The Nuclear Planning Group (NPG)

  • Last updated: 05 Sep. 2012 09:30

The Nuclear Planning Group acts as the senior body on nuclear matters in the Alliance and discusses specific policy issues associated with nuclear forces. The Alliance's nuclear policy is kept under constant review and is modified and adapted in the light of new developments.

The Defence Ministers of all member countries, except France, meet at regular intervals in the NPG, where they discuss specific policy issues associated with nuclear forces. The Alliance's nuclear policy is kept under review and decisions are taken jointly to modify or adapt it in the light of new developments and to update and adjust planning and consultation procedures.

  • NATO’s senior body on nuclear policy issues

    Whilst the North Atlantic Council (NAC) is the ultimate authority within NATO, the NPG (which meets annually in Defence Ministers format at 27, minus France) acts as the senior body on nuclear matters within NATO.

    Its discussions cover a broad range of nuclear policy matters, including the safety, security and survivability of nuclear weapons, communications and information systems, as well as deployment issues. It also covers wider questions of common concern such as nuclear arms control and nuclear proliferation.

    The role of the NPG is to review the Alliance's nuclear policy in the light of the ever-changing security challenges of the international environment and to adapt it if necessary.

    It provides a forum in which NATO member countries can participate in the development of the Alliance's nuclear policy and in decisions on NATO's nuclear posture, irrespective of whether or not they themselves maintain nuclear weapons. The policies that are agreed upon therefore represent the common position of all the participating countries. Decisions are taken by consensus within the NPG, as is the case for all NATO committees.

  • Participants

    All member countries, with the exception of France, which has decided not to participate, are part of the NPG.

    It is chaired by the Secretary General of NATO.

  • Working procedures

    The work of the NPG is prepared by an NPG Staff Group. This group is composed of members of the national delegations of all participating member countries. The Staff Group prepares meetings of the NPG Permanent Representatives and carries out detailed work on their behalf. It generally meets once a week and at other times, as necessary.

    The senior advisory body to the NPG on nuclear policy and planning issues is the NPG High Level Group (HLG). In 1998-1999, the HLG also took over the functions and responsibilities of the former Senior Level Weapons Protection Group (SLWPG) which was charged with overseeing nuclear weapons safety, security and survivability matters. The HLG is chaired by the United States and is composed of national policy makers (at policy director level) and experts from Allied capitals. It meets several times a year to discuss aspects of NATO's nuclear policy, planning and force posture, and matters concerning the safety, security and survivability of nuclear weapons.

    The NPG itself meets, when necessary, at the level of Ambassadors; and once a year at the level of Ministers of Defence.

  • Evolution

    The NPG was founded in December 1966, when the Defence Planning Committee in Ministerial Session accepted the recommendation of the Special Committee of Defence Ministers, chaired by Robert McNamara of the United States, to establish a consultative process on nuclear doctrine within NATO.

    Ministers implemented these recommendations by creating the Nuclear Defence Affairs Committee (NDAC), which included all NATO members, and the NPG, which was restricted to nations participating in NATO’s integrated military structure, and was mandated to carry out detailed work on nuclear issues.

    In order to facilitate the NPG’s work, only seven nations sat on the Group at any one time. The United States, United Kingdom, Italy and West Germany were permanent members, while appointments to the other three NPG seats lasted for one year, and rotated amongst the eligible nations. The NDAC met once per year at ministerial level, meeting for the last time in 1973. The Portuguese Cárnation Revolution in 1974, raised some security concerns, which led to the cancellation of the planned NDAC. Thereafter no meeting of the NDAC has convened.

    Even though the NDAC has never been formally abolished, its work was taken over by the NPG, which then became the only formal NATO body dealing with nuclear affairs.

    The rotational membership of the NPG was ended in 1979 in recognition of the increasing importance to all members of NATO’s nuclear policy and posture.