed the importance of including Russia as a "full partner" in building a new Europe "free of tyranny, division and war." He said that "a fundamentally new division between the new Russia and the new NATO...should be expressed in a Charter between NATO and Russia." The next day, at a meeting with NATO's sixteen Foreign Ministers, Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov responded affirmatively. While stating "we are sticking to our negative position toward the enlargement of NATO," Minister Primakov agreed to negotiations on a new Charter to set forth the terms of the new relationship. NATO's Secretary General Javier Solana said at the meeting that the goal is to complete a Charter by the time the NATO Heads of State meet in Madrid next July, when they plan to announce which countries are to become new members by 1999.

In this vitally important comprehensive agreement between NATO and the Russian Federation, one element should be a provision that there will be no deployment of nuclear weapons outside of national borders. Such a proposal was made by China's Foreign Minister at the latest session of the UN General Assembly. And with the recent return of the last SS-25 nuclear warheads from Belarus, Russia now has no nuclear weapons outside its own borders. Britain, France and the United States can present no legitimate argument that their security interests require foreign deployment of their nuclear weapons.

Conclusion: Denuclearizing NATO and accelerating nuclear disarmament

Such a provision in a NATO/Russia Charter could do a good deal to ease Russian concern about expanded NATO membership. Moreover, it could also be characterized as a step toward meeting the commitment in the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the nuclear powers will move toward the complete elimination of nuclear weaponry. The NPT extension decision and the CTBT would not have been possible without this undertaking.

In addition, negotiations should be initiated in the Conference on Disarmament to implement the recommendation of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons to get rid of tactical nuclear weapons entirely. As continuing evidence of its commitment to denigrate and eliminate nuclear weapons, the United States should also use the Conference on Disarmament as a forum for announcing an unconditional policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and should urge that Russia do the same. The Soviet Union and its successor, the Russian Federation, had an announced no-first-use policy until recent years. The United States could use the total denuclearization of NATO, which would leave Russia even less exposed than it was prior to consideration of NATO expansion, to argue in the Conference on Disarmament that Russia should return to its former policy of no-first-use. China has continued to declare that it will never use its nuclear arsenal first and would do so only in response to nuclear attack. The United Kingdom and France should then be expected to join the other nuclear powers in a No-First-Use Treaty.

The overall impact of such a course of action would be to dissipate the disruptive potential of NATO expansion and further the adoption and fulfillment of a rich agenda at the Conference on Disarmament.

During his distinguished career as a senior US arms control official, Paul C. Warnke served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), and chief US strategic nuclear arms control negotiator. He is currently a member of ACDA's Scientific and Policy Advisory Committee.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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