Wednesday, 10 November 2010

UNA NATO's New Strategic Concept and Global Zero.

The United Nations Association – Edinburgh , One Day Conference on NATO’s New Strategic Concept and Global Zero was held on 1st of November 2010 at the Scottish Parliament. It was a very enlightening day in many regards, sometimes not in the way that the speakers meant however.

After the introduction by Dr. Gari Donn, first speaker of the day was Lord David Hannay; chair of the United Nations Association and former ambassador to the UN. His broad scope were the challenges, past and present facing NATO. In terms of current nuclear threats, Hannay focused upon North Korea and Iran. It was clear from a paper provided with the conference papers that Iran has been doing their best to derail the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty review conference held this year so there is something in what he says. In response to my later suggestion, that when it comes to nuclear-armed countries that are not signatories: India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, should not the regional aspects be considered and their own and their rivals security concerns be taken into account? Lord Hannay decided to talk exclusively about Iran and North Korea in this context. He would not even mention the state of Israel by name and assured the meeting that the only nuclear security concern that Iran had was the USA. A quite remarkable statement.

Lord Hannay did offer a nine step programme to forward multi-lateral disarmament however. In brief they were:

1. Ratification of the test-ban treaty by the US Senate
2. Negotiation of further reductions of strategic nuclear capacity between the USA and Russia, with the involvement of France, Britain and China (the P5 nations)
3. Start of talks over Russian sub-strategic nuclear missile capacity in Europe
4. Progression of de-alert doctrines. This refers to the state of readiness that nuclear weapons are held in.
5. Fissile cut-off treaty. This would the cutting back on nations’ capability to enrich uranium in exchange for non-enriched uranium to be readily available for the promotion of national civilian nuclear power projects. Hannay indicates that in recent years Pakistan has been the major stumbling block on this project.
6. The Fissile cut-off treaty is a necessary precursor to a global test ban treaty
7. Middle East nuclear-free zone, with the first conference taking place in 2012
8. Strengthening the monitoring of global production by the IAEA
9. Acceleration of Norway’s VERTIC verification project.

One would expect many of these points to be raised at NATO’s 10 year review conference of nuclear strategy to be held in Lisbon later this month.

Going back to Iran for a moment, it is my view that when it comes to the Middle East, Israel’s nuclear capacity is the elephant in the room. Naturally I do not in any way support the proliferation of nuclear weapons or Iranian attempts to further their capacity in this area. If one applies the logic of the Cold War though, it could be said that Israel and Iran are regional superpowers and rivals. If one side has nuclear weapons, it would be reasonable for the other to attempt to gain a similar capacity in order to bring about a status of MAD – mutually assured destruction. The fact that one side has nuclear weapons will only drive other nations to attempt to develop their own.

Now I am not going to provide a prĂ©cis of every speaker as that really is the role of the UNA reportage. Another highlight for me though was the Russian delegation led by Vadim Mitrofanov, head of Foreign Policy at the Embassy of the Russian Federation. He expressed Russian disappointment that NATO was not disbanded at the same time as the Warsaw Pact but, perhaps more pertinently, Russia’s commitment to further disarmament talks with the USA and working in partnership with NATO. On the matter of the sub-strategic nuclear capacity, Mr Mitrofanov said that talks had not started yet but they simply could not decide this matter bilaterally with the USA. The reason for this is clear. In Europe the US has stationed 200 B-61 free-fall nuclear bombs, deployed by US and other NATO (German, Dutch, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Turkish) air forces under burden-sharing agreements. (In military terms nuclear gravity weapons are obsolete although fair to say the use of a single bomb would spoil a lot of peoples’ day.) There were various numbers given for Russian capability but the minimum cited was 2000 short and medium-range nuclear weapons. I took the liberty of following up this Russian position in a round-table session and the Russian Consul General Sergey Krutikov was pleased to clarify the position. Russia desires to see a nuclear-free Europe. Therefore in order to achieve that, not only would the Russian and American weapons would have to go but also those of Britain and France.

On Russia in broader terms, it certainly felt like it is NATO 28 + 1. It is clear that a lot of effort is being put into bringing Russia into the fold, if not as full members but certainly as “super-partners” as the new American terminology has it. This concept was unfurled to us by Dana (pronounced “Daina”) M. Linnet of the US Consulate. She did have a lot of good things to say; on how the USA is working to increase transparency in nuclear issues, are working hard to broaden the concepts of deterrents away from being just nuclear-based and enlarging shared risks and commitments. Along with former defence secretary Lord Des Browne, other nations were berated for not working harder with President Obama in order to further these and other worthy ends. One has to say the effect was rather spoiled by one impertinent fellow sticking up his hand at question time and asking of Dana “What would President Palin do?” It led to some back-tracking and statements such as (from Browne) “even those Republicans who think would back this issue” but the point was well made. After Bush’s dismantling of international agreements in 2005 and the Senate’s unwillingness to ratify the test-ban treaty in front of them, the general intransigent nature of US politics is an international problem. In that respect both Linnet and Browne are correct: Obama does offer a window of opportunity.

The day was very useful in terms of answering the question raised on these pages as who actually controls Britain’s nuclear deterrent. Rebekah Grenowski reported she was summarily put down by Rebecca Johnson of ACRONYM when the former raised this issue. Johnson assured Rebekah that the ownership of Trident was the subject of a bilateral UK-US agreement. This statement is backed up by the response to our letter to Nick Harvey. However, the issue of NATO strategic control was not contradicted by others in round-table meetings. It seems to me therefore that it is not a question of which is right or wrong, rather there is a double-lock on nuclear deployment. Bilateral agreements with the USA backed up with NATO unanimity – which also involves the USA. I feel this matter requires further clarification. It is probably the case though that in reality UK defence spending is bound totally to NATO commitments, thus casting light upon Hillary Clinton's recent intervention on the UK's Strategic Defence and Security review.

I only touched upon some of the matters raised on the day. When the UNA put up their full report I will post the link. It was a very worthwhile day and I am grateful for the chance to attend but sometimes the truth of any matter is deliberately obscure and the more I learn about nuclear weapons, the greater I have that feeling.