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NATO’s Nuclear Doctrines: Omnicidal Weapons and “Vassal States“

Remarks presented at the No NATO/No War Counter-Summit in Lisbon, Portugal November 19, 2010.

Remarks presented at the No NATO/No War Counter-Summit in Lisbon, Portugal November 19, 2010.

I want to thank Reiner Braun and the planning committee for the privilege of being able to join you here in Lisbon, long a geopolitical pivot of Europe, to challenge NATO, its nuclear policies and Afghanistan war. I’ve been asked to speak about NATO’s new nuclear doctrine. In sum, as The Guardian in London reported, in the so-called “new strategic concept,” “nuclear weapons remain at the core of NATO doctrine, and an attempt to withdraw an estimated 200 American B-61 nuclear bombs from Europe, a legacy of the cold war, is not mentioned.”[1] So much for a new doctrine or for “change that we can believe.”

The disastrous recent US election resulted from the confluence of corruptions of our political system and our economic crisis. The environment is reminiscent of the early 1930s, when the Great Depression was fertile ground for the rise of fascism. More optimistic writers are thinking in terms of the U.S. becoming a banana republic.

Because we can’t understand NATO’s nuclear doctrines – old and new – without understanding how NATO fits into Washington’s global strategies, I will begin by talking about U.S. geostrategic thinking and will then turn to the history, roles and specifics of U.S.-NATO nuclear doctrines.

The foundations of US dominance carried with them the seeds of their undoing, and thus of the current crisis. The Albright Report and its recommendation reflect efforts by US militarists and elites to compensate militarily, and, to lesser extents, economically, for the relative decline in US power and influence that was accelerated by the Bush-Cheney “romance of ruthlessness.” The Albright Report is a dreamscape envisioned to reinforce U.S.-European global dominance. Fortunately, Europe, with problems enough of its own, is not rushing to embrace it.

NATO has always been about more than containing Moscow. George Kennan, the author of the containment doctrine, wrote that, given the Red Army’s sacrifices in driving Hitler’s armies from Moscow to Berlin, the post-war division of Europe was inevitable if not just. Eastern Europe would be its buffer against future invasions from the West.[2]

Like the unequal treaties of European colonialism in Asia, NATO has been a fig leaf, providing a degree of legitimacy for the continuing US military occupation and related US political influence across western Eurasia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated NATO’s Cold War raison d’etre and undermined rationales for the foreign deployment of hundreds of thousands of US warriors. In response, elite figures, led by Zbigniew Brzezinski, conceded the imperial nature of the US project. Brzezinski’s “The Grand Chessboard” was a primer explaining that the Empire’s most essential geostrategic requirement is dominance of the Eurasian heartland, and that the U.S. must have footholds on Eurasia’s western, southern and eastern peripheries. Witness Obama’s recent travels and diplomacy, first to Japan, then to Korea and Japan, and now Portugal. Brzezinski explained that first rank US allies are “vassal states,” whose elites share in imperial privilege. See, for example, NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group.

Of course, NATO also serves as a rear base to reinforce US dominance of Eurasia’s southern flank – the oil-rich Middle East – and helps to make the Central Asian war possible.

This weekend, heads of state will kowtow to an updated version of the Albright report, with its call to extend the war in Central Asia beyond 2014, its demands for greater alliance solidarity and military spending, and its insistence on keeping US nuclear weapons in Europe. But European leaders will commit to only the minimum needed to maintain the alliance.

None of this can reverse more powerful realpolitik dynamics. Russia’s military power continues to decline. As the Albright Report concedes, Europe faces no immediate threat of a foreign invasion. With the economic crisis, there will be no appetite to implement Washington’s demands for greater European military spending.

Some NATO forces will continue to fight in Afghanistan as the U.S. pursues its doomed strategy of deadly, Vietnam-style coercive diplomacy. But the ambition to transform NATO into a global alliance committed to “out of area operations,” in part to contain China, perished in the Afghan quagmire.

Unaware of the deadly connection between foreign military interventions and the preparations for and threats to initiate nuclear war, most US people think of the US nuclear arsenal only in terms of deterrence, an approach that some in the Pentagon have said “has never been our doctrine.” A classical example of this misconception is an early history of NATO’s nuclear doctrines, published by the Air RAND Corporation.[3] Written amidst the 1980s debates over deployment of first strike Pershing II, cruise and SS-20 missiles in Europe, it celebrated the “flexible response” doctrine formally blessed by NATO in 1967, but originating with Henry Kissinger’s advocacy of fighting and winning “limited nuclear wars.”

The RAND history stresses NATO’s inability to fulfill an agreement made here in Lisbon in 1954 to match the Soviet Union’s conventional military deployments, as well as the anticipated end of the US nuclear monopoly. In response, we had Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” doctrine. To “deter” anticipated “Soviet Aggression,” NATO’s conventional forces were to be “trip wires” to contain a possible Soviet attack until Washington’s “nuclear sword … struck down the aggressor.”

This illogic collapsed in 1957 with Moscow’s launch of the sputnik satellite, which intimated that Moscow’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) could soon deter US “massive retaliation” strikes. It took a decade for the MAD policy of mutually assured destruction to prevail, but throughout the 1960s, the U.S. and NATO deployed so-called tactical theater nuclear weapons – many with the destructive capacity of the Hiroshima A-bomb and sea-based strategic hydrogen nuclear weapons twenty to fifty times more powerful than the Nagasaki A-bomb.

By the mid-1960s, with more than 7,000 US nuclear weapons in Europe, Europeans rightly feared that they would suffer the most in a nuclear war. It was widely understood that a so-called “limited war” could easily escalate to total nuclear war, and, as Daniel Ellsberg learned, the U.S. Single Integrated Operational Plan anticipated the deaths of more than five hundred million people across Eurasia.

Then, as now, the challenge for US strategists was to prevent Western Europe’s “decoupling” from the United States. To prevent Europe from going its own way, the Nuclear Planning Group was created, as were dual key launch controls.

Throughout this period, the U.S./NATO nuclear arsenal had objectives other than containment. As President Carter’s Secretary of War Harold Brown testified, with nuclear weapons as the core of US security systems, its conventional forces became “meaningful instruments of military and political power.” As Noam Chomsky explained, this meant that “we have succeeded in sufficiently intimidating anyone who might help protect people who we are determined to attack.”[4]

Thus, as early as 1946, before the Soviet Union broke the US nuclear monopoly, President Truman threatened Moscow with nuclear annihilation to reinforce US dominance of Iran. US nuclear weapons in Europe were essential to US preparations for and threats to initiate nuclear war, not only during the Berlin crises of 1948 and 61, but as the U.S. reinforced its hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East, long the “geo-strategic center of the struggle for world power.”[5] Such threats were made during the Suez Crisis in 1956; the incursion into Lebanon and revolution in Iraq in 1958; the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the U.S. threatened human existence in order to enforce the principle that we could deploy nuclear weapons along the Soviet Union’s periphery, but they could not do likewise; the Six Day Middle East War in 1967; the Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003, and the current “all options are on the table” threats against Iran.

US nuclear forces based in Europe were placed on the highest level of nuclear alert during President Nixon’s 1969 “madman” threats to intimidate Vietnam, and had any of the nine nuclear threats made against North Korea, or one the four against China, escalated to general nuclear war, weapons based in Europe would not have remained in their bunkers.

Throughout this sorry history, preventing European “vassal states” from decoupling has been a constant. Now the European Union is besieged by centrifugal forces, with senior US analysts speaking of the “Potential Twilight of the European Union”[6] at the same time China is rising and that Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on Russian energy resources. With a growing number of European political leaders calling for the withdrawal of all US “tactical” nuclear weapons based in Europe, it is no wonder that Albright and her experts insist that “The North Atlantic Treaty area cannot be treated in isolation from the rest of the world” and press the “requirement of Alliance cohesion.”

It is in these circumstances – with US footholds on the Eastern, southern and now Western peripheries of Eurasia being challenged – that the panel of “experts” urged few substantive changes in NATO’s strategic concept.

This explains Secretary Clinton’s insistence at the Tallinn NATO Ministerial conference that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, we, the United States, will maintain a[n] … effective nuclear arsenal … . And we will continue to guarantee the security of our NATO allies.” [7] Similarly, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen argues, “the alliance continues to need a credible nuclear deterrent … .” He cited rogue states and terrorists, but who believes that nuclear threats deter non-state terrorists or do anything but encourage non-nuclear states to emulate NATO by building deterrent nuclear arsenals of their own?

Like Secretary Clinton, Albright and her experts insist that “NATO should continue to maintain secure and reliable nuclear forces, with widely shared responsibility for deployment and operational support … . Any change in this policy, including the geographic distribution of NATO nuclear deployments in Europe, should be made … by the Alliance as a whole.” The 180 or so genocidal nuclear weapons currently based in Europe are to remain here indefinitely. The Albright Report makes the following recommendations, among others:

* “[T]he Alliance should retain a nuclear component to its [ostensibly] deterrent strategy.”

* “[R]etention of some U.S. forward-deployed systems on European soil reinforces the principle of extended nuclear deterrence and collective defense.”

* “Broad participation of the non-nuclear Allies is an essential sign of transatlantic solidarity and risk sharing.” Despite opposition from Germany, Norway and other NATO allies, non-nuclear states must share the culpability for preparations for omnicidal war.

* And NATO “should make clear its full support for efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons … ” which means maintaining the present omnicidal imbalance of nuclear terror.

While the US nuclear weapons based in Europe and the 9,000 other US nuclear weapons are to continue to serve as a hedge against Russia, the new bogey-man, Iran, has been raised to frighten Europe into acquiescence.

In reality, Iran’s nuclear program is probably more like Japan’s than Pakistan’s. By becoming a near-nuclear power, it has enhanced its regional influence. Should it produce nuclear weapons, it would spark a regional nuclear arms race that would further undermine Iran’s security. US nuclear warheads based in Europe would not be needed if Washington, Paris or London opted for the annihilation of Iran. And, as with the Nuclear Planning Group, collaboration on “missile defenses” will do more to integrate US and European elites and militaries than to protect European people.

Times change. The structures on which our nations and lives are based are subject to political physics, to changes demanded by popular forces and to entropy. Today, with the need for fossil fuels and visions of triangulation to isolate China, entreaties from authoritarian Russia are actively engaged by Berlin, Paris and even Washington. This will be impacted by the delay or failure of the US Senate to ratify the New START treaty. As Europeans pursue their real interests – with pressures from popular movements and recognition of existential interests – NATO will pass into history. If we are proactive, NATO’s end will come with a whimper and not with catastrophic nuclear or lesser military bangs.

We have our work cut out for us. I look forward to our discussion about our future efforts – including how we can get nuclear weapons out of Europe.

1 Uulian Borger. “Barack Obama’s hopes for a nuclear-free world fading fast,” The Guardian. November 17, 2010

2 George F. Kennan. American Diplomacy 1900-1950, New York: Mentor Books, 1951

3 J. Michael Legge. Theater Nuclear Weapons and the NATO Strategy of Flexible Response, Rand, Santa Monica, Ca. April 1983.

4 Joseph Gerson. Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World. London: Pluto Press. 2007, p. 31.

5 Eqbal Ahmed. From his speech at “The United States in the Middle East: Arms, Oil and the Multinationals”, Harvard University, 1977.

6 Charles A. Kupchan, The Potential Twilight of the European Union,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 2010.

7 Hillary Clinton. “Secretary Clinton at Tallinn NATO Ministerial,” April 23, 2010.