Sunday, February 10, 2008

NATO and Nuclear Weapons

Two weeks ago, we reported on a recently released 150-page manifesto in which five retired military strategists from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands declared that “the first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.” As noted at the time, the proposal is madness.

Fortunately, there are important voices within NATO who are thinking about the future of the alliance’s nuclear policy in a much saner way. During the NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brussels last December, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Ghar Støre called on NATO countries to do more for disarmament. In the words of Steinmeier:

We in NATO must again give disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation the attention they once had!

NATO has in the past always done well to emphasize not only its military potential but also its readiness to enter into dialogue and cooperation – on matters including disarmament. This approach has paved the way for many of the Alliance’s political successes.
An important underlying premise of Steinmeier and Støre’s initiative is that relegitimizing nuclear weapons in NATO defense planning is the wrong way to contend with the diffuse nature of 21st century security threats. This strikes me as correct, and I would only add that loose talk about the first use of nuclear weapons is also likely to further poison relations between NATO and Russia. Steinmeier and Støre’s initiative provides a much sounder platform upon which to begin repairing East-West relations on the one hand, and achieve important arms control objectives on the other.

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