On 23 and 24 May 2011, ISIS Europe, along with BASIC, ACA and IFSH has organized a two-day roundtable in Brussels looking at the prospects for change in the revision of NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture. While the premise of this gathering of national representatives and International Staff officials from NATO, academics and NGO activists was to specifically debate the treatment of nuclear policy in the upcoming Defense and Deterrent Posture Review (DDPR), it proved difficult to clearly separate the mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities needed to deter current and future threats to Alliance Security that will play out in the DPPR; and indeed what these threats would look like.
How can NATO reconcile its endorsement for a world free of nuclear weapons while stating that the Alliance will remain a nuclear one as long as nuclear weapons exist? Some allies advance that while NATO’s commitment to disarmament is legitimate, it must not impede the objective of the DDPR – that NATO’s range of capabilities are adapted to the prevailing security environment – and that other competent bodies are better-placed to advance the disarmament agenda.
However, others make the case that the US tactical nuclear weapons deployed on the territory of several European countries have no military use and are “legacy systems that are security liabilities other than assets”. Others still see them as an integral part of the “glue” – solidarity and cohesion through burden-sharing- that links North America to European security. One participant summed up the two camps as “the geopolitically exposed +France and the rest”.
Looming over the debate is NATO’s relationship with Russia, and to a lesser extent, the threat perception posed by Iran. While a US participant stated that “we are not motivated by Russia”, other Allies may not share this view, especially those closer to Russia- which has shown no willingness to negotiate on tactical nuclear weapon reductions in a NATO framework.
One point was often repeated: the status quo, with the Allies divided over the future of these weapons, cannot go on indefinitely. However, it was also stressed that unilateral moves to remove weapons from the territory of implicated Allies would have negative consequences for the Alliance. Hopefully day two of the conference will suggest middle ground.