Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation in NATO
NATO has a long-standing commitment to an active policy in arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. The Alliance continues to pursue its security objectives through these policies, while at the same time ensuring that its collective defence obligations are met and the full range of its missions fulfilled.
- NATO seeks its security at the lowest possible level of forces.
- It actively contributes to effective and verifiable arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation efforts through its policies, activities and its member countries. NATO itself is not party to any treaty, but it supports and facilitates dialogue among members, partners and other countries to implement their international obligations fully.
- NATO Allies are parties to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the Ottawa Convention on mine action, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other related treaties and agreements.
- In the field of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), NATO cooperates with the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), other regional organisations and multilateral initiatives to address proliferation issues.
- Nuclear weapons committed to NATO have been reduced by more than 95 per cent since the height of the Cold War.
- NATO will remain a nuclear alliance as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, but will do so at the lowest possible level and with an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces.
- NATO Allies also assist partner countries in the destruction of surplus stocks of mines, arms and munitions. In addition, former military personnel receive retraining assistance through defence reform Trust Fund projects.
While often used together, the terms arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation do not mean the same thing. In fact, experts usually consider them to reflect associated, but different areas in the same discipline or subject.
Arms control is the broadest of the three terms and generally refers to mutually agreed upon restraints or controls (usually between states) on the research, manufacture, or the levels of and/or locales of deployment of troops and weapons systems.
Disarmament, often inaccurately used as a synonym for arms control, refers to the act of eliminating or abolishing weapons (particularly offensive arms) either unilaterally (in the hope that one’s example will be followed) or reciprocally.
For the Alliance, “non-proliferation refers to all efforts to prevent proliferation from occurring, or should it occur, to reverse it by any other means than the use of military force.”1 Non-proliferation usually applies to weapons of mass destruction, which include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Weapons of mass destruction proliferation
Attempts made by state or non-state actors to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or devices and their means of delivery or related material, including precursors, without prejudice to the rights and obligations of the States Parties to the following agreements: the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (CWC) and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC).1. According to NATO’s Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending Against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats.
NATO contributes to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation in many ways: through its policies, its activities and through its member countries.
NATO’s policies in these fields cover consultation and practical cooperation in a wide range of areas. These include conventional arms control; nuclear policy issues; promoting mine action and combating the spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW); preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); and developing and harmonising capabilities to defend against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.
Allies have reduced their conventional forces significantly from Cold War levels. Allies remain committed to the regime of the CFE Treaty. As a response to Russia`s unilateral “suspension” of its Treaty obligations in 2007, NATO CFE Allies ceased implementing certain Treaty obligations vis-à-vis Russia in November 2011, while still continuing to implement fully their obligations with respect to all other CFE States Parties. Allies stated that these decisions are fully reversible should Russia return to full implementation. At the 2012 Chicago Summit, Allies reiterated their commitment to conventional arms control and expressed their determination to preserve, strengthen and modernise the conventional arms control regime in Europe, based on key principles and commitments.
At their 2014 Wales and 2016 Warsaw Summits, Allies reaffirmed their long-standing commitment to conventional arms control as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security and emphasised the importance of full implementation and compliance to rebuild trust and confidence. They underscored that Russia’s unilateral military activity in and around Ukraine has undermined peace, security and stability across the region, and its selective implementation of the Vienna Document and Open Skies Treaty and long-standing non-implementation of the CFE Treaty have eroded the positive contributions of these arms control instruments. Allies called on Russia to fully adhere to its commitments. Meanwhile, on 11 March 2015, the Russian Federation announced that it is suspending its participation in the meetings of the Joint Consultative Group (JCG) on the CFE Treaty, which meets regularly in Vienna.
NATO is committed to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. However, it will do so at the lowest possible level and with an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces. The nuclear weapons committed to NATO have been reduced by more than 95 per cent since the height of the Cold War. NATO nuclear weapon states have also reduced their nuclear arsenals and ceased production of highly enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear weapons. All Allies are party to the NPT and view it as an essential foundation for international peace and security. At the Warsaw Summit in July 2016, NATO leaders reiterated their strong commitment to the full implementation of the NPT and continued to call on Russia to preserve the viability of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by ensuring full and verifiable compliance.
Through its cooperation framework with non-member countries, the Alliance supports defence and security sector reform, emphasising civilian control of the military, accountability, and restructuring of military forces to lower, affordable and usable levels.
Small arms and light weapons (SALW) and mine action (MA)
Allies are working with non-member countries and other international organisations to support the full implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in SALW in All its Aspects.
NATO also supports mine action activities. All NATO member countries, with the exception of the United States, are party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, often referred to as the Ottawa Convention.
NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) Trust Fund Policy was initiated in 2000 to assist countries in fulfilling their Ottawa Convention obligations to dispose of stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines. The policy was later expanded to include efforts to implement the UN Programme of Action on SALW. More recently, the Trust Fund Policy has also been expanded to include projects addressing the consequences of defence reform, training and building integrity.
NATO/Partnership Trust Funds may be initiated by a NATO member or partner country to tackle specific, practical issues linked to these areas. They are funded by voluntary contributions from individual NATO Allies, partners and organisations.
At the 2016 Warsaw Summit, Heads of State and Government emphasised the need to do more to achieve lasting calm and an end to violence in the Middle East and North Africa Region which faces continuing crises and instability with direct implications for the security of NATO. They also made a plea for enhanced practical cooperation, including through further support in the areas of counter-terrorism, small arms and light weapons, countering improvised explosive devices, and military border security.
Weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
“With due respect to the primarily military mission of the Alliance, NATO will work actively to prevent the proliferation of WMD by State and non-State actors, to protect the Alliance from WMD threats should prevention fail, and be prepared for recovery efforts should the Alliance suffer a WMD attack or CBRN event, within its competencies and whenever it can bring added value, through a comprehensive political, military and civilian appoach.”2
NATO stepped up its activities in this area in 1999 with the launch of the WMD Initiative and the establishment of a WMD Centre at NATO Headquarters the following year. NATO Allies have also taken a comprehensive set of practical initiatives to defend their populations, territory and forces against potential WMD threats. As part of NATO’s outreach to Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) partners, Mediterranean Dialogue countries, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries and other partner countries, the NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation is the only annual conference, sponsored by an international organisation, dealing with all types and aspects of weapons of mass destruction.
Of particular importance is NATO’s outreach to and cooperation with the UN, the EU, other regional organisations and multilateral initiatives that address WMD proliferation.2. NATO’s Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending Against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats, Para 4.
Active policies in arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation have been an inseparable part of NATO’s contribution to security and stability since the Harmel Report of 1967.
The Harmel Report
This report formed the basis for NATO’s security policy. It outlined two objectives: maintaining a sufficient military capacity to act as an effective and credible deterrent against aggression and other forms of pressure while seeking to improve East-West relations. The Alliance’s objectives in arms control have been tied to the achievement of both aims. It is therefore important that defence and arms control policies remain in harmony and are mutually reinforcing.
The Comprehensive Concept of Arms Control and Disarmament
In May 1989, NATO adopted a Comprehensive Concept of Arms Control and Disarmament, which allowed the Alliance to move forward in the sphere of arms control. It addressed the role of arms control in East-West relations, the principles of Alliance security and a number of guiding principles and objectives governing Allied policy in the nuclear, conventional and chemical fields of arms control.
It clearly set out the interrelationships between arms control and defence policies and established the overall conceptual framework within which the Alliance sought progress in each area of its arms control agenda.
The Alliance’s Strategic Concept
NATO’s continued adherence to this policy was reaffirmed in the 2010 Strategic Concept (with regard to nuclear weapons):
“It [This Strategic Concept] commits NATO to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.”
It continues, on a more general note:
“NATO seeks its security at the lowest possible level of forces. Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation contribute to peace, security and stability, and should ensure undiminished security for all Alliance members. We will continue to play our part in reinforcing arms control and in promoting disarmament of both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction, as well as non-proliferation efforts.”
Deterrence and Defence Posture Review
The NATO Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR), agreed at the Chicago Summit in 2012, addresses issues of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. The DDPR document underscores: “The Alliance is resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all”. It also repeats that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.
The Special Advisory and Consultative Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Committee (ADNC) was established on the basis of DDPR agreement.
Allied leaders have reiterated this commitment in declarations made at every summit meeting since 1999. For instance, at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, Allied leaders took note of a report on raising NATO’s profile in the fields of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. As part of a broader response to security issues, they agreed that NATO should continue to contribute to international efforts in these fields and keep these issues under active review. Subsequently, these commitments were reaffirmed in the official declarations of summits that have since taken place. Additionally, at the 2009 Strasbourg/Kehl Summit, Allied leaders endorsed NATO’s Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending Against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats.
In the 2016 Warsaw Summit Declaration, the Alliance reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to conventional arms control as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security and emphasised the importance of full implementation and compliance to rebuild trust and confidence. Allied leaders also stated that Russia's unilateral military activity in and around Ukraine has undermined peace, security and stability across the region, and its selective implementation of the Vienna Document and Open Skies Treaty and long-standing non-implementation of the CFE Treaty have eroded the positive contributions of these arms control instruments. At Warsaw, NATO also continued to call on Russia to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty and condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its multiple ballistic missile tests and its nuclear tests, calling DPRK to immediately cease and abandon all its existing nuclear and ballistic missile activities in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner and re-engage in international talks.
A number of NATO bodies oversee different aspects of Alliance activities in the fields of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. Overall political guidance is provided by the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest political decision-making body. More detailed oversight of activities and policy in specific areas is provided by a number of bodies, including the High Level Task Force (HLTF) on Conventional Arms Control, the Special Advisory and Consultative Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Committee (ADNC), the Nuclear Planning Group High Level Group (NPG/HLG), the Verification Coordinating Committee (VCC), the Committee on Proliferation (CP) in politico-military and defence format.
Within NATO’s cooperative frameworks, the EAPC (in particular, the Ad Hoc Working Group on SALW and Mine Action) has a central role.