By Julian Borger
November 6, 2009
Pressure is growing within Nato for the removal of the remaining US nuclear weapons on European soil, and for a new doctrine for the alliance that would depend less on nuclear deterrence.
The initiative is being driven by the new German government coalition, which has called for the removal of American nuclear weapons on its territory as part of a Nato strategic rethink.
The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, the driving force behind the new policy, raised the issue during talks in Washington today with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Earlier this week, Westerwelle assured the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that Germany would consult its allies on the removal of the estimated 20 nuclear weapons left on its soil.
The Germans have backing from the Belgians and Dutch. The new Norwegian government also called for a debate within Nato, as it revises its basic doctrine, known as the strategic concept, due to be completed in the first half of next year.
Des Browne, a former British defence minister now chairing a cross-party parliamentary group on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, argued: "These moves bring out into the open a topic which for too long has been discussed by diplomats and technocrats only. [It] makes possible a genuine debate between allies about the role of nuclear weapons in Nato strategy, as set out in the strategic concept which guides alliance generals."
The current Nato concept, written in 1999, says: "Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to Nato provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the alliance. The alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe."
It is that clause that is now under scrutiny, in a push to downgrade the role of nuclear weapons in global security. In France two former prime ministers, Alain Juppe and Michel Rocard, as well as a retired general, signed a joint letter to Le Monde newspaper calling for "the structured elimination of nuclear weapons" and arguing that France should be prepared to negotiate on its own independent deterrent.
The letter was a challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has resisted the [rhetorical] calls for eventual nuclear abolition led by Barack Obama and Gordon Brown.
There are an estimated 200 US weapons – mostly tactical – left in Europe, deployed in Turkey, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.