Nuclear Weapons And Interceptor Missiles: Twin Pillars Of U.S.-NATO Military Strategy In Europe
The two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting in the Estonian capital of Tallinn on April 22-23 focused on the completion of the military alliance's first 21st century Strategic Concept and on the war in Afghanistan, the near-complete absorption of the Balkans into the bloc, and the expansion of operations at the Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence established by NATO two years ago in the same city.
The most important deliberations, however, were on the integrally related questions of U.S. nuclear weapons stored on air bases in five NATO member states and the expansion of the Pentagon's interceptor missile program to all of Europe west of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Discussions on the role of nuclear arms in Europe a generation after the end of the Cold War are in line with the Nuclear Posture Review released last month by the U.S. Department of Defense. NATO has never been known to deviate from American precedents and expectations. Its role is to accommodate and complement Pentagon initiatives. A nation like the Netherlands or Poland proposes, Washington disposes.
While speaking at a press conference in the ministerial meeting's host city, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen directly tied together the retention of U.S. nuclear arms in Europe and NATO's cooperation with its dominant member on a continent-wide interceptor missile system:
"NATO's core business, its raison-d'etre, is to protect our territory and our populations....And in a world where nuclear weapons actually exist, NATO needs a credible, effective, and safely managed deterrent.
"Missile defence is no replacement for an effective deterrent. But it can complement it. Because there are states, or other actors, who might not be rational enough to be deterred by our nuclear weapons. But they might be deterred by the realisation that their few missiles might not get through our defences."
What Rasmussen failed to mention was that in the event NATO collectively or a coalition of its main powers was to launch first strikes against nations to the east and south with conventional weapons, nuclear ones or a combination of both, an advanced phase interceptor system could prevent effective retaliation.
The NATO chief also said, "The missile threat to Europe is clear, and it is growing....Which means, to my mind, that we need to take on Alliance missile defence as a NATO mission."
Recent statements by Rasmussen, one of which has drawn the ire of Iran directly, would indicate from where the missile threat to Europe is alleged to emanate, but Rasmussen has no aversion to belaboring - or exaggerating - a point and added, "30 countries, including of course Iran, have or are developing missiles." To address the non-existent challenge to Europe Rasmussen announced that the foreign ministers in attendance would discuss "issues surrounding missile defence, including cost, command and control," and stated that at the bloc's summit in Lisbon, Portugal this November "NATO nations will decide whether or not it will to take on Alliance missile defence as a NATO mission."
After the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO ordinarily held a summit every third year in the 1990s and every second year from 1999 to 2008. But this year's summit will be the third of what have become annual events: Romania in 2008, France and Germany in 2009, and Portugal this year.
The last will be the first NATO summit held entirely in a founding member state since the fiftieth anniversary one in Washington, DC in 1999.
Not only the increased frequency (the Alliance has never before in its 61-year history conducted summits in three successive years), but the locations of the summits reveal the intensification of NATO activity and its steady drive to the east over the last decade. In the ten years between the Washington and last year's Strasbourg, France-Kehl, Germany summits, every one was held in Eastern Europe: In the Czech Republic in 2002, Turkey in 2004, Latvia in 2006 and Romania in 2008.
The sites, to the east and south of previous ones, are indicative of what NATO has become in the 21st century: An expansionist, active military force that has deployed troops to several current and recent conflict zones - Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia - and to numerous adjoining nations such as Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan and Kuwait. There were 50,000 multinational forces under NATO command in Kosovo in 1999. There are now over 90,000 (of 120,000 foreign troops) in Afghanistan, with both the aggregate number and the percentage to increase shortly.
In his opening statement at the foreign ministers meeting in Estonia, Rasmussen emphasized the centrality of U.S.-led missile shield plans in relation to the upcoming summit in Portugal and the new Strategic Concept that will be adopted there: "In Lisbon, NATO nations will decide if missile defence for our European territory and population should become an Alliance mission. I make no secret that I think it should."
He linked maintaining American nuclear gravity bombs in several European nations and the expansion of interceptor missile facilities in Eastern Europe to the Alliance's so-called collective defense doctrine. In his main address Rasmussen stated: "[W]e are delivering solidarity through our unflinching commitment to territorial defence. This core task of NATO is embodied in Article 5 of our founding treaty: An attack on one Ally is considered an attack on all. This is the very foundation of our Alliance....We need the right type of military capabilities. We need modern and mobile armed forces. Armed forces that are not static. Forces that are able to deploy quickly to assist an Ally in need."