International platform for disarmament and non-proliferation dialogue, research and education

NATO’s Enduring Commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty

On 5 May 2017, the VCDNP, in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, hosted a seminar by Rose Gottemoeller, NATO Deputy Secretary General, and William Alberque, Head of NATO’s Arms Control and Coordination Section. The topic of the seminar was NATO’s enduring commitment to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Rose Gottemoeller, NATO Deputy Secretary General

Ms. Gottemoeller set the stage with a concise but comprehensive presentation that highlighted the continuity over time of NATO’s policy: the Alliance has always strived to — and ultimately has succeeded in — combining internal cohesion within the Alliance with non‑proliferation goals. These agreed outcomes have often been the result of complex intra‑Alliance dynamics that, at times, have put the transatlantic partnership under stress. She recalled a number of bilateral US-Soviet arms control treaties and negotiations and highlighted the importance of NATO’s role in this context. In particular, the speaker drew the audience’s attention to the so‑called “dual-track” decision of 1979: NATO decided, on the one hand, to modernize its arsenal by deploying in Europe Pershing II missiles, but on the other hand, to show willingness to pursue arms control initiatives. This approach echoes the dual-track approach of the Harmel Report of 1967 – deterrence and dialogue – and has been central to NATO strategy for decades. Ms. Gottemoeller then spoke in detail about NATO’s nuclear deterrent. She emphasized that nuclear weapons had been part of NATO’s forward defence since the 1950s, predating the NPT, and that US nuclear weapons remain under strict US control. She said that since the NPT’s entry into force, NATO Allies had dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and the relevance of such weapons for military strategy. Ms. Gottemoeller emphasized that there are no intentions, no plans and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members of the Alliance. While describing the NPT as a great success, she believes that there is more work to be done, work to which NATO is deeply committed.

Ms. Gottemoeller then responded to questions and comments from the audience and elaborated on her views about opportunities for furthering NATO’s commitment to the NPT. She reiterated the high-degree of continuity in NATO’s policy which, even in the 1950s, had been focused on seeking the conditions to build a credible peace between the superpowers. Notwithstanding, Ms. Gottemoeller believes that “hard‑slogging” negotiations “at the coal-face” represent the only way to ensure common understanding on difficult issues, such as the technological challenges posed by verification.

William Alberque, Head of NATO’s Arms Control and Coordination Section

Following Ms. Gottemoeller’s presentation, Mr. Alberque presented the results of his historical research published in February 2017 entitled “The NPT and the Origins of NATO’s Nuclear Sharing Arrangements”. He retold the story of the NPT negotiations and how US and USSR negotiators succeeded despite the tensions of the Cold War. He provided a useful guide to some of the hardest to find primary sources which constitute the starting point for understanding the history of the NPT negotiations. He described in a compelling way the intricacies of intra-alliance negotiations that accompanied discussions between the US and the Soviet Union. One of the key findings of his historical research was that the compatibility of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements with the NPT had been the starting point of talks between the US and the USSR: long before the treaty was opened for signature, Moscow had closed all possible loopholes. During the follow-up question and answer period, Mr. Alberque linked his research to the current political situation: he stressed that, on the basis of historical records, joint efforts which include all relevant actors are needed in order to promote significant political projects.

His presentation can be viewed here.

Panelists (from left to right): Laura Rockwood, Rose Gottemoeller, William Alberque