No. 5 - Sept. 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 10-15

Countering the proliferation risks:
Adapting the Alliance to the new security environment

Ashton B. Carter & David B. Omand

Ashton B. Carter At the time of writing,
Ashton Carter was US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy and co-Chairman with David Omand of the NATO Senior Defence Group on Proliferation.

David B. Omand
David Omand was Deputy Under Secretary of State (Policy) at the UK Ministry of Defence.

In June, NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers endorsed the culmination of two years' work by the Alliance to develop a comprehensive approach to counter the military risks posed by the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons and their means of delivery. Increased attention to the NBC proliferation challenge demonstrates how NATO is changing in order to meet the challenges of the new security environment.

With the participation of all 16 Allies and the involvement of many other NATO bodies, the NATO Senior Defence Group on Proliferation (DGP) has recently completed a two-year programme of intense activity to identify the defence response to the risks posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In those two years, the DGP broke much new ground and demonstrated another important way in which NATO is adapting to the new security environment. The DGP has developed a plan of action - endorsed by Alliance Defence Ministers in June - to prepare the Alliance to deal with the risks posed by proliferation and it has also formulated recommendations to improve capabilities that contribute to the overall modernization of the Alliance's defence posture.

The DGP has adopted markedly different ways of working compared with the many committees and groups that meet as part of the day to day business of the Alliance. It is chaired and staffed not by the International Staff or a nation, but by two nations jointly - one European, one North American. France provided the first European co-chairman and for the past 12 months co-chairmanship has been undertaken by the United Kingdom and the United States. Although a novel arrangement, the co-chaired group has delivered impressive results: in 24 months it achieved a broad Alliance consensus based on three reports endorsed by Ministers. Indeed, the pace and scale of the DGP's achievements since May 1994 represent a remarkable success story for the Alliance and for transatlantic cooperation.

Charles Millon
French Defence Minister Charles Millon (right) with Permanent Representative Gérard Errera at NATO headquarters to attend an historic meeting of the Council in Defence Ministers session.
(NATO photo 29Kb)
The full involvement of France from the outset, and particularly its initial leadership role in the DGP, represents another special aspect of this defence policy group. As Foreign Ministers noted in Berlin in June, the work of the DGP has played an important role in NATO's internal adaptation and the beginning of French re-engagement in Alliance defence planning.

Origins of the DGP

NATO's efforts to address the problem of proliferation evolved from the Alliance's 1991 Strategic Concept which identified the different security challenges and risks facing member countries following the profound political changes which had taken place in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989. The Strategic Concept, which drew attention to the multifaceted and multidirectional risks to Alliance security, emphasized in particular the importance of peace and stability in countries on the southern periphery of Europe and noted the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons and ballistic missiles in this area. The Strategic Concept identified proliferation of NBC weapons and their means of delivery as a problem requiring special attention, and it underlined the need for the Alliance to maintain appropriate military forces and preparedness - including for rapid reaction - for the range of risks facing member countries in order to prevent any attempt at coercion or intimidation.

After adoption of the Strategic Concept, several important events and international trends led NATO to focus even more intently on the challenge of NBC proliferation.

First, the full extent of NBC proliferation and its implications for Alliance security were becoming more visible to NATO members. By 1993, more than 25 countries, many located near NATO territory, were identified as potentially having NBC capabilities, and at least half of them had operational ballistic missiles, while other countries were trying to develop them.

Second, the increasing availability of key technologies was accelerating the growth in worldwide NBC capabilities. Countries seeking such capabilities were benefiting from the rising tide of technology and commercially available dual-use technologies, the acquisition of which are difficult to contain through export controls. Alliance concerns were compounded by the break-up of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and the increased potential for access to NBC weapons technology, material and expertise that had previously been strictly controlled and contained within the borders of the former Soviet Union.

Chemical Warfare Bombs
Five-hundred-pound aerial bombs filled with chemical warfare agents awaiting destruction in Iraq.
(UNSCOM Photo 40Kb)
Finally, the conflict in the Persian Gulf starkly reinforced the potential security issues posed by NBC proliferation. The world watched as Iraq, which had previously used chemical weapons in its war with Iran and against its own people, launched SCUD missiles against coalition forces and civilian populations and held out the threat of chemical weapon attacks. Only recently, as a result of defections from Iraq and follow-up inspections by UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) teams, have we begun to build a fuller picture of the true nature and extent of Iraqi NBC efforts. It is now clear that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons ready for delivery and was vigorously pursuing improvements. The conflict thus underscores the possibility of the threat or use of NBC weapons and associated delivery means as part of any future conflict, and demonstrates the importance of being able to build effective, well-equipped military coalitions in response.

Rolf Ekeus
UN Special envoy on Iraq Rolf Ekeus, seen against the backdrop of a painting of Saddam Hussein, holds a Press conference in Baghdad last June after Iraq had agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors access to military sites.
(EPA/Belga 30Kb)
Recognizing that proliferation constituted a threat to international security, NATO Heads of State and Government, at the Brussels Summit in January 1994, directed the Alliance to intensify and expand its efforts against proliferation. This, along with Partnership for Peace and the Combined Joint Task Force concept, was one of the major initiatives launched at the Summit. While the publicity which this has attracted has perhaps been lower-key, the Alliance's efforts against proliferation, including the work of the DGP, has been no less a part of NATO's transformation to meet the challenges of the new security environment.

The first concrete step to follow-up this Summit directive was the establishment of an overarching policy framework, which was agreed by NATO Foreign Ministers at their meeting in Istanbul in June 1994. The Alliance Policy Framework on Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction reviewed the evolving risks from proliferation and reaffirmed that the principal goal of the Alliance and its members in this regard is to prevent proliferation or, should it occur, to reverse it through diplomatic means. It noted that NBC proliferation can, however, occur despite international non-proliferation norms and agreements, and thus it set in motion work to determine the range of military capabilities needed to discourage proliferation, deter threats or use and, if necessary, protect NATO populations, forces and territory.

Three senior NATO groups were created to this end. The Senior Politico-Military Group on Proliferation (SGP) is concerned with the political dimension to NATO's role against proliferation. The DGP, for its part, is concerned with the Alliance's defence response, and both report to the North Atlantic Council through the Joint Committee on Proliferation (JCP).

The DGP's Work Programme

To develop the Alliance's defence response to proliferation, the DGP established the following three-phase programme of work:

Phase 1: Risk assessment (completed December 1994).

Phase 2: Implications and needed capabilities (completed spring 1995):

  • Demonstrate how the range of contingencies of concern to NATO could be altered fundamentally through the presence or use of NBC weapons and effective delivery systems;

  • Consider how the allied defence posture can support non-proliferation efforts;

  • Determine the range of capabilities needed in response to these situations.

Phase 3: Assessment of current capabilities, identification of deficiencies, and recommendations for correction (completed June 1996):

  • Assess current NATO and national capabilities;

  • Identify shortfalls;

  • Examine areas for cooperation and improvement to correct shortfalls;

  • Consider further development of defence policy and doctrine;

  • Institutionalize these efforts in NATO's ongoing defence planning efforts where appropriate.

Phase I: Proliferation risks to NATO

Under French and US co-chairmanship, the DGP produced a comprehensive Risk Assessment which was endorsed by NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers in December 1994. This was the first such assessment ever produced by the Alliance and provided a consensus about the extent, nature and direction of the risks posed by NBC proliferation.

The Risk Assessment, which is a classified document, provided details supporting the concern highlighted at the Summit about states on or near NATO's periphery that have either acquired or are in the process of acquiring NBC weapons and the means to deliver them. Of particular concern was the number of countries that already possess chemical or biological weapons.

The Risk Assessment considered technological trends to the year 2010. It analysed the link between supplier and client states in the trade of materials, technologies and expertise needed to acquire NBC weapons and delivery capabilities. In particular, it noted that many relationships between suppliers and clients are already mature and demonstrated how rapid transfer of technology could significantly affect the risks facing NATO, and reinforced the importance of monitoring the activities of these countries. In the light of this work, the DGP concluded that NBC proliferation could pose a direct military threat to the Alliance and must therefore be taken into consideration in defence planning.

Box 1:

Overarching principles to guide NATO's defence response to proliferation

  • Ensure Alliance cohesion through continued widespread participation in Allied Defence preparations for operations in the NBC proliferation risk environment.

  • Maintain freedom of action and demonstrate to any potential adversary that the Alliance will not be coerced by the threat or use of NBC weapons.

  • Reassure both Allies and coalition partners of the Alliance's ability effectively to respond to, or protect against, NBC threats or attacks.

  • Ensure responsive and effective consultation procedures to resolve crises which have a potential NBC dimension at the earliest possible stage.

  • Complement non-proliferation efforts with a mix of military capabilities that devalue NBC weapons, by reducing the incentives for, and raising the costs of, acquisition.

  • Complement nuclear deterrence with a mix of defensive and responsive conventional capabilities, coupled with effective intelligence and surveillance means, that together would reinforce the Alliance's overall deterrence posture against the threats posed by proliferation by increasing the options available to Alliance decision-makers during crises and conflicts.

  • Balance a mix of capabilities including nuclear forces and conventional response capabilities to devalue a proliferant's NBC weapons by denying the military advantages they would confer and through the prospect of an overwhelming response to their use.

  • Prioritize needed capabilities in terms of their contribution to Alliance objectives.

  • Conflict control, including the tempo and direction of military operations, and the ability to prevail in all phases of any conflict.

  • Evolve capabilities as the threat evolves while focusing on existing conditions and expected near term trends, with their regional emphases, and maintaining options for deploying more capable systems if necessary in the future.

  • Emphasise system mobility, given that NBC proliferation risks are expected to be primarily regional in character and that NATO forces may be called upon to operate beyond NATO's borders.

  • Integrate NBC-related concepts into the Alliance's defence planning and standardization processes.

Phase 2:
Assessing the implications and required military

Using the Risk Assessment as a baseline, the DGP considered the defence implications of proliferation, established policy guidelines and defined needed military capabilities. This phase of the work was started under French and US co-chairmanship and was completed under UK and US co-chairmanship.

Phase 2 began with a comprehensive and rigorous analysis of the possible types of NBC threats or attacks across the full range of potential contingencies, ranging from attacks on NATO territory to peacekeeping operations conducted under the auspices of the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The DGP examined the political and military consequences of such attacks and considered how a proliferant might seek (however misguidedly) to threaten or use NBC weapons in an effort to influence Allied decision making or gain operational or tactical military advantage.

One fact became immediately clear: the behaviour of proliferants may in many cases be less predictable than the patterns established by the old Warsaw Pact. Proliferants are also less likely to have effective command and control, communications, release procedures, security arrangements and operational doctrines. Additionally, the DGP noted that NBC weapons are quite different from one another as are their characteristics and their potential military effect. These considerations have implications for the Alliance's overall deterrence posture, and led the DGP to draw particular attention to the importance of protection for deployed forces, given NATO's new roles and missions and the regional nature of the risk.

From this analysis, the DGP derived the main principles to guide NATO's defence response to proliferation, and support the Alliance's objectives for dealing with it. The principles (see Box 1) highlight and help to ensure the strategic unity and freedom of action of the Alliance, and lay out an approach for the development and modernization of NATO's forces to ensure that they evolve as the threat does. They provide the policy basis for all of the Alliance's efforts against proliferation.

From this policy foundation, the DGP defined the capabilities necessary to respond to these new proliferation risks. In approaching this task, the DGP did not at this stage take into account the capabilities that the Alliance already possesses (although these are of course considerable), but instead sought to identify from scratch the most effective force posture for combatting NBC risks. The DGP's conclusions were prioritized into three tiers, the first two of which reflect those requirements for responding to current or near-term threats, and the third covered requirements should the threat evolve.

The nucleus of our force structure to counter proliferation risks is identified in Tier 1 (see Box 2), to which we attach the highest priority. Building on this nucleus of core, integrative capabilities, the DGP identified Tier 2 capabilities that contribute significantly to the Alliance's political aims and operational objectives for dealing with existing or expected near-term proliferation risks. These include advanced computer applications, layered missile defences, reconnaissance platforms and sensors, medical counter-measures and special munitions for countering NBC weapons.

Box 2:

Tier 1 needed capabilities

Core integrative military capabilities that make the most substantial contributions to the alliance's politico-military objectives for dealing with proliferation; serve as force multipliers to increase the overall effectiveness of the Alliance's defence posture for dealing with proliferation risks; and respond to existing conditions and expected near term trends.

  • Strategic and operational intelligence;

  • Automated and deployable command, control and communications;

  • Wide area ground surveillance;

  • Standoff and point biological and chemical agent detection, identification and warning;

  • Extended air defences, including tactical ballistic missile defence for deployed forces;

  • NBC individual protective equipment for deployed forces.

Phase 3:
Improving Alliance capabilities to deal
with proliferation

While Phase 2 had identified the capabilities needed, it was now necessary to take account of those already available or currently planned. This was the work of Phase 3. While our overall judgement from this comprehensive assessment was that NATO's forces remain robust, based on the military capabilities and common defence developed over the course of five decades of Allied cooperation, the DGP recognised a number of areas where corrective action was required, particularly to enhance NATO's ability to perform its new roles and missions.

We were especially concerned throughout our work to ensure that the overall approach to proliferation and to the DGP's conclusions and recommendations became embedded in the day to day routines and related activities of all NATO bodies. One vital way to do this was to ensure that the identified capabilities were considered alongside other Alliance priorities as part of the Alliance's defence planning process. This process operates under a two-year force goal cycle, and the report on the most recent such cycle had just been given to Defence Ministers. Reflecting the political importance attached to proliferation issues, Ministers directed that an accelerated process be instituted to correct within a shorter time frame than would normally be the case any shortfalls in capabilities identified by the DGP's work. This was the first time in 12 years that this accelerated force planning tool had been used. Also significant was the fact that all Allies were invited to participate in this process, even though France has not normally been involved in the force planning process.

To ensure that its conclusions were taken forward in other areas of Alliance business, the DGP developed a comprehensive programme of 39 separate Action Plans. These reflect the broad spectrum of work to be undertaken by different NATO bodies over the coming months, and are based on the principles and priorities set out in the Phase 2 work programme and incorporate recommendations on a phased approach to implementation, taking account of the adequacy of existing plans, the maturity of current technology and resource implications. With defined milestones against each Action Plan, the DGP will be in a position to monitor progress and provide periodic reports to Ministers on the extent to which the original objectives are being met.

Fielding new capabilities alone, however, will not guarantee Alliance success in countering proliferation risks. We also identified further work required to achieve commensurate improvements and modifications in the policies that guide NATO's common defence efforts against proliferation, as well as new planning and operational concepts, and revised doctrine and plans, to make the best use of NATO's forces and technical capabilities.

The challenges that lie ahead

NBC protection
A British soldier in the Gulf drinks through a special tube built into his NBC protection respirator.
(Defence NBC Centre, UK 44Kb)

The DGP has now successfully completed the tasks set by NATO Heads of State and Government at the 1994 Summit, and has done so in a thorough and timely manner. It would be wrong, however, to leave the impression that the work of the DGP is over. There is a major programme of follow-on work that is now required to consolidate the conclusions derived. The DGP will monitor the Alliance's progress over the next year in improving its capabilities to counter the risks posed by proliferation. As an essential complementary effort, we will continue to refine Alliance defence policy to guide the further development of Alliance doctrine, planning, training and exercising to maximize the utility of our capabilities and optimize our overall defence posture.

As the Alliance deepens its relations with Partner nations and other countries, the DGP will also play a role in explaining the Alliance's defence efforts against proliferation, and in consulting with these countries about the defence planning implications of proliferation. Already, in December 1995, the Alliance established a dialogue with the Russian Federation that included discussions about the work of the DGP to date. We look forward to establishing similar dialogues with other Partner nations in the coming months to address the common security concern of proliferation.

Italy has now taken over from the UK as European co-chairman alongside the US, and together the two nations will be seeking to ensure that the DGP provides the focus for continued Alliance-wide work in this area and to ensure that the momentum achieved over the last two years is maintained. In so doing, we shall all need to be alive to the imperative of communicating the conclusions of our work and its importance to domestic publics as well as to Partner countries, as the Alliance prepares for the challenges that lie ahead.

There can be little doubt that the DGP's conclusions and recommendations are a central part of the adaptation of the Alliance to the new security environment, alongside Combined Joint Task Forces and Partnership for Peace. The work has demonstrated that our defence response to proliferation must be an Alliance priority; but our success to date would not have been possible without the tremendous support from all allied nations, many other NATO bodies, and with the active involvement of the NATO Military Authorities.

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