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Global Security : Multilateral : NATO Last Updated: Feb 20th, 2004 - 17:28:41

NATO Nuclear Power Sharing and the NPT
By Denise Groves
Aug 6, 2000, 02:33

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Only weeks before the international community reviews progress made on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NATO is on the brink of adopting a doctrine that expands the role of nuclear weapons to deter the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). If so, the Alliance's military strategy would serve to further degrade the health of the NPT, already seriously weakened because of the contradictions between of NATO's controversial nuclear power sharing arrangements and commitments made under the NPT.

Adoption of this strategy will: Negatively prejudice NATO's ongoing review of its arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation policy; Bring both the nuclear and the non-nuclear members of NATO into clear violation of their obligations under Articles I and II of the NPT, as well as the Negative Security Assurances; harm the NPT Review Conference and legitimate growing criticisms by non-NATO, non-nuclear members of the non-proliferation regime.

Under Articles I and II of the NPT, nuclear weapons states are prohibited from transferring nuclear weapons or control over such weapons to any recipient, directly or indirectly. Non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) are likewise prohibited from receiving transfer or control of such weapons. However, NATO nuclear power sharing arrangements seem to violate these principles. Under those arrangements and in case of war, European non- nuclear weapon states — particularly Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey — may be given access to some of the up to 180 American-owned and controlled nuclear weapons stored in Europe.

At its April 1999 Summit in Washington, NATO emphasized the importance of shared responsibility within the Alliance. NATO declared in its Strategic Concept that: "A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of Alliance solidarity and common commitment to war prevention continue to require widespread participation by European Allies involved in collective defense planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements." Those arrangements include the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), which allows European non-nuclear allies to participate in nuclear decision-making as well as in discussions about the Alliance’s nuclear policy, planning and doctrine. Although European NATO members are given a political role in decisions on the use of nuclear forces under NATO command, they can not order their use.

Alliance solidarity also requires "widespread participation", which means that US nuclear weapons deployed in Europe can be delivered either by US aircraft or by aircraft belonging to other NATO members. In peacetime, all US weapons remain strictly under the control of US forces. However, in times of war, the US President can authorize the release of deployed nuclear weapons to NATO allies. In practice, this could mean that once an allied aircraft has taken off with the armed nuclear weapon on board, the weapon is no longer under national US command and control. Instead, the allied pilot now has full control over the weapon and has sole responsibility for delivering the weapon to its target. Such a course of action would effectively mean that the non-nuclear NATO partners become nuclear powers in time of war.

Through creative interpretation of language in the NPT, American officials deny that NATO nuclear power sharing arrangements are in violation of the treaty. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the participation by NATO NNWS in the activities of the Nuclear Planning Group "in no way contravenes Article I of the NPT. This question of NPT Article I and its impact on NATO nuclear forces was debated at length during the negotiation of the NPT. All concerned accepted that the final language of Article I would not preclude the type of nuclear planning, basing, and consultative arrangements that have taken place in NATO since NPT entry-into-force in 1970."

US defense of its interpretations of the NPT is partly based on a document entitled Questions on the Draft Non-Proliferation Treaty asked by US Allies together with Answers given by the United States, which was transmitted to the US Senate on 9 July 1968 for consideration during ratification hearings on the NPT. The document offered to the Senate was designed to give an interpretation of the NPT that would allow NATO nuclear sharing arrangements. The interpretation centered around four key areas that in the US view, the Treaty did not deal with and therefore, does not prohibit.

First, the US argued in the Questions and Answers document that while there is a prohibition on the transfer of nuclear bombs, warheads and nuclear explosive devices, the Treaty does not deal with, and therefore does not prohibit, transfer of nuclear delivery vehicles or delivery systems or control over them. This interpretation allows for NATO cooperation on development and procurement of systems capable of delivering US nuclear weapons. Second, the US position stated that the NPT does not deal with allied consultations and planning on nuclear defense so long as no transfer of nuclear weapons or control over them results. This in effect allows NNWS participation in drafting target plans, obtaining information about how different weapons would be used against targets, and other aspects of the work of the Nuclear Planning Group. Third, and perhaps most crucial, the US view was that the NPT does not deal with the deployment of nuclear weapons within allied territory because that does not actually involve the transfer of nuclear weapons or control over them. Only unless and until a decision were made to go to war would there be a transfer of control, but by that time the treaty would "no longer be controlling."

This position, that the NPT "would no longer be controlling" once a decision has been made "to go to war", is fundamental to US and NATO interpretations. According to this view, the general purpose of the Treaty is to prevent the spread of weapons and by extension, avert a nuclear war. Therefore, once general hostilities involving nuclear weapons occur, the Treaty has failed in its express purposes and thus, becomes moot. The US argues that because the Treaty is no longer binding, "control" over US nuclear weapons could then be legally transferred to NATO allies.

The US interpretation presents several problems to the non- proliferation regime. First, the US did not adequately inform other states of its interpretations. Even though it is a common practice, the US did not deposit its reservations or interpretations about the treaty upon submission of articles of ratification. The US claims that the Senate ratification hearings and the Questions and Answers document were sufficient notification of its interpretations. However, these were not publicly available until after July 8, 1968—eight days after the NPT signing ceremony had taken place, at which time the first 56 nations signed the Treaty.

Another problem is that NATO is able to create the very conditions under which it would no longer feel bound by the NPT. By retaining the option of first use of nuclear weapons, the US and NATO can unilaterally start a general war involving nuclear weapons, which according to its view, would then nullify the treaty. After that point, and no longer bound by the Treaty, the US would then be free to transfer nuclear weapons to any ally for use in conflict.

More recent developments further threaten the health of the NPT: new information is emerging that NATO might widen the role of nuclear weapons in its nuclear doctrine. In order to conform with US policy, NATO may soon adopt the position that nuclear weapons can be used against owners or users of WMD. This shift in policy means that the number of scenarios in which nuclear weapons could be used is expanded and NATO moves one step closer to creating the very circumstances under which, by its own definition, the NPT would be null and void.

The effects of this policy decision on the health of the NPT are certain to be damaging. Already Russia is considering including a similar policy in a draft of its Military Doctrine. Furthermore, by reaffirming its belief in the utility of nuclear weapons, and in fact, by expanding the political and military usefulness of these weapons, NATO undermines the political credibility of NSAs. This may convince non-nuclear states that the only truly effective deterrent is a nuclear deterrent. NATO could thus be setting an example it surely does not want others to emulate.

Denise Groves (BITS) - This article was originally published in PENN Newsletter No. 10 / April 2000

Source: PENN Newsletter No. 10 / April 2000

© Copyright 2004 by Asia-Europe Dialogue & Partner -

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