Monthly Mind June 2012 - Creating a Europe Free of Nuclear Weapons

Conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger

It was about a month ago that the Heads of State and Government met at the NATO Summit in Chicago. The gathering was mostly dominated by NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan, a focus which is understandable but not sufficient in the face of the current security policy issues NATO is faced with. As plans progress to hand over security tasks in a coordinated and responsible way to the Afghan government, NATO has failed to reduce the number of unacceptable nuclear risks in Europe, and strengthen the Alliance’s defense capabilities to counter the threats of the 21st century. It has also failed to initiate sincere efforts to improve cooperation with Russia.


Tight Defense Budgets


We cannot wait to address these challenges, though. Almost all NATO member states have to cope with defense budget cuts, and, on top of that, tensions with Russia persist, with no sign of improvement. The mission in Libya also painfully revealed the weaknesses of Europe’s military capabilities, so, together with more than forty European colleagues, we recently called for NATO to change its strategy. We believe that the time has come for the North Atlantic Alliance to adjust its nuclear strategy and work harder towards a world without nuclear weapons. Though it’s been already more than two decades since the end of the Cold War, NATO has made a commitment to increase the number of tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. Instead, NATO should announce its intention to immediately reduce this number by half, followed by a signal to Russia to encourage dialog on the removal of all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.


The Alliance’s responsibility to act in these areas could not be clearer. NATO counts among its members three of the five nuclear-weapon states as recognized by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and eight of the fourteen states holding a nuclear arsenal. NATO is also the only military alliance worldwide upholding the principle of nuclear burden and risk sharing, whereby non-nuclear states such as Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey store U.S. nuclear weapons and, by this, have at least theoretically a say in the use of these weapons.


Shared Armaments Projects


We also call for NATO to provide further reassurance as requested by Russia as relations between NATO and Russia are already strained due to controversy over the Alliance’s missile defense shield. Also, NATO needs to make clear that it wants full cooperation with Russia which should include both air missile defense and the reduction of nuclear weapons and conventional forces. All states in the transatlantic region would benefit from reduced spending on those armies which are already considered a relic of the Cold War, and a transfer of finances to innovative and productive projects. Member states must also join forces in the use of their military resources and the planning of future armaments projects as this is the only way to cope with dwindling defense budgets. This would also offset Europe’s inability to take over military leadership as so bluntly demonstrated in the Libya crisis. Shared projects such as the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system, which uses unmanned aerial vehicles and which is jointly developed and used by thirteen members, are a good step in the right direction, but they need to be pushed forward with more determination. While the concept of pooling and sharing is not new, it is more important than ever at a time when European economies are in deep trouble. Pushed by voters struggling to survive the global economic crisis, U.S. President Obama is not likely to pay forever for Europe’s security.


Courageous Efforts


Political leaders in Europe must show that they are aware of the historic challenges of their time. At the Chicago Summit, the Heads of State and Government declared their own political strategy a success by maintaining the status quo. If the Atlantic Alliance keeps this stance and fails to take courageous corrective action, NATO's future and its stabilizing influence on European politics will surely be at stake.


Des Browne is a former British Defense Secretary. Wolfgang Ischinger was State Secretary of the German Foreign Office in Berlin and is now Chairman of the Munich Security Conference.


09 July 2012, by Des Browne and Wolfgang Ischinger: