A Nonprovocative Defence Posture: Why Canada should start the ball rolling at the NATO review

Tasneem Jamal

Robin Collins

Robin Collins is a Steering Committee member, Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination?

A member of NATO needs to mount the pulpit and declare the time has come for NATO to end its reliance on nuclear deterrence doctrine and to develop a nonprovocative defence posture as its replacement. Among NATO members at this December’s review conference, Canada may be best placed to start that dialogue.

Abolitionists, NPT signatories and NATO member states agree that there is an obligation to proceed immediately towards complete nuclear weapons abolition. But all NATO members continue to support by signature a strategic concept that makes nuclear weapons essential to defence and “the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies”.[1]

Few in NATO are willing to declare in private and none have yet been willing to declare publicly and consistently that NATO doctrine urgently needs to be changed.[2] There have been none in NATO willing to champion the cause of nonprovocative defence as the sustainable necessary substitute for nuclear deterrence doctrine. There is an urgent need for governments to stimulate broad public debate about doctrine.

Why Now?

The 2000 NATO Review may be a rare opportunity or an historic catastrophe because not only is there great risk of the nonproliferation regime unraveling, but nobody believes the Alliance consensus is real. The conflict of conscience with doctrine among NATO members is in evidence because so much has changed and so much is currently in transition. The list of contemporary turmoil is long and familiar, but includes:

• the apparent replacement of cold war contention with the invention of “rogue state” threats;
• the historic World Court opinion of 1996;
• the NATO vote on the NAC resolution;
• the creation of the NATO 5;
• the appearance of ESDI;
• nuclear weapons testing by India and Pakistan;
• Russia’s regression in nuclear weapons posture;
• major polls indicating broad support for abolition;
• the US failure to ratify the CTBT;
• the international reaction to Ballistic Missile Defence;
• US-Russian collaboration for Y2K;
• expansion of NATO and a potential watering down of opposition to nuclear weapons;
• an NPT review calling for an “unequivocal undertaking” to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons;
• the Florence NATO conference that called for a “comprehensive and integrated review” of NATO nuclear policy;
• new NATO policy authorizing use of nuclear weapons against the threat of chemical or biological weapons.

Why Nonprovocative Defence?

Common security arose in response to superpower rivalry and arms trade escalation that follows unilateral military armament practices. It was obvious that nations should consider the effects of policies that might cause concern from those they perceived as rivals. This framework was embraced by many states in Western Europe (including NATO members) and the Soviet Union of Mikhail Gorbachev. Common security, now a term in broad circulation internationally, is the basis of nonprovocative defence. The essence of the nonprovocative defence posture involves:

• recognizing threats as multilateral and multidimensional;
• meeting those threats with nonprovocative defensive measures;
• a preference for non-violent responses to conflict;
• striving to prevent threats before they erupt;
• formulating security policy that is as transparent and participatory as possible.[3]

A nonprovocative defence posture is fundamental to turn away from nuclear deterrence doctrine and to sustain the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is impossible for nuclear weapons abolition to occur without a replacement posture “in waiting”, and it is unlikely that a shift from nuclear deterrence to conventional deterrence (while a likely necessary interim stage) can be maintained indefinitely. This necessitates the step-by-step scale-down process abolitionists have argued for, as well as the promotion and development of robust alternative postures.[4]

The end of deterrence doctrine requires a major restructuring of defence assumptions, posture, weapons, training and public participation. It is a dramatic and entirely rational departure from NATO’s present dangerous predicament based on irrational doctrine, military superiority, spiraling escalation, bluff and intimidation. The alternatives are hardly new, and have been supported by several governments over the last fifteen years, including: Norway, Finland, Sweden, former Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, Austria, Ireland, and within Eastern Europe.[5]

Such advocacy requires a great deal of leadership such as shown by South Africa in its abandonment of nuclear weapons capacity (completed in 1991) and integration of nonprovocative defence into national defence policy.[6]

The objective here is not to elaborate on the structure and design of a nonprovocative defence posture (which are developed in detail elsewhere)[7], but to indicate the importance of its consideration at this coming NATO review.

Why Canada?

Why would Canada seize the initiative on this question if Canadian policy is so ambiguous in its championing of nuclear weapons abolition? Indeed no country, including Canada, publicly argues for No First Use policy these days – a position that bites deeply into deterrence doctrine.[8] If ambiguity is a reflection of strategic planning by Canada, this review may be the opportunity to show our cards face out, and to call publicly for popular support for a reconstructed NATO strategic concept that 1, eschews nuclear deterrence doctrine and 2, ultimately includes a nonprovocative defence posture. Someone has to lead. Common security principles are not inimical to the traditions of a middle power or loyal ally, peacekeeper and honest broker.[9] Expectations and stakes are high at this NATO review, and while her slate is imperfect, Canada’s is still the track record to beat at the December review:

• Canada is the initiator of the human security agenda — an offshoot of common security — and is a recognized leading advocate of the global ban against landmines and the International Criminal Court. These were two major campaigns that required courage and leadership and that are successful. Government took diplomatic risks but relied on public trust and support and the advocacy of NGOs that were seized by the issues.

• Canada is well placed as a close ally of NATO’s pre-eminent nuclear weapons power.

• Canada called for this re-evaluation of NATO’s strategic concept. Having done so and in consideration of NPT obligations, Canada is expected to produce a significant argument.

• Canada is friendly to the NATO 5, the New Agenda Coalition, and the middle powers that continue to work well together with international nongovernmental organizations.

• Polls indicate that the vast majority of Canadians want their government not just to oppose nuclear weapons, but to lead in the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.


1. Paragraph 62, NATO Strategic Concept, April 1999.

2. Karel Koster argues in Disarmament Diplomacy, #49, August 2000 that a revised version of the classified NATO document (MC 400/2) retains NATO’s option to use nuclear weapons against states armed with biological or chemical weapons, even if they have signed the NPT, and that this document was UNANIMOUSLY adopted by NATO members on May 16, 2000. See also note 1 above.

3. Michael Shuman et al.: “Alternative Security”, In Context, see http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC20/Shuman.htm

4. See the Canberra Commission report for steps; see Middle Powers Initiative Paper “Re-thinking NATO’s Nuclear Policy” paragraph 4.5, Rob Green’s Naked Nuclear Emperor page 73-77 for discussion of nonprovocative defence, Mike Moore: “Unintended Consequences” in the Jan-Feb issue of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for discussion on the risk of conventional deterrence sliding back to nuclear deterrence; nuclear weapons as “deterrence on the cheap”.

5. Some examples of NPD advocacy in Shuman: “Alternative Security”, In Context (see note 3 for WWW location).

6. See Laurie Nathan: “With Open Arms, Confidence and Security Building Measures in Southern Africa”, 1993 (http://ccrweb.ccr.uct.ac.za/staff_papers/laurie_csbms.html)

7. See an extensive bibliography in Bjorn Moller: Dictionary of Alternative Defense, 1995, p. 371-552; Nonprovocative Defense Resources website, regularly updated: http://www3.sympatico.ca/lothcol/npd

8. See Karel Koster: “An Uneasy Alliance” in Disarmament Diplomacy, issue #49 (available at www.acronym.org.uk/49npt.htm)

9. In 1994, a study entitled “Canada 21: Canada and Common Security in the Twenty-First Century” called for a major overhaul of the Canadian armed forces to reflect changed post-cold war conditions. Chaired by Janice Stein (who has done significant research into deterrence doctrine), it was released by a group of well-known Canadians including Donald Macdonald, Maurice Strong, John Polanyi, former Conservative Party leader Robert Stanfield, and former chief of Defence staff Admiral Robert Falls.

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