IN A CHANGING WORLD
J. Gregory L. Schulte
Director of NATO's Nuclear Planning Directorate
A deep crisis between East and West... Warsaw
Pact armies amass, NATO reinforces, hostilities break out on multiple
fronts... NATO forces, though numerically inferior, fight well... but
Warsaw Pact second-echelon forces are ready to attack and NATO's forward
defences seem unlikely to hold....
Until a few years ago, scenarios such as this dominated
NATO's nuclear force policy and planning. The readily apparent and potentially
immediate threat dramatized by these scenarios helped to define the important
role of nuclear weapons within NATO's strategy of deterrence. This threat
provided the Alliance with a common starting point for establishing requirements,
developing political guidance, and exercising forces and procedures.
NATO no longer has the convenience of such a distinct
and accepted foundation for planning. The Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union
have been dissolved, and the enemies of the old Cold War scenarios have
become our partners in cooperation. The risks that remain are multifaceted
and multi-directional, and thus hard to predict and assess. In this new
context, the role of the Alliance itself has shifted from straightforward
deterrence of a full-scale attack to the more complex task of projecting
stability in a new and uncertain world.
The Alliance has rapidly adapted its nuclear posture
- both strategic and sub-strategic (1)
- to the new security environment. Two years after the Berlin Wall fell,
NATO Heads of State and Government approved a new Strategic Concept (2)
in November 1991 to replace NATO's old strategy of Flexible Response.
Nuclear forces had played a pivotal role in the old strategy, reflecting
in part NATO's conventional inferiority relative to the Warsaw Pact. While
nuclear weapons still play an essential role in the new Strategic Concept,
reliance on them has been reduced. This reduced reliance is manifest in
NATO's force structure as well as its policy and planning.
At the October 1991 meeting of NATO's Nuclear Planning
Group (NPG) in Taormina, Italy, Defence Ministers agreed to a dramatically
reduced sub-strategic nuclear force (3).
NATO Heads of State and Government had already agreed in July 1990 that
the Alliance could reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons of the shortest
ranges. At Taormina, Defence Ministers went even further, determining
that nuclear weapons for ground-launched short-range ballistic missiles
and artillery could be eliminated entirely. They also agreed to reduce
by more than half the number of air-delivered weapons for NATO's dual-capable
aircraft, the only weapons that will now remain in NATO's nuclear stockpile
On the basis of these decisions, NPG Ministers
welcomed the earlier initiative by President Bush, and the reciprocal
response by President Gorbachev, to withdraw and destroy their nuclear
warheads for ground-launched systems worldwide. They also welcomed the
decisions of the two Presidents to withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons
from their surface vessels, attack submarines and land-based naval aircraft,
and to destroy many of these weapons.
The cumulative effect of the decisions taken at
Taormina is to reduce by roughly 80 per cent the size of the NATO stockpile
of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, relative to its size at the
time of the Taormina meeting. This is a reduction of well over 90 per
cent compared to the peak level of the stockpile in the early 1970s (see
Table I). At the same time, the composition of the stockpile is changing:
the past's large array of weapon types, varying in range and function,
is being replaced by just one - air-delivered weapons.
Since the Taormina meeting, the reduction and restructuring
of NATO's sub-strategic nuclear forces in Europe has progressed well.
The precise level and distribution of the stockpile were approved by NPG
Ministers at their Spring 1992 meeting at NATO Headquarters, based on
the recommendations of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) (4).
All of NATO's ground-launched and naval tactical nuclear weapons were
removed by July 1992, much earlier than originally envisaged. Reductions
in the number of air-delivered nuclear weapons are well underway.
These reductions have been accompanied by a relaxation
of the overall readiness of the systems that remain. With the disappearance
of an immediate, overwhelming threat, NATO no longer needs sub-strategic
forces planned and postured to react at a moment's notice.
Changes of comparable magnitude are planned in
the strategic nuclear forces of NATO, which are predominantly those of
the United States. Table II illustrates the effect on US force levels
of the January 1993 START II Treaty, compared to the force levels in September
1990 and those planned under the July 1991 START Treaty. START II reductions
are to be accomplished in two phases by the year 2003 or, if the United
States assists Russia, by the year 2000. As with NATO's sub-strategic
forces, the overall readiness of these forces has also been reduced.
NATO has adapted its policy and planning as quickly
as it has transformed its force structure. At their NPG meeting in Gleneagles,
Scotland, last October (5), Defence
Ministers agreed to new political principles for nuclear planning and
consultation, reflecting the reduced reliance on nuclear forces in the
Strategic Concept, while ensuring continued political control over these
forces in all circumstances. These principles replaced the detailed guidance
that was developed during the Cold War. The new principles are much more
general, since the risks facing the Alliance are less predictable than
in the past and since more time should be available in a crisis to develop
additional guidance for NATO's Military Authorities.
The role of remaining forces
What is the role of those nuclear forces that remain?
How are they justified now that the threat scenarios of the Cold War are
Today, NATO's nuclear forces are neither oriented
against any particular enemy nor planned for any specific scenario. Their
role is much broader.
The Alliance's Strategic Concept states that the
fundamental role of NATO's nuclear forces is political: to preserve peace
and prevent coercion. NATO does not retain nuclear weapons to fight wars
but rather to assist in preventing them. NATO's nuclear forces support
war prevention by helping to ensure uncertainty in the mind of any leadership
contemplating an attack on the Alliance and by demonstrating that such
an attack is not a rational option. Nuclear forces make the risks of aggression
against NATO incalculable and unacceptable in a way that conventional
forces alone cannot.
The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies
continues to be provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance,
particularly those of the United States. The independent nuclear forces
of the United Kingdom and France play an important role of their own.
Yet for nuclear forces to fulfil their role in war prevention, NATO cannot
rely solely on the strategic forces of the United States, United Kingdom,
and France. Rather, NATO requires nuclear forces deployed in Europe and
committed to the Alliance's defence, with delivery systems provided by
both nuclear and non-nuclear allies. Such forces provide an essential
political and military link between the European and the North American
members of the Alliance, demonstrating that an attack on the European
members of NATO could ultimately engage the strategic forces of the United
States. They also allow the risks and burdens of NATO's nuclear posture
to be shared through wider participation. Widespread participation is
manifest not only in the basing of nuclear forces, but also through participation
in common funding of infrastructure and in collective planning through
institutions such as the Nuclear Planning Group.
European basing and widespread participation are
essential elements of NATO's nuclear posture. A posture without these
characteristics could fail, either by causing an adversary to misinterpret
NATO's solidarity and resolve or by providing inadequate reassurance to
Alliance members who might feel singularly exposed to future threats.
Any notion that NATO could in peacetime store all or most of its nuclear
weapons outside Europe and redeploy them to the Continent in crisis or
war is politically and militarily unsound. NATO's nuclear posture must
seek to dissuade a potential aggressor in peacetime, instead of only after
a crisis has begun. Moreover, redeployment in times of crisis might only
serve to exacerbate the situation.
The role of NATO's nuclear weapons as described
so far may seem academic, at best, particularly in the absence of a specific
military threat. Today, the circumstances in which any use of nuclear
weapons might have to be contemplated are remote. And for most of the
crises likely to confront the Alliance - such as the fighting in the former
Yugoslavia - nuclear weapons will play no role. To understand their role
more concretely, one must consider a spectrum of future risks that could
affect NATO's security and involve a nuclear dimension. None of these
has the immediacy or clarity of the Cold War scenarios, but all must be
given serious consideration.
One set of risks involves the re-emergence of a
major threat on the European landmass, particularly one stemming from
a nation that is well armed with nuclear weapons. NATO's conventional
forces are anticipated to remain sufficient to cope with the non-nuclear
elements of such a threat, particularly given the expectation that NATO
will have more time to augment its defences than during the Cold War.
Nevertheless, NATO could fail to act promptly or the adversary could see
its nuclear weapons as a way to coerce the Alliance before or even without
building up a large conventional capability.
In the face of these risks, NATO's nuclear forces
are a source of stability and reassurance. They underwrite the reductions
in conventional forces now underway in Europe by demonstrating that any
future attempt to gain superiority by unilateral rearmament would not
guarantee political or military advantage. In addition, NATO's nuclear
forces help to protect against any attempt to intimidate or coerce any
allied nation through the threat of nuclear force.
A second set of risks involves the proliferation
of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, resulting in the emergence
of newly nuclear-armed countries on the Alliance's periphery. These countries
are unlikely to have the conventional capability to challenge NATO, or
even the nuclear forces to threaten the territory of all Alliance members.
Yet they may see even a limited nuclear capability as an equalizer, allowing
them to intimidate the Alliance and challenge its resolve. The leaders
involved may be motivated by intense hatred or ideology, and not behave
as rationally as those that NATO sought to deter in the past.
For this set of risks, NATO's nuclear posture should
serve to discourage such leaders from thinking they can profitably threaten
allied countries with nuclear weapons. There has been much speculation
about the efficacy of nuclear deterrence upon leaders who are irrational
by our standards; however, such leaders may be more effectively deterred
than we think, particularly those who consider nuclear weapons so influential
that they have sought to attain them for themselves.
Clearly, NATO's nuclear forces must have the flexibility
to play their war prevention roles for a broad range of eventualities.
But in all cases, they would be weapons of last resort, not because NATO
would sacrifice their deterrent value by planning to fight a protracted
conventional war, but last resort in that NATO would have a panoply of
other instruments in its arsenal to deal with future crises. These start
with preventative diplomacy, non-proliferation measures and crisis management,
and extend to rapid reinforcement and, if necessary, reconstitution of
a stronger defence posture. Good intelligence, effective conventional
capabilities, and anti-missile defences would also play important roles.
For NATO's nuclear forces to play their role in war
prevention, the Alliance must ensure that its forces, while maintained at
a minimum level, are effective, flexible, survivable and secure.
The effectiveness of NATO's nuclear forces is fundamentally
dependent on the qualification and training of the people responsible
for operating them. It is also dependent upon ensuring the capability
of the delivery systems - dual-capable aircraft (DCA) - and the weapons
themselves. NATO's DCA force continues to be updated and today includes
some of the Allies' most capable aircraft, such as the Tornado, the F-16,
and the F-15E. But we must guard against inattention which would allow
these systems or their weapons to become obsolescent.
Flexibility is an inherent characteristic of NATO's
DCA force. DCA can be used for conventional or nuclear missions, and they
can be assigned as reaction, main defence, or augmentation forces under
the new Strategic Concept. DCA and their mission planning can be rapidly
reoriented to counter emerging threats. Their ability to reinforce any
region of the Alliance at risk and to participate in multinational operations
can provide a clear demonstration of Alliance resolve and solidarity.
With the considerable reduction underway in the
Alliance's nuclear posture, NATO Defence Ministers have placed a premium
on the survivability and security of those systems that remain. The NATO
Infrastructure Programme continues to enhance the protection of NATO's
sub-strategic forces, including the weapons themselves.
In addition to being effective, flexible, survivable
and secure, NATO's nuclear forces must be supported by an adaptive planning
system that can respond to unpredictable threats by adequate command,
control and communications and by regular exercises. These exercises must
test not only military units but also the mechanisms enabling political
In sum, NATO requires a nuclear posture that is
credible in the eyes of a potential aggressor, so that it cannot be easily
dismissed. Only thus can it contribute to the prevention of war.
The series of historic arms control treaties associated
with the end of the Cold War - the 1987 INF Treaty, the 1991 START Treaty,
and the 1993 START II Treaty - promise to reduce dramatically the number
of nuclear weapons stockpiled on our planet. Nevertheless, our world will
continue to be a nuclear one, and even more countries are likely to obtain
nuclear arsenals in the future. Not all may view their nuclear weapons as
instruments of war prevention; some may rely on them as instruments of intimidation
or even war.
As we have seen, with Cold War nuclear scenarios
now consigned to history, NATO has been able to reduce its own reliance
on nuclear weapons and transform radically its nuclear posture. The most
dramatic change associated with sub-strategic nuclear forces is the 80
per cent reduction in nuclear weapons in Europe, including the complete
elimination of those for ground-launched missiles and artillery. The speed
of this transformation is evidence of the Alliance's ability to adapt.
While the Cold War is over, risks remain which
justify the retention of a small - but credible - nuclear deterrent. Unlike
in the past, when one narrow set of scenarios dominated NATO's planning,
the role of NATO's nuclear forces must now be viewed against a wide range
of eventualities, from strategic instabilities within Europe to proliferation
of nuclear weapons outside Europe. In all cases, the role of NATO's new
nuclear posture is fundamentally political, reflecting the defensive nature
of NATO's Strategic Concept and supporting its key objectives of promoting
stability and preventing war.
Table I : NATO'S Nuclear Stockpile in Europe
Table II : U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces
(*) Table I & II can be received on request, by FAX or E-mail.
(1) "Strategic" nuclear forces include
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), sea-launched ballisitc missiles
(SLBMs), and bombers with intercontinental range. NATO nuclear forces
with less range are termed "sub-strategic".
(2) See "The making of NATO's New
Strategy", Michael Legge, NATO REVIEW No.
6, December 1991, pp. 9-14; and see pp. 25-32 for text of new strategic
(3) For text of communiqué,
see NATO REVIEW, No. 6, December 1991, p. 33.
(4) For communiqué, see NATO
REVIEW, No. 3, June 1992, pp. 34-35.
(5) For communiqué, see NATO
REVIEW, No. 5, October 1992, p. 35.
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