NATO Nuclear Review Endorses Status Quo

Tasneem Jamal

Bill Robinson

The Ploughshares Monitor March 2001 Volume 22 Issue 1

NATO Foreign Ministers met in Brussels in December 2000 and approved the final report of the Alliance’s “Paragraph 32” nuclear policy review. The outcome of this review reinforced the case for continued public attention to NATO nuclear policy.

The member states of NATO agreed at their April 1999 Washington Summit to conduct an internal review of NATO’s nuclear weapons policies, with specific attention to “options for confidence and security-building measures, verification, non-proliferation and arms control and disarmament.” This review – known informally as the “Paragraph 32 process” in reference to the paragraph of the communiqué that announced it – wrapped up in December when the report that resulted from it was presented to and approved by the North Atlantic Council. Most of the text of the report was then released to the public (NATO 2000).

Results of the review

Much of the report dealt with broader arms control issues, ranging from biological and chemical weapons to small arms, light weapons, and land mines.

On nuclear weapons policy, the report was largely status quo. It reiterated NATO’s 1999 Strategic Concept language deeming nuclear weapons to be “essential” to Alliance security and asserting the intent to retain them “for the foreseeable future.” It also asserted that “[t]here is a clear rationale for a continued, though much reduced, presence of substrategic nuclear forces in Europe.” No substantive change was proposed to any aspect of NATO nuclear policy.

The report went on to state, however, that “Alliance nations … reaffirm their commitment under Article VI of the NPT to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” It also declared NATO’s support for the 13 nuclear disarmament action items agreed during the 2000 NPT Review Conference (UN 2000) and reiterated in the New Agenda resolution in November 2000.1 These were repeated verbatim in the report.

The inclusion of the NPT/New Agenda commitments was a positive step that further confirmed the development of a growing worldwide consensus on the outlines of the global nuclear disarmament agenda. (The extent to which the new Bush administration will subscribe to this agenda remains to be seen, however.) Unfortunately, the report provided no indication of how NATO intends to go about implementing these commitments or how plans to retain NATO’s current nuclear policies can be reconciled with such steps.

CSBMs proposed

Detailed nuclear policy proposals were confined to four confidence- and security-building measures that the report stated the Alliance “intends to pursue” with Russia:

  • enhanced dialogue on nuclear force matters;
  • information exchange on nuclear force readiness;
  • information exchange on nuclear safety; and
  • data exchange on substrategic nuclear forces.

These all promise to be useful information-sharing measures, but they do not address the far more fundamental changes required in NATO nuclear policy if the Alliance is to begin living up to its nuclear disarmament commitments.

No position on NMD

The report took no position on the US National Missile Defense program. (Although not stated in the report, it is well known that very wide differences remain among NATO members on the merits of the NMD proposal.) The report did state, however, that “NATO has provided a valuable forum for … exchanging views on the proposed U.S. National Missile Defense.” Presumably this forum will be put to extensive use over the next several years as the Bush administration defines and pursues its own position on NMD.

Further review?

The release of the December report marked the end of the “Paragraph 32” process. No indication was provided of whether or how any further review of NATO nuclear policy would take place, aside from a pro forma reiteration of the promise made in the 1999 Strategic Concept that NATO’s arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation policies “will be kept under review in the light of the evolving security environment.” This general assurance does, at least, provide a basis for arguing that NATO accepts the need for continuing reconsideration of its nuclear policies.

In many respects the timing for such a reconsideration is better now than it was during the formal “Paragraph 32” review. As Tom McDonald of BASIC has noted, “NATO had an extremely full agenda [during the period of the review], trying to deal with operations in the Balkans, the Defence Capabilities Initiative and, crucially, the row over EU_NATO relations with regard to the EU Rapid Reaction Force.” In addition, “with impending presidential elections in the United States and both candidates committed to reviewing U.S. nuclear posture, NATO would have its hands tied to a certain degree and would not realistically have been able to consider ‘theological’ nuclear issues until the results of the U.S. exercise were known” (McDonald 2001).

With the election now over and the US posture review set to begin, the coming year or two will be a good time for NATO members individually and as a whole to rethink their vision of the appropriate direction for nuclear policies.

The report also acknowledged that there is a need for greater openness and transparency in NATO nuclear policymaking, promising that “the Alliance will continue to broaden its engagement with interested non_governmental organizations, academic institutions and the general public and will contribute actively to discussion and debate regarding nuclear weapons and nuclear arms control and disarmament issues.” This is a useful promise that may improve the prospects for public access to NATO and NATO government decision makers on these issues.


  1. For a discussion of these items and how NATO nuclear policy could be modified to become consistent with them, see McDonald and Plesch 2000.




McDonald, Tom 2001, “Paragraph 32 Process: Final Analysis,” BASIC Notes, British American Security Information Council, 11 January.

McDonald, Tom and Plesch, Dan 2000, “NATO’s nuclear agenda: recommendations for action,” Ploughshares Monitor, September, 8-13.

NATO 2000, “Report on Options for Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs), Verification, Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament,” Press Communiqué M_NAC_2(2000)121, 14 December.

United Nations 2000, Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Parts I and II), May.

Spread the Word