Times They Are A Changing…

Several posts earlier I discussed the changing landscape of security politics in Europe including NATO and the UK. These institutions are quickly approaching a fork in the road where they will have to make lasting decisions regarding their defense spending.

The UK is presented with a difficult set of choices as it tries to determine the future of its forces in challenging economic times. Already there is talk of final reductions in the 20-25% range.  The Tory-Lib Dem coalition is likely to come under increasing strains over these budget decisions. The question remains whether their decision will be based on an appraisal of the existing risk environment and the best most efficient contribution Britain can make to its collective security. I will go into more detail on this topic when the final decisions are made regarding the budget and the debate that follows.

The UK is simply a small part of the realignment of military budgets and strategy that is occurring throughout Europe and NATO. We have a recent statement signed by over 30 former senior European leaders calling for a new approach to NATO’s nuclear policies and posture. The group includes the former Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers from Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The specific names are impressive and include German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, former U.K. Defense Secretary Des Browne, former Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes, and former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers.

The essence of the document is a collective statement that says “NATO should make disarmament a core element of its approach to providing security.”

This document will direct NATO policy on nuclear weapons and other issues for a decade. Just this week, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen circulated a “confidential” draft of the document to NATO members for their initial reactions. The final version is scheduled to be discussed and acted on at the November 19-20, 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon.

The signatories recommend that NATO’s new Strategic Concept should include the following sentiments:

– “NATO will promote both nuclear and conventional arms control and disarmament based on greater international transparency and accountability.”

– “There is an urgent need for reducing the roles and risks of nuclear weapons in security policies globally. NATO is prepared to make a significant contribution to that process.”

– “The fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack.”

– “Non-strategic nuclear weapons have lost their original role of deterring massive conventional superiority. Therefore, NATO is willing to support a further reduction and consolidation of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe.”

Significantly, it also calls on NATO to engage Russia on the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons, missile defense, nuclear, and conventional weapons. The question is vague whether the reductions should be unilateral on the part of NATO or as part of a mutual reduction.

Thus the focus is on the future of approximately 200 forward-deployed U.S. tactical nuclear bombs that are currently based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

The question is how the U.S. will react to both this new NATO document and the recommendations of the “Wise Persons” who put forth their recommendations.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright stated at an April 8 briefing in Washington on the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review Report, that NATO nuclear weapons do not serve a military function not already addressed by other U.S. military assets, including its 2,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

Clearly, in the view of many observers, including myself, who watched the debate on continued deployment of tactical nuclear and placement of intermediate SS-20s weapons when I served at the U.S. Mission to NATO in the late 1970s and early 1980s, these weapons likely then and certainly in the 21st century are more of a problem than a solution to our strategic and tactical challenges.

The new strategic landscape demands that we reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons both deployed and non-deployed, and also secure the related nuclear materials, delivery systems, and take off “hair trigger” those that are left. The U.S. intelligence assessment and that of many non-governmental experts is that we are “likely” to see the use of a nuclear device in the lifetime of most people. The asymmetric threat posed by terrorist groups is of a greater magnitude than that of conventional threats.  The possible loss or theft of tactical nuclear bombs (i.e. loose nukes) poses an unacceptable risk of nuclear terrorism.

This should require greater efforts by both the U.S. and Russia to reduce these weapons with the hopes of other nuclear states following suit.

In the end we need to pursue more aggressively the development of “mutual security umbrellas” which will give confidence to nuclear and “would be” nuclear weapons states that their vital security and existence is not threatened in a world where these weapons are de minimis.

This means that much greater efforts are needed to find accommodation and long-term settlements for conflict, grievances, and mutual threats between countries. This calls for what I dub “Macro Preventive Diplomacy.” This is action on a large scale using not only diplomatic skills but also massive resources or if you will “carrots” and “sticks” to persuade those that would threaten conflict that they have better options.

This is a much more urgent task now than most think. Unfortunately, in America we are in a mindless political battleground where wise hands are not evident on the Republican side as they were after World War II.  The “know-nothings” and “fear mongers” seem to predominate among the conservative political “leaders” and media types.  Thoughtfulness today is not a political virtue.

Several U.S. administrations have tried to initiate talks with Russia on sub-strategic nuclear weapons, but Russia’s increasing reliance on nuclear weapons combined with NATO’s own nuclear policy inertia have stymied progress. Following ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. While President Obama has pledged to pursue added reductions in all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons-deployed and non-deployed, the delay on ratification of the New START treaty in the Senate has put a damper on further progress.

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