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Policy intervention | 29 September 2010

Group Statement on NATO Nuclear Policy

Group Statement on Lisbon and NATO Nuclear Policy

The following statement on NATO Nuclear Policy has been issued by a group of 36 members of the ELN. A full list of signatories can be found here.

1. In a world that has changed profoundly and will continue to do so, NATO is working on a new strategic concept. As former leaders in member countries, we believe that our alliance, building on its best traditions, can now be an even stronger force for security.

Nuclear policy and the relationship with Russia are cases in point.

Today, proliferation risks and nuclear dangers come in many forms, not only from major nuclear powers. This makes it imperative to strengthen the global consensus on non-proliferation.

At the same time, legitimate nuclear powers must meet their treaty obligation of working in good faith towards “general and complete disarmament”.

In the best interest of security, President Barack Obama has set the course towards a world free of nuclear weapons. This has found broad support in Europe, in Russia, in the Group of Eight and at the historic meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations attended by heads of state and government. The United States and Russia have concluded a new treaty on reductions of strategic weapons that awaits ratification. The United States has constrained the role it gives to its nuclear weapons in its Nuclear Posture Review.

Using this momentum, NATO should make disarmament a core element of its approach to providing security.
This alliance, building on the Harmel report, has always combined deterrence with détente.
And after the end of the cold war, NATO dismantled thousands of nuclear weapons, adapting its force posture to new realities and requirements.

2. In this context, it is our firm view that at the Lisbon summit on 19 to 20 November 2010 NATO Leaders should include text in the new strategic concept that states the following:

• 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.

• NATO intends to engage Russia in a process strengthening all-European security from Vancouver to Vladivostok. This should include further dialogue on:

• a much wider and verifiable reduction and consolidation of non-strategic nuclear weapons across the whole of Europe, leading to their eventual elimination;

• the retention and updating of the CFE treaty and Russia’s return to this treaty regime;

• A constructive role for the NATO-Russia Council to support and work towards binding agreements on the role of missile defense in Europe.

3. In addition, we call upon the Alliance to now review its entire nuclear policy and posture with a view to facilitating progress in arms control, in a manner consistent with effective burden sharing and alliance cohesion, effective deterrence and a demonstrable commitment to collective defence.

4. We believe this change is necessary because events have moved beyond the position agreed by NATO in 1999. Paragraph 62 of the Strategic Concept agreed that year states that the ‘fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war’ and that nuclear forces will ‘continue to fulfill an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the Allies’ response to military aggression.’ Paragraph 63 of the same document states that ‘nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance’ and that these forces need to have the necessary characteristics to be perceived as ‘a credible and effective element of the Allies’ strategy in preventing war.’

5. However, since then, we observe that:
a. The nuclear threat has evolved. It is no longer Russia specific but relates to wider proliferation risks, both to other states and to terrorist groups. This has led many experienced international statesmen and women to question the likely safety and stability of long-term reliance on nuclear deterrence for our security and to call for urgent nuclear threat reduction steps leading to the eradication, through multilateral agreement, of nuclear weapons altogether;

b. The diplomatic atmosphere on nuclear issues has improved. With President Obama’s speech in Prague on 5 April 2009 and his statement of commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and with UN Security Council Resolution 1887 of 24 September 2009, there is broad international support for this objective. After a gap of almost a decade, the United States and Russia have resumed strategic arms control negotiations, signing the New START Treaty in Prague in April. A successful, if precarious, outcome was also achieved at the NPT Review Conference in May. There is an opportunity and obligation for the international community to build further on these achievements;

c. Under President Obama’s leadership the United States has conducted a Nuclear Posture Review, a process which resulted in a commitment by the US ‘not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.’ There appears to be some discrepancy between the new US position and the position agreed by NATO in 1999, to use nuclear forces to ‘ensure uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the Allies’ response to military aggression.’ This discrepancy extends to the different declaratory policies of the UK and France, and needs to be addressed;

d. The internal political dynamics of NATO, as they relate to nuclear policy, have changed. The foreign ministers of several countries have called for a fuller debate on the future of US sub-strategic nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. In some member countries of the alliance political momentum has swung behind a desire to see these weapons removed, and there are increasing question marks over the decision of some European governments to replace the ageing dual capable aircraft upon which these weapons rely;

e. The military utility of the same weapons is increasingly being questioned, and so too, as a result, is their deterrence value and credibility in the eyes of any potential aggressor;

f. NATO itself has also expanded considerably since the last strategic concept document was agreed and this means there are countries inside the alliance today that had no part in agreeing the alliance’s nuclear policy or operational posture.

6. The implications of all this for NATO are clear. The Allies cannot and should not avoid a re-examination of the 1999 policy formulation and what it means in practice. The core ideas of deterrence, alliance solidarity, burden sharing, and the transatlantic link remain central to our security but the question before the Alliance is how best to implement them in the changed circumstances we face today. In particular, how best to implement them in ways which simultaneously sustain alliance cohesion by providing reassurance to all members of the alliance, but also increase NATO’s contribution to global momentum on multilateral nuclear disarmament and non proliferation, and enhance the prospects of further fruitful arms control dialogue with Russia.

7. Consequently, we believe a full, inclusive and transparent review of NATO nuclear policy is not only necessary but should address the following questions as a matter of urgent priority:
a. What can NATO do to help establish safe conditions for the adoption of deterring nuclear attack as the sole purpose for its nuclear weapons, consistent with the declaratory policy goal as stated in the US NPR and with our suggested ambition to reduce the number and roles of nuclear weapons in the NATO arsenal?

b. Are NATO’s current nuclear arrangements the only available and credible option for providing European allies with reassurance against nuclear threats? What alternative options are available that could provide this reassurance while also allowing NATO to do more to support international moves toward multilateral nuclear disarmament? What might the risks and benefits of each of these alternatives be?

c. What alternatives to current nuclear burden-sharing arrangements might be available, if any, that could both maintain the political cohesion of the alliance and maintain the principle that nuclear risks and burdens are shared across the alliance?

d. How can NATO best maximise the security of nuclear weapons on its own territory?

e. What would the implications of any changes to NATO nuclear policy be for NATO relations with Russia, approaches to reassurance on Article V commitments within the alliance, and consideration of issues such as missile defence and conventional forces in Europe?

8. These are important questions. They go to the heart of NATO’s approach to delivering its own security, its longer-term political cohesion in changing conditions, and the stability of its relationship with Russia. The challenge for NATO is now to simultaneously maintain its own cohesion while moving to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and further reduce urgent nuclear dangers. The alliance has a responsibility to show more leadership on the nuclear challenges of the 21st century. Our proposals are one way it can do so.


Michael Ancram
Former Shadow Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary in the United Kingdom

Egon Bahr
Former Federal Minister for Special Affairs of German

Margaret Beckett
Former Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom

Kjell Magne Bondevik
Former Prime Minister of Norway

Laurens Jan Brinkhorst
Former Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Hans van den Broek
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and former European Commissioner for Foreign Relations

Des Browne
Former Defence Secretary of the United Kingdom

Francesco Calogero
Former Secretary General (1989-1997) of Pugwash Conferences (1995 Nobel Peace Prize)

Menzies Campbell
Former leader of the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom

Willy ClaesFormer Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium

Uffe Ellemann-Jensen Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Jacques Delors
Former President of the European Commission

Hans Dietrich Genscher
Former Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany

Juraj Horvath
Former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Slovak Parliament

Wolfgang Ischinger
Chairman of the Munich Security Conference

Jan Kavan
Former Foreign Minister, former Deputy Prime Minister of the Czech Republic

Tom King
Former Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom

Vladimir Lastuvka
Former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee of the Czech Parliament

Ruud Lubbers
Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Mogens Lykketoft
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Giorgio La Malfa
Former Minister for European Affairs of Italy

Federica Mogherini
Member of Parliament in Italy

Klaus Naumann
General (ret), former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee and former Chief of Defence Germany, Commissioner in the International Commission on Nuclear Non Proliferation and Disarmament

Odvar Nordli
Former Prime Minister to Norway

Bernard Norlain
General (ret), former commander of the French Tactical Air Force and military counselor to the Prime Minister of France

David Owen
Former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom

Niels Helveg Petersen
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Malcolm Rifkind
Former Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom

Volker Rühe
Former Defence Minister of Germany

Jaroslav Šabata
Former Minister in the Czech government and chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee of the Czech Parliament

Helmut Schmidt
Former Chancellor of Germany

Ivo Slaus
Former Member of Parliament of Croatia

Thorvald Stoltenberg
Former Foreign Minister of Norway

Richard von Weizsäcker
Former President of Germany

Kåre Willoch
former Prime Minister of Norway

Shirley Williams
Former Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords and former Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the United Kingdom


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the signatories, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its other 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.