Credit to picture: The National Interest
The article focuses on different internal and external variables that influence the strategy‐making process at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Research is based on the declassified documents from 1949 to 1968 and non‐classified strategies from 1991 onwards. Cold War and post‐Cold War are usual ways of referring to years after the end of the Second World War. In the meantime, these two periods are not homogeneous and include very different sub‐periods with unique dynamic and conditions. Both nuclear deterrence and non‐proliferation issues are mainstreamed through these times but it’s a question of balance inside this pair that becomes decisive. The current situation is not an exception. Euro‐Atlantic security system is facing numerous new and old security challenges. It’s the ability to find an adequate response, adapt to the changing environment and agree on a new common strategy on the agenda.
Keywords: nuclear strategy, nuclear deterrence, NATO, European security, Euro‐Atlantic security.
For decades, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) plays the role of a major security provider for the Euro-Atlantic space. A proper understanding of different challenges allows NATO to address insecurity through the development of an effective nuclear strategy at every particular stage. Is it just an illusion of success? All opportunities, threats and weaknesses should be taken into account to see the full spectrum, overcome these challenges and make this organization, its members and European position stronger. Not an easy job to do, especially dealing with a large institution based on the unanimous vote. One way or another there is a number of factors that drive changes to the strategy and influences the international tension’s level. The Cold War ended and the collapse of NATO was predicted quickly after that, but the ability to transform and react properly combined with hard and soft power tools enabled this organization to stay at play among the main actors.
The objective below is to analyze the role of internal and external factors as explanants and their influence upon the transformation of the NATO’s nuclear strategy as explicandum. Certain periods are characterized by different circumstances, a balance of power, relations between actors. Such external and internal dynamics for the independent variable lead to the nuclear strategy change for the dependent variable and accordingly vary the role played by nuclear component.
Internal factors include: economic situation at different NATO countries; political situation, leaders and parties leading NATO member states; public opinion; military innovations as well as internal NATO dynamics. Among external ones, structural changes at the system of international relations with the balance of power and clash of interests between blocks; economic and political crises; arms race; international agreements on disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation attract the most attention.
Closely looking for common and different features in comparing, analyzing transformation both horizontally through different aspects and vertically through separate stages, may give the possibility to formulate similarities and tendencies further applied to analyze the current situation. Following challenge/response law NATO tries to survive and become stronger after each challenge. As confronted with aggressive Soviet policy or massive arms buildup at the Warsaw pact it is expected to adopt a new strategy or even act proactively. In case of economic crises or in case of large pacifist movements decrease of defence spending should be taken with a choice either on conventional forces or nuclear weapons as depending on time, nuclear armament can be a quicker and cheaper way of increasing military capacity. Public opinion is to affect not only directly through protests but also through an elected candidate. This dynamics for harsher and more militarized strategy or vice versa is well seen on the example of US elections with two parties presenting different approaches, two houses of Parliament and President that might not be all dominated by the same party at a time. And NATO level is even more complicated with all mentioned above brought into one room to make a unanimous decision. How do they manage to vote those strategic papers?
Logical-historical approach suits better to meet the objectives mentioned above than pure historical one, as it enables to differentiate and pay special attention to relevant historical documents and events, depending on the circumstances and the role played in the development process. This becomes obvious when we come to the empirical part and start particular NATO strategies’ analysis. The logical is frequently understood as the theoretical analysis of an object in its most developed form while abstracting from the process of its development. If the historical method frees the logical from abstract speculation, then the logical method liberates the historical from empiricism.
Modern researchers are lucky to have access both to the NATO original texts of the Cold War period, opened for the public in the late 1990s, as well as to the post-Cold war strategies as they are nonclassified.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of nuances that should be mentioned.
First of all, taking a look at Figure1 it becomes clear that the adoption of strategic documents is not a linear process and includes different types of such documents, which complement each other and reflect ongoing changes. In order to show milestones of the policy process the documents entitled as “Strategic Concept” were taken as a basis complemented with MC48 “The most effective pattern of NATO military strength for the next few years” of 22.11.1954. Talking about post-Cold War strategies it should be immediately mentioned that nonclassified strategies are combined with the classified ones, MC 400s. As far as the last concept was agreed in 2010, Deterrence and Defence Posture Review of 2012 and final communique of the last Warsaw Summit must be taken into account in order to understand modern tendencies.
DC 6/1 – The Strategic Concept for Defense of the North Atlantic Area(1.12.1949)
Let’s take a look at the first period of the NATO existence. The main factor that influenced NATO nuclear strategy can be characterized as a structural change of the system of International Relations: division into two blocks associated with different systems and visions through appearance of the North Atlantic Treaty (04.04.1949) and Marshall Plan (08.04.1948) on one side and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (08.01.1949) on the other. The majority of the European countries have been already assigned to either one side or another after a difficult time of talks and intimidation, as in the case of Finland or Czechoslovakia. But there have been still unresolved questions as Germany, and disputable zones of influence as Turkey and Greece on the agenda.
What about the political structure? Alliance was composed of twelve founding members with different state positions but common threat perception and goal to create a stable and secure environment. Even at the first stage at DC 6/1 we see some difference revealed, as wording at the main point 7 was changed at the final version from “ensure the ability to carry out strategic bombing including the prompt delivery of the atomic bomb” (MC 3/2) to “ensure the ability to carry out strategic bombing including promptly by all means possible with all types of weapons without exception” (DC 6/1) on request of the Danish Defence Minister to soften the statement. The roles are also assigned with the US taking major responsibility.
Coming to the political leadership in particular countries, the US is headed by Democratic representative Harry Truman but the Congress majority is taken by the Republican party. The USSR with Joseph Stalin as the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union fully controlled internal and external policies of the USSR as well as its satellites. And while Stalin was alive, one of the main worries in the West was that he would attempt to increase the stay of his rule with the same “salami tactics” employed by Hitler in the 1930s, and the Western alliances, strengthened with the US nuclear arsenal, were keeping Stalin in check.
Difficult economic situation was also a common feature for both sides but the military situation was totally different in quantity (largely in favor of Soviet bloc) and quality (nuclear weapons exclusively owned by the US). In this context, we see the situation of deterrence, where large conventional forces are deterred by the West with a threat of nuclear weapons’ use. Such an inequality enables and pushes the concept of “Immediate strategic nuclear response against a conventional attack” with high readiness to use all nuclear potential at once.
Public opinion should be also mentioned here as an illustration. Regardless horrifying effect of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, it was taken by the American citizens as a necessary mean that saved lives of American soldiers.
Reflecting the mentioned above, the Strategy is entirely based on the US nuclear forces with other nations just assisting in defense. Doomsday Clock that shows whether we are more or less safe, counts 3 minutes to midnight.
MC 3/5 – The Strategic Concept for Defense of the North Atlantic Area(3.12.1952)
At the structural level, we see the ongoing block-forming process with the European Coal and Steel Community established in 1951. In 1952 Turkey and Greece became NATO members but the Korean war dominated the agenda as a disputable zone with the US entering the war in 1950. The political picture was more or less stable with slight changes as the Democrats took lead at the Senate and such an influential leader from the Conservative party as Churchill became the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Ongoing Korean war 1950-53 has shown different attitudes within American political establishment to nuclear weapons. Finally, D. MacArthur’s insistent claim to use up to 30 nuclear bombs to win the war was denied and provocation failed. The role of European allies was important here as no IBMs to reach US territory were at the Soviet disposal but USSR was able to reach Western Europe in return. Great Britain and France followed by other European allies argued against the use of nuclear weapons and after C. Attlee successfully communicated these concerns to H. Truman.
Both blocks have progressed in the development of the nuclear weapons with the USSR (unexpectedly for the USA) testing it in 1949 and the USA testing thermonuclear weapons on 1.11.1952.
This encouraged NATO to change strategy to “Massive conventional force build-up”, proposed by Dean Acheson (51st United States Secretary of State) with an idea of a symmetrical response and possibility to gain some time and stop Soviet-cum-Satellite aggression in Central Europe while the American strategic offensive air forces ware under way. Doomsday Clock counts 2 minutes to midnight.
MC 48 – The most effective pattern of NATO military strength for the next few years (22.11.1954)
This period shows well how internal changes in particular countries can gradually grow up to the multinational level. Previous strategy and its ideas turned up to be enormously expensive on a practical level for Western economies. This provoked a shift primarily formulated by the British Government at the second Global Strategy Paper as a need to make the Soviets aware that any aggression in Europe will be met with “an instantaneous and overwhelming atomic air attack” with higher role dedicated to the nuclear weapons to counter growing Soviet conventional strength in Europe. It should be taken into account that the British government was headed by Mr. Churchill, who sincerely believed that attention, previously paid to the value of nuclear weapons, was insufficient.
In the United States of America, Dwight D. Eisenhower became a president in 1953 with the Congress majority taken by the Republican Party. Thus, the US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles first introduced massive retaliation as a doctrine on January 12, 1954, when addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, included the threat of asymmetrical responses with nuclear weapons even in wars outside Europe, followed by adoption of the “New Look” policy into the United States National Security Council document NSC 162/2 of 30 October 1953. At NATO level, we see adoption of such concept as “Massive retaliation” with all mentioned above ideas incorporated. This was a logical combination of political situation with particular leaders on top and technological progress in the military sphere of that time when atomic weapons had a relatively low explosive capacity and were successfully tested in Nevada for tactical air forces together with a range of ballistic missiles developed and deployed for strategic uses1. The USSR has also progressed with the development of the thermonuclear weapons and both blocks were comparatively equal by the types of available weapons but not by its quantity. At the same time, MC 48 was not replacing MC 14/1 and it was agreed that MC 14/2 would be further developed. No information on Doomsday Clock available those years…
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