NATO’s Defense Ministerial meeting is set to take place in Brussels Thursday and Friday this week. The anticipated drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan in 2014 and the continued unrest in Syria and Mali are expected to dominate the agenda.
Ministers may also discuss other structural questions for NATO. At the annual security conference in Munich earlier this month, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen – who will chair this week’s meetings in Brussels – commented on the future of NATO after the ISAF drawdown. He stressed the importance of the Alliance and the need to consider where NATO should best focus its post-Afghanistan efforts. Rasmussen also raised concern over uncertainties surrounding defense spending in an age of austerity – an issue which will factor into decision-making on the future of NATO’s nuclear deterrent.
The United States is slated to invest $10 billion in the modernization of its B61 bombs – the type currently located in Europe as part of NATO’s nuclear deterrent. As the US Congress faces possible across-the-board spending cuts, questions are being raised about the necessity of such an investment. For their part, European NATO countries hosting B61 bombs will in coming years be debating their ability to renew the dual-capable aircraft devoted to their delivery - and whether there continues to be a need to do so.
Any hopes for rapid or radical changes to NATO’s nuclear posture have been dashed by the experience of the Strategic Concept and Deterrence & Defense Posture Review (DDPR) process over recent years. NATO concluded the DDPR in Chicago in May 2012, which reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to a nuclear deterrent. However, nine months later, the process of operationalizing the review crawls along; the name of the committee involved in discussing arms control and disarmament has only just been agreed.
However, some of these central issues surrounding NATO’s defense requirements, and what is necessary in today’s climate, may start to be pushed to the fore by budgetary debate. At a time when discussions around nuclear posture fall to limited parts of the bureaucracy; when media and public interest in the issue is low; when support amongst Europeans for continued deployment is cooling; and when money is tight across the board, the proposal to spend $10 billion on B61 upgrades may raise questions among legislators.
Separately, in the United States, defense industry experts are set to meet this week at the 2013 Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Washington, DC, hosted by the Exchange Monitor. Their discussion will focus on “Maintaining a Credible Deterrent among Funding Constraints”. BASIC will be hosting a panel on “European Perspectives on Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century”, featuring former UK defence secretary Des Browne alongside perspectives from Poland and France, as countries across the Alliance wrestle with these questions on where their spending priorities should lie.
These are the personal views of the author.