NATO has already made provisions for divergent opinions on the future of nuclear weapons. In the 2010 Strategic Concept, NATO recognised that “National decisions regarding arms control and disarmament may have an impact on the security of all Alliance members. We are committed to maintain, and develop as necessary, appropriate consultations among Allies on these issues.”
In doing this, NATO reaffirmed that each member state must make disarmament and arms control decisions based on its national priorities and that there is scope and space within the alliance for all positions.
NATO member states needs to address the inherent proliferation push that results from their own refusal to end their reliance on nuclear weapons. With three nuclear armed member states, five states hosting US nuclear weapons, at least 15 states actively involved in planning nuclear war, and a consensus document reemphasising the intention to keep the ability to threaten others with nuclear weapons as long as nuclear weapons exist – NATO continues to set a badexample. This special responsibility deserves more attention from NATO member states and should be an incentive for member states to be forward leaning with regard to discussions on a treaty banning nuclear weapons for everyone. A nuclear ban treaty would strengthen the push for a system of verification to prevent production of nuclear weapons for all states, including those that are of strategic importance to NATO.
This article first appeared in the News In Review, found here.
The current Dutch government policy on nuclear weapons states: “NATO decisions are taken by consensus, NATO must reach unanimity on this [the issue of nonstrategic nuclear weapons] before discussions with Russia on the reduction or elimination of NSNWs in Europe can begin.” This is an unhelpful and incorrect interpretation of existing NATO agreements, and it is one that some very vocal NATO states are pushing.
First, it equates consensus with unanimity. These are conceptually different. Consensus is the community resolution when opposing parties set aside their differences and agree on a statement that is agreeable to all, even if only barely. even if parties disagree, there is still overall ‘consent’ to move forward in order to settle the issue. This requires co-operation among those with different interests and opinions. Consensus is not the same as unanimity.
Insisting on unanimity can allow a minority opinion to stop the process. If someone knows that the group cannot move forward without their consent, they may harden their position in order to get their way. This is what seems to be happening inside NATO discussions and decision making.
A discussion, like the role of nuclear weapons in NATO policy, might involve several issues- deployment, cost responsibilities, modernisation, varied security interests, alliance solidarity, transparency, confidence building measures, etc. Some issues are more controversial than others. But a disagreement on one issue should not prevent consensus on another. By unpacking the different issues, and not insisting on unanimity on the whole at once, there are more opportunities to move the debate forward.
NATO member states need to answer for themselves whether they believe that a treaty banning all nuclear weapons for everyone will be contributing to or detracting from the central objectives of the Alliance. Whether they believe that a ban treaty is irreconcilable with the protection of the European and North American citizens they represent.