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Commentary | 1 May 2011

Parameters of the Deterrence and Defence Posture Review

Image of Jan Kavan

Jan Kavan |Former Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and former President of the UN General Assembly

Defence Deterrence NATO Nuclear Weapons Euro-Atlantic Security

Jan Kavan Speech at ELN Meeting, London, 25 January 2011.

Setting the Scene: Lisbon, the New Strategic Concept, and the Parameters of the Deterrence and Defence Posture Review


Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues and friends. The outcome of the Lisbon NATO summit is a kind of a compromise. Some of the final sentences are open to different interpretations. As a lifelong cautious optimist I prefer to believe that the door was left open for future more concrete steps towards disarmament and eventually even towards a nuclear free world. However, before we get to that point NATO members would have to resolve their current major differences. One of the most important divergencies exists between the position of France and that of Germany which has been very well described in the briefing paper by Dr Ian Kearns and Simon Lunn. However, given the fact that it has been once again confirmed that any future change has to be based on a consensus of all allies it would be useful to look at the attitudes of the non-nuclear members who have joined NATO since March 1999, even after 11 years still described as “new members”.

Given their historic experience as well as geographical position they are preoccupied with the role of Russia. Many politicians from that region (Rumsfeld’s division between old and new Europe) interpret the reset policy of the Obama Administration not as a welcome step towards less confrontation and more cooperation and peaceful relations but as a form of appeasement. From this angle they perceived Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw the BMD concept advocated by President Bush as an unwarranted concession to the Russians. Given this frame of mind it was understandable that they rejected calls for the withdrawal of US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and welcomed the decisions taken at Talinn.

At the same time it would be incorrect to dismiss these hawkish policies as a kind of Cold War legacy. For example, Czech Minister of Defence Martin Barak agreed last year that NATO and Russia face common security threats such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or religious and ethnic tensions and argued that in these and related fields we should closely cooperate with the Russian Federation. His words did not lose their weight just because he had to resign following a suspicion of corruption.

Some arguments put forward by the East Europeans are shared by others. For example, it is undoubtedly clear that Russia’s perception of NATO is far from crystal clear. In February 2010 Russia published its Military Doctrine where NATO with its policies of enlargement towards Russia’s borders or its intention to build BMD system is described as a threat for Russia’s security interests. On the other hand elsewhere in the same document (Art.19d) it is acknowledged that for the prevention of military conflicts it is important to develop relations with international organizations such as European Union and NATO. Obviously neither NATO nor Russia can enjoy a monopoly on ambiguity.

I use the incorrect term East Europeans as a shortcut. I am aware that Visegrad countries perceive themselves as Central Europeans. I am equally aware of the fact that these are not homogeneous entities but here there is no time or scope for more detailed differentiation for example among countries such as the Baltic countries and Poland on one hand and some of the others on the other, let alone to differentiate between the governments’ policies and the views frequently supported by the majority of the citizens. So the East Europeans despite their current support for the presence of the US tactical nuclear weapons are not determined to oppose their withdrawal at all costs and for all times. They are primarily opposed to it if it is to be a unilateral gesture but would be prepared to support it if there is a clear reciprocity from the Russian side. At the same time they acknowledge that this is going to be very difficult given the huge discrepancy between the relevant numbers (few hundred on one side and several thousand on the other) as well as the Russian argument that they need these weapons to balance the conventional superiority on NATO’s side. An interesting argument for those of us old enough to remember the arguments used several decades ago for the installation of Cruise and Pershing in Europe.

I also recall a relatively positive, though very cautious, response, both from our hawks and doves, to a suggestion voiced in Prague by a member of the Bundestag that the deterrent value of the tactical nuclear weapons can be more effectively replaced by a BMD system. As this would be a system adopted by the entire NATO, and not be based only on a bilateral agreement with the USA, as was the one “proposed” (if that is the correct term) to the Czech Republic and Poland by the Bush Administration, this would be, though grudgingly, acceptable to many people. Such a support stems, of course, from the awareness that the Tactical Nuclear Weapons are outdated (Dual Capable Aircraft intended to carry B61 bombs are close to the end of their lifetime) and that their militarily significance has been replaced by the symbolic value underlining the transatlantic relations and solidarity. These symbols are perceived as crucial for the security of the region.

It can be argued that the new BMD system, accepted by all NATO members, can inherit this symbolic value and in fact strengthen the cooperation between Europe and USA, but it is precisely this aspect that makes the NATO’s call to Russia to cooperate on the antimissile defence so problematic for several of the East European leaders. On this point some government experts disagreed with the report of the NATO 2020 Group of experts and interpret the Lisbon conclusions as a call for NATO’s and Russia’s systems to be close but parallel to each other, definitely not combined. (President Klaus).

We should not underestimate the fact that there is a clear threat perception gap not only towards phenomena such as international terrorism but also towards assertive Russian foreign policy. What could help to begin to diminish this obstacle is a reassurance of member states that allied defence obligations remain trustworthy. The relationship between collective defence and collective security can also be expressed as a relationship between reassurance and reset. The problem is many states from the former Soviet bloc regard reassurance as the necessary precondition for a successful reset of the relations with Russia while Russia perceives some intended methods of reassurance (eg enlargement of Alliance’s infrastructure) as a threat of its security.

One of the forms of the requested reassurance could be, for example, the redefinition of Art.5 to make the defence of an attacked state compulsory, though some lawyers claim that this would be contrary to US constitutional legislation. If that is the case another form of a clear cut commitment may suffice.

Let me conclude by reassuring you that there are many people in our part of Europe who, on the other hand, believe that nuclear weapons and their proliferation are a dangerous source of tension and not a useful deterrent, that inclusion of Russia in the European security framework could contribute to peace and stability and that even Russia’s membership of NATO should not be dismissed. I recall Admiral Giampolo Di Paola’ paraphrase of Lord Ismay’s famous description of NATO’s mission as to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down” When he was in Prague last year he updated it to “keep the Americans in, the Europeans up and the Russians with”. Not all of us agreed with the Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg’s estimate that this may happen only in about 50 years. I believe that the optimists will in time prevail (hopefully with the help of groups such as the ELN).


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.