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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 33, December 1998 - January 1999

NATO Nuclear Doctrine Discussed

The issue of NATO's nuclear doctrine, and in particular its doctrinal commitment to keeping open the option of using nuclear weapons first in any conflict, featured with unusual prominence in meetings of Alliance Foreign and Defence Ministers in December. Germany and Canada led the way in seeking to have the issue aired in advance of the planned adoption by NATO of a new Strategic Concept at its 50th Anniversary Washington Summit in April. Extracts from relevant statements and press conferences follow. See Documents and Sources for official communiqués. See last issue for background and comment on the German Government's advocacy of a no-first-use policy.


Foreign Minister [leader of the Green Party, junior coalition members in the Social Democrat led Government of Gerhard Schroeder] Joschka Fischer, 7 December, the day before the meeting of Alliance Foreign Ministers: "[W]e should ask ourselves at the threshold of the 21st century whether our instruments still fit a changed security environment. ... NATO has never in the past imposed taboos on thinking. That was its strength and should remain so... We are going to talk about everything. We support step-by-step changes in the Alliance and [we are] not against the Alliance..."

Foreign Minister Fischer on 9 December, following the discussions: "NATO is a consensus organization and the nuclear powers said they thought differently [about changing nuclear doctrine..."

Former Christian Democrat Chancellor Helmut Kohl, interview in the weekly Welt am Sonntag magazine, 14 December: "Everyone knows that we West Germans were the main beneficiaries of the Americans' nuclear protection during the Cold War... If one knows what the Americans did for us, then one also knows what impression a debate launched by Germany about first use of nuclear weapons makes in America."


Extracts from the statement to the 8 December Foreign Ministers' meeting by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy: "The danger of the proliferation of nuclear arms - the most feared weapons of mass destruction - has re-emerged with frightening clarity. ... At the same time, new rationales are emerging for retaining nuclear weapons, impeding disarmament efforts and fuelling the claims of proliferators. NATO must be part of the answer to these problems. This will require new initiatives, new problems and new thinking. ... We no longer face the overwhelming conventional threat once posed by the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union and its 350,000 soldiers in East Germany. This has implications for Alliance strategies. Now, more than ever, any discussion of using Alliance nuclear capabilities - even in retaliation - raises very difficult questions of means, proportionality and effectiveness that cause us significant concerns. In Canada's view, this discussion has no foregone conclusions. However, undertaking a comprehensive dialogue now would demonstrate to our public and to others that we take seriously the need to update the Alliance and its responses to the new dynamics of a changed world. Canada would like to see the Alliance adopt a strategic vision that addresses all of these nuclear, biological and chemical weapons concerns constructively."

United Kingdom

Press Conference by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, 8 December: "[O]n the question of nuclear policy, we reviewed our [own] nuclear policy thoroughly in the course of the Strategic Defence Review [published July 1998]. ... We affirmed in the Strategic Defence Review our commitment to the present nuclear posture of NATO and we see no need for a change in that posture."

United States

Press Conference by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, 8 December: "Well, the subject [of nuclear doctrine] did come up and Foreign Minister Fischer did raise the issue and talked about it. I think that what I got out of the discussion was a reaffirmation of our current NATO nuclear strategy. Obviously, at the end of the Cold War there had been a re-examination, and the strategy was changed in '91 and was reaffirmed as recently as last year. So we do not believe that a review is necessary. We do believe that we have the right nuclear strategy, and at the same time we all discussed the fact that we are involved in a fairly radical disarmament program through the START negotiations. So I think we all felt pretty comfortable with where we are."

Reports: US rebuffs German NATO nuclear change bid, Reuters, 8 December; Address by the honourable Lloyd Axworthy to the North Atlantic Council meeting, NATO web-site http://www.nato.int/docu/speech/1998/s981208i.htm, 8 December; Press Conference, North Atlantic Council, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 8 December; Germany's Fischer challenges NATO to change, Reuters, 8 December; Kohl slams Germany over NATO flap, Associated Press, 14 December; Press Conference by US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, US State Department, 8 December.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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