''NATO’s enduring commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty''

Lecture by NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller

  • 05 May. 2017 -
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  • Last updated: 09 May. 2017 15:54

(As delivered)

Thank you, Laura, for that kind introduction.  I would like to thank Laura and the team at the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, for putting on this event, to focus on NATO’s enduring commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It is wonderful to be back.

And I am very grateful to our Japanese colleagues for agreeing to host this event once it became clear that we needed more space. 

It is a pleasure to be here at the Japanese Mission. 

For almost 70 years, NATO has been committed to preserving peace in Europe and to controlling the proliferation and number of nuclear weapons. Even before NATO established its first nuclear weapons policy in 1954, the North Atlantic Council in 1953 endorsed the US efforts to “seek a solution to the problem of atomic armaments.”

In 1957, in Paris, the NATO Heads of State and Government declared:

“We continue firmly to stand for comprehensive and controlled disarmament, which we believe can be reached by stages. This is the only way to dispel the anxieties arising from the armaments race.”

That meeting established the first NATO Technical Group to advise on problems of arms control.  At every Ministerial and Summit, Allies kept up the pressure on the USSR to engage in disarmament talks and to respond positively to US proposals in Geneva.

But the pace of nuclear proliferation was accelerating.  In March 1963, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy said:

“…I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970, unless we are successful, there may be 10 nuclear powers instead of four, and by 1975, 15 or 20.”

Following US leadership in the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee in Geneva, NATO Ministers in 1967 endorsed the ‘Harmel Report on the Future Tasks of the Alliance’.  The Harmel Report firmly established the NATO policy of seeking peace through deterrence and détente.  It emphasized the importance of promoting progress in disarmament and arms control, including concrete measures to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Ministers also reaffirmed their view that, if the conditions were right, a balanced reduction of forces on both sides could constitute a significant step towards security in Europe.

At the same time, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was being negotiated with goals fully in consonance with those being articulated by the Alliance.

Fortunately, thanks to the visionary Harmel Report, Allies agreed to rely upon extended deterrence through NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, bolstered by and coupled to US nuclear capability deployed in Europe.  By adopting a nuclear umbrella, where all Allies gained the protection of nuclear weapons without having to have nuclear weapons themselves, NATO brought a high degree of stability and predictability to European security.

I want to stress that, while nuclear weapons are deployed within NATO Europe, control of these weapons is, by national and international law, maintained by the United States.  However, Allies plan and train together to implement the nuclear mission in the extremely remote circumstance when escalation has occurred and a decision to use nuclear weapons is taken.  These nuclear sharing arrangements predate the NPT, and are in full compliance with it.  They were addressed when the treaty was negotiated and all signatories agreed to them when the treaty came into force and for decades after.  You’ll hear more about this history from William Alberque when he delivers his briefing shortly.

In its common goals and principles, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty bolsters the collective defense that is at the heart of NATO’s founding principles and has formed the solid core of European security for almost 70 years.  In signing the NPT, the non-nuclear powers agreed to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons, and in return the nuclear powers would strive to reduce and eventually eliminate their own weapons. 

Today, we can say that the NPT was the necessary precursor to deep cuts in nuclear weapons.  Without it, we would have had no impetus to peacefully address the Cold War overbuild of nuclear weapons – over 70,000 at the peak of the building frenzy of the 1960s.  The U.S. active stockpile has dropped from 31,000 in 1968 to just over 4,000 today. 

The Soviet, and later the Russian, arsenal has dropped in a commensurate manner, from a peak of approximately 45,000 warheads in 1986, at the height of the Cold War, to roughly 4,500 in the active stockpile in early 2017.  In this light, the NPT has been a great success, but we all know more work is to be done.

The substantial reductions in the number of nuclear weapons have been manifestly in the interest of U.S. allies both in Europe and Asia, and all NATO Allies are staunch supporters of the strategic arms reduction process and have been from the beginning.  ​

In 1969, in their Ministerial Communiqué, NATO Allies were quick to welcome the launch of the SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] talks in Helsinki.   

Ministers reaffirmed the importance of:

“any genuine disarmament measure, consistent with the security of all states and guaranteed by adequate international control, for the reduction of tension and the consolidation of peace in Europe and the world.”

In 1971, Allies supported the negotiations that led to the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and eventually, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  By 1972, Allies had welcomed the signing of the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, and the interim agreement known as the SALT I treaty.  These agreements between the United States and the USSR were an early step in strategic arms control.

But for NATO, the greatest achievement in bilateral arms control concerned what were then called “theatre nuclear weapons,” especially Soviet medium-range nuclear-armed missiles.  In the mid-1970s, the Soviets had developed a new type of intermediate range, multi-warhead nuclear missile that changed the strategic landscape in Europe.  The SS-20 was able to launch and hit targets with very short notice throughout Europe, posing a threat to important targets and especially to NATO Command and Control nodes. 

This led NATO Ministers to develop the ‘dual-track’ strategy:  simultaneously developing intermediate range missiles to deploy in NATO Europe – the Pershing II and ground launched cruise missiles – while also pushing for arms control.  This decision and its implementation quickly caught Moscow’s attention, because it placed Soviet Command and Control targets under the same threat of short-warning attack that the SS-20s had imposed on NATO.  Negotiations had been slow, but with the arrival of General Secretary Gorbachev, President Reagan and he were able to agree to a total ban on all intermediate range missiles – the so-called ‘zero option’.  Thanks to this agreement, the INF Treaty, the US and the Soviets destroyed over 2,600 short, medium and intermediate range missiles, ridding the world of an entire class of nuclear weapon. 

Unfortunately, INF is now under threat.  Some NATO Allies have assessed Russia to be in violation of the INF Treaty by producing and testing ground-launched cruise missiles to intermediate ranges banned by the Treaty.  There are reports that Russia is now able to deploy these missiles, which could pose a very real threat to NATO.  The INF Treaty was a stunning achievement in furthering US, NATO, Russian and global security. In NATO’s view, any attempt to weaken it through non-compliance would undermine that progress. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

For decades, NATO Allies have worked tirelessly to maintain peace and stability across the continent of Europe.  The arms control agreements that have been achieved so far, be they bilateral or multilateral, have proved invaluable in this endeavour.  By controlling proliferation, reducing absolute numbers and bringing transparency and predictability to often fraught relationships, nuclear and conventional arms control agreements help to keep the world a more peaceful place.  They will always have the support of the NATO Alliance. And let me just end by saying – we know more work must be done.