By Robert Johnson
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” French President Emmanuel Macron declared in a blunt interview with The Economist in November 2019. Europe stands on “the edge of a precipice”, he said, and needs to start thinking of itself strategically as a geopolitical power; otherwise, we will “no longer be in control of our destiny.”
That was two years after Donald Trump took over as the U.S. President. But the apprehensive environment prompted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to appoint the “NATO Reflection Group,” co-led by former German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere and former US State Department official Wess Mitchell. This was also in view of the fact that NATO’s “Strategic Concept” outlining threats and capabilities to counter them has not been revised since 2010.
“Nuclear deterrence” has been at the core of NATO’s mutual security guarantee and collective defence since its inception in 1949. The very first NATO Strategic Concept the same year referenced the requirement to “ensure the ability to carry out strategic bombing promptly by all means possible with all types of weapons without exception.”
Both the 2010 Strategic Concept and the 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review made clear that the current 30-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) seeks its security at the lowest possible level of forces and is fully committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.
The United States committed nuclear weapons to NATO in July 1953, with the first American theatre nuclear weapons arriving in Europe in September 1954. NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, which were already in place by the time negotiations for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) began in the 1960s, were codified by the United States and the Soviet Union as a precursor for the final agreed NPT text.
The United Kingdom has also extended its nuclear forces, including its current single submarine-based system and Continuous At-Sea Deterrent, to the protection of NATO Allies for over 50 years.
Since the height of the Cold War, it has unilaterally reduced the size of its land-based nuclear weapons stockpile by over 90 per cent, reducing the number of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and its reliance on nuclear weapons in strategy, stresses NATO.
Since progress on arms control and disarmament must take into account the prevailing international security environment, NATO argues, at the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO leaders recognised that conditions for achieving further disarmament were unfavourable given Russia’s aggressive actions and military build-up in recent years.
During the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, Heads of State and Government once again affirmed NATO’s long-standing commitment to nuclear deterrence, stating that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”
The NATO Reflection Group, set up by NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, presented its final report on November 20, 2020. Titled “NATO 2030: United for a New Era”, the report focuses on the challenges of today and tomorrow. These, it says, are “Russia’s aggressive actions, the threat of terrorism, cyber-attacks, emerging and disruptive technologies, the security impact of climate change, and the rise of China.”
Decisions on dealing with the challenges will be taken at the NATO Summit in Brussels on June 14, 2021, at NATO HQ in Brussels, Belgium. “This is a unique opportunity to reinforce NATO as the enduring embodiment of the bond between Europe and North America,” says a NATO press release.
The North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO’s principal political decision-making body, consisting of Permanent Representatives from its member countries, had this to say on the Extension of the New START Treaty:
NATO welcomes and fully supports the agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the New START Treaty for five years. NATO Allies believe the New START Treaty contributes to international stability, and Allies again express their strong support for its continued implementation and for early and active dialogue on ways to improve strategic stability.
Allies remain collectively determined to uphold existing disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation agreements and commitments. Allies support further arms control negotiations, with the aim of improving the security of the Alliance, taking into account the prevailing international security environment. Allies see the treaty’s extension as the beginning, not the end, of an effort to address nuclear threats and new and emerging challenges to strategic stability.
Even as the United States engages Russia in ways that advance our collective interests, NATO remains clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses. We will work in close consultation to address Russia’s aggressive actions, which constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.