NATO and Nuclear Weapons
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Starting the Debate
NATO Ministers prepare for Strasbourg-Kehl
NATO Defence and Foreign Ministers met during February and March to prepare
for the Alliance's sixtieth anniversary Strasbourg-Kehl summit to be held
on 3 - 4 April. But with the Obama administration yet to complete key
political appointments, many key decisions - such as possible revision
of the Alliance's Strategic Concept - may be left to a future summit in
2010/11. The summit takes place against a background of ongoing disagreements
over the missile defence deals struck with Eastern European allies in
the dying days of the Bush administration.
Previewing Summit decision-making
NATO's Heads of State and Government meeting in Strasbourg-Kehl are expected
to adopt a Declaration on Atlantic Security, which will form the basis
for a revision of the Strategic Concept likely be negotiated between Strasbourg
and the next Summit to be held in late 2010 or early 2011. Other matters
to be discussed will also include the appointment of a new Secretary General;
relations with Russia; the future of the NATO Response Force; and the
reentry of France into NATO military structures. Major decisions will
need to be made on the future of Alliance operations in Afghanistan.
Following the Ministerial meetings, President Sarkozy has announced that
he would like France to rejoin NATO's integrated military command, from
which General de Gaulle withdrew France in 1966. The French National Assembly
will vote on this on 17 March, and despite opposition from left and right,
the President is expected to prevail. France will be rewarded with a couple
of major NATO commands for its generals. Other practical effects will
be limited, since France has participated fully in Alliance missions since
the 1990s, but the decision will give France a greater say in the rewriting
of the Strategic Concept over the next two years.
A new US administration
The Obama administration has significantly changed the tone of US dealings
with its European allies, softening the stance on a number of controversial
issues, and taking a considerably more upbeat approach to the trans-Atlantic
partnership than the Bush administration. The theme is that 'Allies matter'.
This is not least the case with Afghanistan, where the administration
has consistently stated that the US will do more, but will expect more
from its allies. President Obama has moved to reduce, and by 2011 eliminate,
the US military presence in Iraq. Having moved to end an unpopular war,
he has at the same time stated his intention to win the 'good' war in
Afghanistan. He is pinning his national security credentials on this task,
and is willing to gamble the future credibility of the Alliance on the
success of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in
The US is devising a new regional strategy, in which it wishes to secure
Russian support for its supply routes (which it hopes would be safer than
using Pakistan); involve Pakistan in ending the current safe havens for
the Taliban in Pakistan and the Afghan border areas; engage Iran in discussions
about security along its borders; and increase troop levels and change
operations to bring security to as much of the country as possible. It
wishes to have as much support from NATO as possible. This is already
proving difficult, as countries such as Germany are reluctant to commit
extra troops or to relax the 'caveats' that restrict the uses to which
many countries forces can be put inside Afghanistan. This will be the
principle business of the Summit, and it is still too early to say exactly
how it will go.
For the Obama administration achieving full NATO support is critical,
given the political capital the President is investing in success in Afghanistan.
It is also of considerable importance for NATO. NATO Secretary General
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has long talked of the Alliance as becoming a 'global
security provider', allowing the Alliance to operate under a UN or regional
mandate as a peace enforcer or peace keeper across the globe. This would
be done in cooperation with partners like Australia or Japan. Countries
like the UK, Germany and others support this vision, as does the US. But
success in Afghanistan is a pre-requisite for going down this route and
NATO leaders are likely to spend most time in Strasbourg on the Afghan
The Obama administration moved quickly to install Hillary Clinton as
Secretary of State, and to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.
Beyond that, it has not yet filled key roles relating to NATO, including
its new Ambassador. This has impeded the administration's ability to conduct
its ongoing review of NATO policy, meaning that decisions on issues relating
to the Alliance itself will be made closer to the Summit.
Relations with Russia are also critical. Hillary Clinton has already
moved quickly to try to press the 'reset button' on the US-Russian relationship.
This has had an immediate impact on NATO, which in the long term will
undoubtedly be positive. In the short term, however, it has left some
NATO members in Eastern Europe concerned about what NATO is for and whether
the US is ready to stand by them in the way they want.
The US needs Russia to encourage central Asian states to support the
Alliance's military presence in Afghanistan; just as it needs Russia to
allow resupply. The US also wishes negotiate a follow-on to the START
I treaty provisions for verification, which expire at the end of 2009.
The administration also wants to negotiate an extension to the Moscow
treaty, and to formalize it better, probably at much lower warhead levels.
None of this will be possible if NATO and Russia aren't talking, and if
the US is working with NATO partners to deploy missile defences to Eastern
Missile Defence Divisions
The deals by the Czech Republic and Poland with the Bush administration
to agree to allow a radar and missile interceptors respectively to be
deployed on their soil are now under review. Both the administration and
Congress have said that they will only move forward if the project can
be proven to work, and to provide value for money. Neither is the case.
The project also is vehemently opposed by Russia, which has in the past
suggested that if the interceptors are deployed in Poland then it will
deploy short range nuclear missiles to Kaliningrad to target the new facilities.
The new US administration has no interest in a stand-off like this. The
Czech and Polish governments, together with the Baltic States, see NATO's
key role as being to defend them from Russia. This not how the US and
western Europeans see the future of NATO. So the US is not willing to
hold hostage its wider relations with Russia to this deployment.
Further, to the consternation of some Eastern European officials, the
US does not seem to be willing to push the Russians on Georgia at the
cost of further discussions. The US has forced its allies to accept the
restarting of the NATO-Russia Council (over a threatened veto by Lithuania),
and is moving forward on all fronts to improve relations with Moscow.
Polish and Czech officials suggest that they are left wondering if they
can trust the US to defend them, if they pull out of the BMD deals. However,
other voices accuse the two governments of being na´ve in their dealings
with Bush, since they clearly failed to factor in a change of administration
in their negotiations with the old administration.
One element of the Defence Ministers discussions centred on a British
proposal intended to calm Eastern European fears. Britain has proposed
a NATO Response Force for territorial defence, which could be rapidly
deployed at need in Eastern Europe or elsewhere inside NATO territory.
This is supposed to convey the message to Eastern European allies that
the Alliance Article V mutual defence guarantee is solid, whatever other
missions the Alliance takes on. The newer members of the Alliance still
view this as NATO's main task - in contrast with almost twenty years of
internal NATO debate (of which they were not part), from the 'out of area
or out of business' discussion in the 1990s that saw NATO going into the
former Yugoslavia; and has continued with NATO operating in Afghanistan,
off Somalia and in Darfur, and building towards a new global role.
All of this will impact on the negotiation of the Declaration on Atlantic
Security. Ministers had input on a text prepared for the Secretary General,
and Ambassadors are now doing the detailed negotiating. The aim is for
the document to be a kind of public terms of reference for the future
Strategic Concept debate, and to lay out the principle values and tasks
that the Alliance supports.
All of this suggests that the Strasbourg-Kehl summit will celebrate past
achievements, and deal with current problems, but the major conceptual
issues about the future of NATO - from the Strategic Concept, to the NATO-Russia
relationship - will once again be kicked down the road.
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