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Revising NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture: prospects for change (Day 2)

Day 2 of the conference included sessions looking at “tactical nuclear weapons and arms control”, “What deterrence and defence posture for NATO in tomorrow’s security environment?”, and “Perspectives from civil society representatives – approaches to the challenges facing NATO in determining its nuclear posture”.   

Posture Review or just posturing?

A US Participant emphasized that the need for consensus among the 28 Allies on the Defence and Deterrence Posture Review (DDPR) “constrains us greatly”; that this was a very serious issue on which failure to achieve consensus could bring about the demise of the Alliance. This line was echoed by other representatives of NATO delegations, who called the DPPR a “Herculean” task which requires extreme prudence and patience and must be done at 28. Indeed, the high level of participation at this roundtable by senior national representatives to NATO attests to this: it was suggested that these participants were using this occasion (and other gatherings around Europe with the same organizers) as practice for the real DDPR, as an occasion to feel out other delegations’ positions and gauge reaction from civil society.

Several participants put forth that the outcome of the DDPR must provide the Alliance with the capabilities to deal with current trends and “strategic surprises”, or in other words, the Alliance must be capable of “deterring those who can be deterred, defend against those who cannot, and manage consequences” in the event that deterrence and defence fail. But the debate was not so much about the objective of a successful posture review than about the “magical recipe” – the appropriate mix of capabilities, including missile defence – that will enable NATO to continue to defend itself and deter others in a world where new challenges have emerged for the Alliance.

When glue becomes old, it doesn’t stick anymore”

Burden-sharing/solidarity in the nuclear realm within NATO represented by the forward deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Europe is often described as the part of the “glue” which holds the Alliance together, or fosters cohesion. However, to what degree do TNW still fulfill this function in the face of increasing public opposition and decreasing legitimacy? Furthermore, what role can tactical nuclear weapons play in deterring against non-state actors, and cyber criminals or defending critical infrastructure and assuring energy security? If these TNW arrangements were modified in whatever way, which other arrangements might ensure Alliance cohesion? Options cited included the re-affirmation of Article 5 in the 2010 Strategic Concept, missile defence, and the continued presence of US troops and bases on European soil. However, the parameters of a missile defense system – particularly how Russia will fit in – are still to be defined (although several participants expressed skepticism that European Allies would go through with the system once it came time to “reach into their wallets”) and the US is moving forward with plans to further reduce troop presence in Europe.

Outlook

With several Allied representatives expressing skepticism that a potential reduction of TNW’s function in contributing to Alliance defence and deterrence could be mitigated and positing that the nuclear deterrent would remain the supreme guarantor of Alliance security , the DDPR looks to be a daunting task at this stage in the process. Other Allies see promise in missile defence, collaborative security and advances in precision conventional weapons. Areas of “watered-down consensus” include general support for the Prague/Global Zero agenda (albeit lukewarm at times) and general agreement that it is essential to reconcile the need for Alliance cohesion through reassurance with the need to contribute to moving forward the global disarmament agenda. “Managing expectations” is the mantra and the DDPR debate is ultimately about the confidence Allies have in each other. While the Alliance may not be on the “verge of collapse” as some participants warned, it is clear that Allies have a long and difficult road ahead of them.

The roundtable was organised by ACA, BASIC, IFSH and ISIS with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. A full report will soon be available from http://isis-europe.org/.

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This entry was posted on 25/05/2011 by in Conferences and tagged , , , .

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