Move to Review NATO Nuclear Stance Offers New Disarmament Opportunities

By Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.

When the NATO fiftieth anniversary summit was held in Washingtonin April, the Western alliance took a significant step in the nuclear disarmament debate, which the general press lost sight of amidst the Kosovo crisis.

NATO opened the door to a broad ranging review of its nuclear weapons policies. That may not appear very exciting in the context of the nuclear weapons dilemma, in which START II is blocked and there is no substantive progress on the implementation of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But in the context of NATO, which has throughout the post-Cold War years resisted any challenge to nuclear weapons, including the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, it is a major move.

Those who read only the revised Strategic Concept of NATO,following the Summit, were once again met by NATO's reaffirmation that nuclear weapons "continue to fulfil an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the Allies' response to military aggression." Nuclear deterrence stays.

But by proceeding into a separate document, called the Washington Summit Communique, one reads in Paragraph 32: "In the light of overall strategic developments and the reduced salience of nuclear weapons, the Alliance will consider options for confidence and security-building measures, verification, non-proliferation, and arms control and disarmament. The Council in Permanent Session will propose a process to Ministers in December for considering such options. The responsible NATO bodies would accomplish this. We support deepening consultations with Russia in these and other areas in the Permanent Joint Council."

Taken together, the two documents might suggest a certain contradiction: nuclear weapons are essential, but we will look at the issue. A rather grudging way to start a review, to be sure.

NATO, as a heavily-layered political and bureaucratic institutionof 19 countries, cannot change its policies quickly. Its three nuclear powers, the U.S., U.K., and France, have all, as individual States, insisted that they intend to carry their nuclear arsenals well into the 21st century. It is not easy, to put it mildly, for the non-nuclear weapons States of NATO to challenge the dominant nuclear powers. NATO may operate by consensus, but it is a consensus dictated by the powerful members.

That the nuclear weapons States consented to a review they did not want indicates that the NNWS are not without some power of their own. When 12 of the NATO NNWS abstained on the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) resolution at UNGA last fall, they signaled their discontent with the intransigence of the NWS.

The NAC resolution called on the NWS to demonstrate an"unequivocal commitment" to the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear weapons through negotiations that would be brought to a conclusion. The resolution was adopted 114-18-38. Since the Western NWS campaigned hard around the world against the resolution and particularly insisted that all NATO members vote no, the 12 abstentions were remarkable.

Canada and Germany led the way in developing the courage of the12. Subsequently, the Canadian Government, in developing a new nuclear weapons policy as the result of a two-year study by a parliamentary committee, formally requested NATO to review its nuclear weapons policies. The Canadian Government did this because of the strength of the parliamentary report, which carried the support of four of the five parties in Parliament, representing 80 percent of the Canadian electorate.

The parliamentary committee's study was initiated after Project Ploughshares, an ecumenical peace research group, conducted a series of Roundtables in 18 cities in all 10 provinces of Canada, in which 400 community leaders called upon Canada to review its nuclear policies.

To buttress the Canadian effort, the Middle Powers Initiative sent two high-level delegations to Ottawa, in September 1998 and March 1999, where they were received both times by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

The resulting NATO action now gives three openings:

A new moment in the nuclear disarmament campaign may havearrived through the NATO action.

ith the NATO 12. Canada has led the way here by pledging to work with the NAC in pursuing shared nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. A new moment in the nuclear disarmament campaign may have arrived through the NATO action. ------------------------------------------------------------------------