Implementing the Global Nuclear Disarmament Agenda: A Challenge to NATO

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor December 2000 Volume 21 Issue 4

In September, The Simons Foundation in partnership with Project Ploughshares convened a Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence, and Alternative Security Arrangements, bringing together civil society experts, Canadian government officials, and a number of representatives of other countries to discuss the key nuclear weapons issues facing Canada and the North Atlantic community. The purpose of the Consultation was to identify and build support for Canadian initiatives to advance nuclear disarmament and alternative security arrangements, globally and in the NATO context.

The following article, adapted from the Consultation report delivered to Canadian government officials on November 28, 2000 by The Simons Foundation and Project Ploughshares, draws on key points and recommendations discussed at the Consultation and raised in papers submitted beforehand by the participants. These views are broadly representative of those expressed by the majority of Consultation participants, but this report is not intended to and does not represent the views of all participants on all subjects.

The nuclear disarmament agenda

Among the most positive disarmament developments of recent years has been the renewed attention given to the desirability and feasibility of abolishing nuclear weapons. The debate over the future of nuclear weapons is far from resolved, and the Nuclear-Weapon States are still far from committed to immediate action towards abolition. But the broad outlines of the global nuclear disarmament agenda are now widely accepted.

The Final Document of the Sixth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was adopted by consensus in May 2000, incorporated a substantive set of principles and measures to guide future nuclear disarmament activities. These included “an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals” B without specifying when that might be accomplished, however B and support for a series of interim steps, including “concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems” (commonly known as “de-alerting”) and “a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimise the risk that these weapons ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination.”

This global agenda was strongly reaffirmed at the United Nations General Assembly a number of weeks after the Consultation when a resolution directly based on the Final Document, the “New Agenda” resolution, received the overwhelming support of member states. The success of the NPT Review Conference and the subsequent passage of the “New Agenda” resolution mean that a near-consensus now exists on the outlines of the global nuclear disarmament agenda.

What remains, and it is a huge task, is to translate that agenda into action B to consolidate the progress made, to fill in the details where agreement exists only on principles, to extend the agenda to include additional important measures, and to ensure that it is implemented fully and expeditiously.

Our fundamental recommendation is that Canada should give active leadership internationally to the elaboration and full and timely implementation of the global nuclear disarmament agenda. We commend the efforts that the Canadian government already has undertaken in this regard and we urge it to place even higher priority on preserving and advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda.


NATO nuclear policy

Our primary recommendation with respect to NATO is that NATO nuclear policy must be made to conform to the requirements of international law and to the nuclear disarmament obligations undertaken by NATO member states in the Non-Proliferation Treaty and reaffirmed and elaborated upon in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. The most basic of these commitments is, of course, the obligation to eliminate all nuclear weapons. NATO policy must be made to conform B and be seen to conform B with this obligation.

We recommend that Canada and all NATO states work to ensure that NATO:

Affirm its commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons and commit itself to reducing the political role of nuclear weapons. Current NATO policy statements that characterize nuclear weapons as “essential” and assert an intent to retain them for “the foreseeable future” are incompatible with NATO member states= obligation to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Canadian government should ensure that such references are eliminated from future NATO policy statements and should continue to place high priority on efforts to “make our nuclear posture in NATO coherent with our non-proliferation and disarmament posture.”

Immediately disavow all threat or use of nuclear weapons in response to any non-nuclear weapon threat or use, as a step toward the total disavowal of nuclear possession and use. The position of the Canadian government is that “the only function of nuclear weapons is to deter the use by others of nuclear weapons, notwithstanding that nuclear weapons may have a deterrent effect in the mind of a potential aggressor.” Current NATO nuclear policy does not reflect this restricted view of the utility of nuclear weapons. Indeed, NATO=s recently updated Military Committee Directive for Military Implementation of Alliance Strategy (MC 400/2) reportedly allows for, or is ambiguous on, the use of nuclear weapons to deter or respond to chemical or biological weapon threats. Such a policy B even ambiguity concerning such a policy B contradicts the Negative Security Assurances that the Nuclear-Weapon States have made and seriously undermines nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. States agreed at the NPT Review Conference to pursue “a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies.” Policies that assert a continuing role for nuclear weapons in defending against non-nuclear threats constitute an especially formidable obstacle to progress towards nuclear abolition, since they imply an enduring requirement for nuclear weapons. Canada should provide leadership within NATO in advocating restriction of the role of nuclear weapons solely to deterrence of nuclear use by others. Canada should also be consistent in opposing less restrictive nuclear policies and should not join “consensus” decisions in favour of such policies.

Adopt a formal no-first-use policy. Following on from the previous point, Canada also should advocate adoption of a formal no-first-use policy for NATO. (Some participants at the Consultation argued against making this a priority, since a no-first-use policy would affect the global policies of the NATO Nuclear-Weapon States, not just their NATO policies, and they might therefore resist addressing this issue through the NATO forum. No participants argued that Canada should not support a no-first-use policy, however.)

Remove tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons from Europe. There is no necessity or justification for such weapons in Europe, and their continued presence sends a highly undesirable message about the legitimacy and importance of nuclear weapons in national defence policies. The NPT Review Conference agreed to support “the further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons.” Canada should advocate the removal of these weapons and a commitment never to redeploy such weapons in Europe.

Terminate nuclear-sharing arrangements. The nuclear-sharing arrangements currently in place between the United States and six Non-Nuclear-Weapon State (NNWS) members of NATO violate the spirit (and, many argue, the letter) of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Canada should advocate the termination of these arrangements. As a contribution to this goal Canada should encourage the participants in these arrangements to declare individually or collectively their willingness to terminate them.

It is widely expected that NATO=s current policy review, due for completion in December 2000, will not produce significant changes. Thus a key objective now must be to establish an open-ended review process to formalize continuing opportunities to pursue the changes needed to carry out the global nuclear disarmament agenda. The Consultation was informed that this is already a major goal of Canadian policy. Such a review process should include annual public reports to, and responses from, NATO ministers= meetings.


NATO process

A high priority should be placed on improved public and NGO access to NATO and national nuclear policy decisionmakers and decisionmaking processes, increased transparency of NATO nuclear policy and processes, and improved accountability of NATO members for NATO nuclear policies.

Specific recommendations include:

Regular meetings between NGOs and NATO officials and national delegations. These could include annual conferences similar to those now organized between Canadian NGOs and DFAIT, as well as a commitment to much more frequent informal contact and regular participation by NATO and national officials in NGO meetings and public fora.

Improvements to transparency. Transparency in NATO policy and process is essential for effective public oversight and participation in nuclear policy issues. Transparency is also essential for demonstrating to the international community that NATO is complying in good faith with its members-arms control obligations. NATO nuclear policy must be both explicit and public. Deliberate ambiguity and spurious secrecy, as shown, for example, in NATO’s continuing refusal to confirm the presence of nuclear weapons at locations where it is well known they are deployed, undermines both democratic debate and international confidence. It is especially important that the results of the current policy review be made public.

Annual NATO arms control compliance statement. One significant contribution that NATO could make to improved transparency would be an annual public arms control compliance statement, detailing NATO’s current compliance with arms control obligations (this could apply to non-nuclear as well as nuclear obligations) and outlining its plans for future compliance. Individual member states could also produce such statements. Canada should set an example by producing an annual Canadian statement on these issues.


National Missile Defense and related issues

The continued existence and proliferation of ballistic missile capabilities pose a threat both to global security and to arms control and disarmament progress. It is important to recognize, however, that the primary if not exclusive reason to consider ballistic missiles a threat is the possibility that they might be armed with weapons of mass destruction (of which nuclear weapons are by far the most destructive). Vigorous global action to implement the existing commitments to eliminate these weapons found in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the Chemical Weapons Convention would thus be the most effective means of addressing the ballistic missile threat.

The deployment of strategic ballistic missile defence systems such as the proposed US National Missile Defense system would not provide an effective response to the missile threat. Even if the technology of missile defence could be made to work, such defences would not eliminate the fundamental problem, which is the continued existence of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction capable of being delivered in a wide variety of ways. Furthermore, in the absence of consensus among the nuclear powers on the appropriateness of such defences, missile defence deployment almost certainly would do serious harm to arms control and disarmament efforts and intensify the overall nuclear threat to the world. The issue of ballistic missile defence is not a matter that should be left solely to the parties to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Canada and all countries have a vital stake in the pursuit of global security. Canada and other NATO states should make clear their opposition to any deployment of missile defences outside the context of an agreed process to manage and eliminate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Alternative approaches to assessing and addressing the ballistic missile threat, such as closer engagement with possible proliferators, tighter export controls, and creation of a multilateral missile monitoring and control regime, might help to limit the problem and moderate excessive concern about ballistic missiles. Canada and other NATO states should actively support alternative approaches to assessing and addressing the ballistic missile problem, and should investigate the possibility of creating a multilateral missile monitoring and control regime.


Overall nuclear arms control and disarmament policy

Beyond the immediate context of Alliance nuclear policy and NMD, there are a number of arms control and disarmament priorities that Canada and other NATO states should pursue.

The danger of accidental or inadvertent nuclear war still remains far too high, due in large part to the continuation of Cold War-era “hair-trigger” alert postures by both Russia and the United States. De-alerting and related measures such as de-mating (removing nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles) have the potential to significantly reduce this danger. These measures, which are in effect another form of disarmament B operational rather than numerical B also have considerable potential for augmenting and reinforcing more traditional disarmament measures. The Canadian government declared its support for de-alerting and de-mating in its April 1999 nuclear policy statement. The NPT Review Conference’s call for “concrete agreed measures to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems” was also a clear reference to the concept. Canada and other NATO states should actively advocate the concept of de-alerting and de-mating nuclear forces.

Much deeper cuts in strategic nuclear forces (as well as the elimination of non-strategic nuclear forces) should also be an important near-term goal. One participant at the Consultation recommended in this regard that Canada should explore the 1994 Yeltsin proposal for a five-power nuclear safety, stability, and disarmament framework, which Russia continues to cite when making disarmament proposals. A deep cuts agreement could contribute significantly to other Canadian disarmament objectives, particularly if it focused on sharp reductions in counterforce weapons, the highly accurate nuclear forces that have the potential to destroy other countries= nuclear forces in a surprise attack. Counterforce reductions would serve not only to reduce Russian concerns about US NMD plans, but would also B more importantly B eliminate the argument that de-alerting might create an unacceptable vulnerability to surprise attack. Canada and other NATO states should advocate further deep cuts in strategic nuclear forces, focusing in particular on counterforce capabilities.

The 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons was a landmark statement that did not create law but did provide the most authoritative opinion possible regarding the requirements of existing international and humanitarian law with respect to nuclear weapons. By demonstrating the near impossibility of using nuclear weapons in compliance with the law, the Court highlighted the incompatibility between an international society based on law and human rights and the continued existence of security policies based on nuclear weapons. Canada and other NATO states should continuously emphasize the importance of ensuring that all NATO and member state security policies respect and comply with international and humanitarian law.

It is important also that nuclear disarmament efforts be supported by broader disarmament objectives. The pursuit of “general and complete disarmament” B also an obligation that states have undertaken in the Non-Proliferation Treaty B receives insufficient attention. Neither goal should be considered dependent on the achievement of the other, but the parallel pursuit of both is likely to achieve more than the pursuit of one alone. General and complete disarmament would not mean the elimination of all armed forces but rather the progressive elimination of capabilities to conduct major offensive warfare and the placing of residual interventionary capabilities under the firm control of the international community for the purposes of the collective preservation of international order and protection of human rights. There is an element of the US foreign policy establishment that seeks to preserve unlimited unilateral military intervention capabilities for the United States but fails to recognize that the existence (and use) of these capabilities increases the likelihood of some of the threats, such as ballistic missile and weapon of mass destruction proliferation, that most concern the US. Canada should advocate the start of international consultations on the scope and nature of general and complete disarmament. The work of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty might provide a useful starting point for some of these discussions.

Further complementing these efforts must be increased emphasis on the non-military resolution of armed conflicts and on preventive action to improve human security in all its aspects, reduce the underlying causes of conflicts, prevent future problems, and provide peaceful means to address contentious issues. Canadian disarmament efforts should be pursued in the context of a comprehensive and proactive global security policy.


Like-minded governments

Canada can pursue its disarmament objectives most effectively by working in co-operation with like-minded governments to build broad international support for disarmament progress. As a member of NATO and a strong supporter of nuclear disarmament, Canada is in a key position to contribute to this process. The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade (SCFAIT) recommended in its December 1998 report, Canada and the Nuclear Challenge, that “the Government of Canada intensify its efforts, in cooperation with States such as its NATO allies and the members of the New Agenda Coalition, to advance the process of nuclear disarmament.” The government accepted this recommendation, and we believe that the record of the past two years has validated the strategy.

We recommend that Canada continue to work in close co-operation with the New Agenda states to advance the global nuclear disarmament agenda and that it pursue closer co-operation with the NATO-5 states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway) and other NATO allies to build support for changes in NATO nuclear policy.
Public opinion / global consensus building

The importance of public opinion in maintaining pressure for nuclear disarmament was emphasized by a number of participants at the Consultation, including Ambassador Westdal, who noted that in many instances “the mobilization of shame is the chief engine of progress.” It was also highlighted in the SCFAIT report. Canada should place greater emphasis on the mobilization of informed global public opinion in favour of nuclear disarmament. The annual Canadian compliance report suggested above could contribute to this effort, as could support for other initiatives such as the UN Secretary-General=s call for an international conference on eliminating nuclear dangers. Canada should also consider sponsoring a new international commission on the future of nuclear arms control and disarmament to continue and extend the work of the Canberra Commission and the Tokyo Forum.

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