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Report | 30 October 2020

NATO’s DNA: The Alliance’s contribution to arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation

Looking to arms control as a means of improving relations between NATO and Russia may appear a futile hope when cooperation and dialogue between them is almost non-existent. Yet despite the crumbling framework of arms control, in October last year, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that “arms control is in NATO’s DNA”, suggesting that arms control continues to be a priority for the Alliance.

Prompted by the Secretary General’s remark, this report by ELN Senior Associate Fellows Simon Lunn and Nicholas Williams assesses the contribution made by NATO in the field of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation; the degree to which arms control is embedded in the Alliance approach to security; and to what extent the objectives of defence and arms control are effectively harmonised.

The report finds that, although arms control is in NATO’s DNA, it is very much a secondary consideration. Arms control does not occupy a sufficiently visible or influential place in NATOs approach to security, taking a distant second place behind military strength. A rebalancing is needed.

The report makes 13 policy recommendations for NATO including:

  • The active pursuit of arms control has slipped in NATO’s priorities. It should be upgraded and elevated into its proper position partnering military strength as a means of achieving security at the lowest possible level of armament.
  • NATO’s current organisational arrangements for arms control are insufficient. NATO should create a Division of Arms Control charged with ensuring that arms control considerations are fully reflected in NATO policies and initiatives.
  • NATO’s military should be charged with the constant search for innovative arms control proposals in order to maintain security at the lowest level of armament and to promote military transparency and predictability.
  • The integration of arms control fully into NATO policy and action should be among the highest priorities of a new NATO Strategic Concept.

Download the report here.

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

Image: Flickr, NATO. NATO Secretary General participates in High-level NATO Conference on Arms Control and Disarmament.