Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2020-07-06

NATO Continues to Affirm The Role of Nuclear Deterrence

Nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence, alongside conventional and missile defence forces. The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression. NATO’s current nuclear policy is based on two public documents:
- The 2010 Strategic Concept
- The 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review
 
Nuclear weapons have been the foundation of NATO’s collective security since its inception. For over 70 years, both the national arsenals of the NATO nuclear weapons states – the United States, the United Kingdom and France – and the U.S. nuclear weapons forward deployed in Europe have provided deterrence and reassurance for the allies. 
 
The 2010 Strategic Concept, adopted by Allied Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in November 2010, sets out the Alliance’s core tasks and principles, including deterrence.  The 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 also seeks to ensure the broadest possible participation of allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements.
 
The Summit set in train work on a Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR), which was endorsed by the Allied Heads of State and Government at the NATO Chicago Summit in May 2012. 
 
NATO continues to affirm the importance of nuclear deterrence in light of evolving challenges.  Allies reiterated this principle at the 2014 Wales Summit, the 2016 Warsaw Summit, and the 2018 Brussels Summit.  
 
The Unique Nature of Nuclear Deterrence
The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear forces is deterrence. Nuclear weapons are unique and the circumstances under which NATO might have to use nuclear weapons is extremely remote. However, should the fundamental security of any NATO ally be threatened, NATO has the capabilities and the resolve to impose costs on the adversary that would be unacceptable and far outweigh the benefits that any adversary could hope to achieve.
 
U.S. as Supreme Guarantor of Allies’ Security
The strategic forces of the Alliance, and particularly those of the U.S., are the supreme guarantee of the security of the allies. The independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France have a deterrent role of their own and contribute significantly to the overall security of the Alliance. These Allies’ separate centres of decision-making contribute to deterrence by complicating the calculations of any potential adversaries.
 
Role Played by Dual-Capable Aircraft 
NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture relies on nuclear weapons forward-deployed by the U.S. in Europe, as well as on the capabilities and infrastructure provided by the allies concerned. Several NATO member countries contribute a dual-capable aircraft (DCA) capability to the Alliance. In their nuclear role, the aircraft are equipped to carry nuclear bombs in a conflict and personnel are trained accordingly.
 
The U.S. maintains absolute control and custody of their nuclear weapons forward deployed in Europe, while Allies provide military support for the DCA mission with conventional forces and capabilities.
 
Sharp Drop in Nuclear Weapons Post-Cold War 
The number of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe in support of NATO has been reduced by 90 per cent since the end of the Cold War. Between 1991 and 1993, the U.S. removed around 3,000 nuclear weapons from Europe. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. continued to reduce the number of nuclear weapons deployed in Europe and consolidated them at fewer bases. 
 
The enactment of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, followed by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in July 1991, and the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT) in 2002 provided a steady drum beat of strategic nuclear weapons reductions between the U.S. and Russia.
 
PNIs  Lead to Massive Reduction in Nukes
But the most significant reduction in nuclear weapons in Europe was not governed by an arms control treaty at all. On September 27, 1991, President George H. W. Bush outlined sweeping changes to the U.S. nuclear force posture in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and called on leaders in the Kremlin to reciprocate in kind. Days later, President Mikhail Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would take similar steps to reduce, dismantle and destroy much of its non-strategic nuclear forces.
 
These Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) resulted in the most significant reduction of tactical – or non-strategic – nuclear weapons in the European theatre. The U.S. destroyed approximately 2,000 ground-launched nuclear artillery shells and short-range ballistic missiles; removed all tactical nuclear weapons on navy surface ships, attack submarines and naval aircraft; destroyed all nuclear depth bombs; de-alerted strategic bombers; and cancelled the planned modernisation of some nuclear systems.
 
Soviet and subsequently Russian leaders pledged to eliminate all nuclear artillery, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear land mines as well as remove tactical nuclear weapons from ships, multipurpose submarines and naval aircraft. These weapons, along with nuclear warheads from air defence missiles, were to be put into central storage and a portion would be destroyed. 
 
Additionally, a third of Russia’s sea-based tactical nuclear weapons and half of its ground-to-air nuclear missile warheads were to be eliminated, along with half of the Russian airborne tactical nuclear weapons stockpile. By 2010, Russia had consolidated its tactical nuclear weapons at “central storage facilities”; removed tactical nuclear weapons from its ground forces; and dramatically cut the tactical nuclear arsenal of the air force, missile defence troops and navy, reducing the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons by around 75 per cent.
 
The combined reductions of the U.S. and Russia were the most transformative change to the nuclear posture in Europe, resulting in an easing of military tensions.
Unfortunately, the gains made in the mid-1990s did not translate into sustained and verifiable progress in dismantling stockpiles of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The U.S. unilaterally reduced its non-strategic nuclear forces over time and Russia may have done the same but these political statements and actions did not include verification or compliance mechanisms.
 
Russia Stays a Step Ahead in Military Modernisation
As part of its overall military transformation, Russia has modernised about 80 per cent of its strategic nuclear forces since the early 2000s. The U.S. is only now embarking on its own 20+ year modernisation programme.
 
Russia is now better poised rapidly to add new strategic warheads on modern deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bombers, when treaty-imposed constraints from New START (2010) expire between 2021 or 2026. This is particularly significant given that there is little progress on negotiating a new arms control treaty regime for strategic systems.
 
Additionally, Russia is developing new types of missile systems such as the strategic-range hypersonic glide vehicle Avangard. It is also developing an air-launched ballistic missile, the Kinzhal. Hypersonic weapons fly at super-high speeds, at low altitudes and have the capability to manoeuvre during flight – a combination of capabilities that make hypersonic missiles difficult to track and nearly impossible to defend against. While the U.S. has begun to increase its own investments into hypersonic missile systems development, it is lagging behind Russia (and China).
 
Russia successfully test-launched its Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile from a ship for the first time, in January, according to the TASS news agency.  
 
Russia is also in the process of developing “novel” nuclear systems such as a nuclear-powered nuclear cruise missile and an underwater unmanned nuclear torpedo. 
Besides, Russia now has significant missile systems that are designed to be dual-capable for either conventional or nuclear weapons delivery. It also has a comparatively large arsenal of non-strategic nuclear warheads – estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 in storage depots, compared with an estimated 150 to 200 U.S. gravity bombs stored in vaults in Europe, according to open source information.
 
Maintaining Effective Nuclear Deterrence
As NATO’s heads of state and government often reiterate, the Alliance’s nuclear weapons are intended to “preserve peace, prevent coercion, and deter aggression”.  This includes reassuring allies of the strong transatlantic commitment to collective security, demonstrated by NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements in which European and North American allies share the risks and responsibilities of nuclear deterrence. 
 
Source: This article is based on work by Jessica Cox, Director of Nuclear Policy at NATO.
www.nato.int
 

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