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Follow-up on the adoption of NATO's Strategic Concept

Following up on their earlier calls for nuclear disarmament, four global, regional and national ecumenical organizations told leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union and Russia that NATO and its member states should seize the opportunity of the Defence and Deterrence Review in 2011 to take bold steps and end the anachronistic policy of nuclear sharing including the deployment of United States tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

16 March 2011

Letter to Mr Barack Obama, President of the USA, Mr Dmitry Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, and Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General

Geneva, 11 March 2011

On the eve of the NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl (April 2009), where NATO decided to develop a new Strategic Concept, the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and the Canadian Council of Churches called upon NATO and its Member States to endorse the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.[1] In our letter, we emphasized that a very important measure toward this end would be the withdrawal of the last remaining 150 - 200 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from five non-nuclear NATO countries in Europe.[2].

This call was reiterated in another letter by our four Councils to NATO on 28 October 2009, which was also addressed to the leaders of the European Union, the United States of America and the Russian Federation.[3] Statements urging the withdrawal of U.S. weapons were also made by Councils individually, including a statement by the General Assembly of CEC in July 2009.[4] In March 2010, on the basis of this statement, CEC – through its Church and Society Commission (CSC)[5] – presented detailed proposals to the European Union as it was preparing its policy for the 2010 NPT Review Conference in New York (May 2010). In July 2010, in the context of the revision of NATO’s Strategic Concept, this was followed by another detailed document by CSC presented to NATO and its Member States with specific proposals for NATO’s future nuclear policy.[6]

After the adoption of the new Strategic Concept at the Lisbon Summit on 19 November 2010, we cannot be but disappointed by its nuclear paragraphs.[7] While we welcome NATO consensus on “the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”, we feel that this commitment is watered down by what follows immediately thereafter: “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.” It is possible that NATO remaining a nuclear Alliance only applies to the three nuclear weapon states that are NATO members.[8] However, the Strategic Concept provides no indication of whether NATO’s existing nuclear sharing policy for tactical nuclear weapons will change, as we and many others have advocated. More specifically, although the Alliance says it wants to enhance international security by “contributing actively to arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament”, thereby affirming its earlier commitment at the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit, it failed to endorse the policy goal of Germany supported in various ways by other Member States, to withdraw U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

These former ‘battlefield nuclear weapons’ are remnants of Cold War strategies, when Europe was considered the battlefield. We maintain that, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, NATO should rethink deterrence and security cooperation in Europe and decrease its reliance on nuclear weapons. By withdrawing these tactical nuclear weapons from Europe NATO is contributing concretely to nuclear arms control. By eliminating this class of nuclear weapon based in non-nuclear-weapon states of Europe, NATO enhances the credibility of its arms control and non-proliferation policy in three ways: (a) NATO seizes the opportunity to reduce the number of countries in the world with nuclear weapons on their territory from 14 to 9; (b) NATO addresses doubts about its members’ compliance with Articles I and II of the NPT which prohibit any transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states; and (c) NATO denies other countries the opportunity to acquire nuclear weapons by using a similar deterrence rationale.

We recognize that no final decisions on nuclear policy were made at the Lisbon Summit. Instead, the Alliance will “continue to (…) review NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance, taking into account changes to the evolving international security environment.” We understand that during this review process serious discussions about the future of NATO nuclear policy will take place. The enduring commitment to nuclear disarmament of our Councils of Churches is a reflection of the national majorities in favour of nuclear disarmament across the Member States of NATO. Thus we welcome the forthcoming close examination of NATO nuclear policy as a new opportunity for change that is long overdue and widely anticipated.

Therefore, we urge NATO and its Member States to consider the following recommendations during the deliberations on the 2011 Defence and Deterrence Review:

  • First, NATO commits itself, as an initial step, to the same declaratory policy that has been adopted in the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review.

This would mean that NATO “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”[9] We welcome that the new Strategic Concept provides an opening for this change, as compared with the previous Strategic Concepts of 1991 and 1999, NATO’s declaratory policy in the 2010 text no longer includes the purpose of its nuclear weapons as “to prevent (…) any kind of war.”

  • Second, NATO reduces its reliance on the role of nuclear weapons in its overall security strategy.

By reducing the reliance on nuclear weapons in its defence and deterrence strategy, NATO members will partially fulfil their standing obligation under the NPT “To further diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies”.[10]

  • Third, NATO ends the ‘nuclear sharing’ policy of the Alliance, and implements the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. TNW from Europe.

Effectively, this would imply a recommendation in the Defence and Deterrence Review to end the nuclear tasks of all non-nuclear NATO Member States.  The new Strategic Concept provides an opening for such change: though reaffirming the need for the participation of Allies in collective nuclear defence planning and peacetime basing of nuclear forces, it omits the phrase in the 1991 and 1999 documents that these should be based in Europe.[11] 

  • Fourth, NATO de-links its decisions on tactical nuclear weapons from the policies of Russia.

Though no formal ‘linkage’ has been established between NATO reductions and reductions of Russia’s much larger arsenal of TNW – instead, NATO aims to “seek Russian agreement” on transparency and relocation to centralized storage of nuclear weapons – the danger exists that such a linkage will de facto become part of the process. In our earlier statements we have also advocated Russian transparency and relocation. However, NATO must make its own decisions and not be tied to potentially lengthy and very complex bilateral negotiations.

  • Fifth, we appeal to NATO to recognize the current dangers of proliferation, to NATO members to live up to their current commitments to non-proliferation, and for the alliance to change its policy and actions accordingly.

NATO’s new nuclear policy should fully comply with the commitment by all NATO member states at the 2010 NPT Review Conference “to pursue policies that are fully compatible with the Treaty and the objective of achieving a world without nuclear weapons”.[12]

NATO and its Member States should seize the opportunity of the Defence and Deterrence Review in 2011 to take bold steps and end the anachronistic policy of nuclear sharing including the deployment of U.S. TNW in Europe.

We also urge Russia to reduce and relocate its own TNW without making NATO nuclear withdrawal a pre-condition. This would be a confidence building measure generally and would address the concerns of some of its neighbouring states. It would also make a substantive contribution to a safer Europe and the vision of a nuclear weapon free world.

We urge both NATO and Russia to be fully transparent about numbers and locations of their TNW.

Finally, we want to express our appreciation for NATO’s willingness to involve civil society during the development of its new Strategic Concept. We regret that a similar decision was not announced in the Lisbon documents and we appeal to NATO to continue this policy of encouraging open debate. We believe that closed-door discussions do not serve NATO’s desire to become more transparent to the citizens whose interests it seeks to serve.

We look forward to your response, to further discussions with your governments and NATO, and to shared progress in resolving these important concerns.


Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary
World Council of Churches

Prof. Dr. Viorel Ionita
Interim General Secretary
Conference of European Churches

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary
Canadian Council of Churches

cc:  Ambassadors of NATO Member States to NATO Headquarters

[1] WCC has 249 member churches all over the world. CEC has 125 member churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA 37 member churches and the Canadian Council of Churches 22 member churches.




[5] The Church and Society Commission of CEC links the member churches with European institutions including NATO.

[6]  and

[7] In our comments below we have taken into account the relevant parts of the Lisbon Summit Declaration that accompanied the new Strategic Concept.

[8] As the text makes clear, “the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance”.

[9] U.S. Nuclear Policy Review, April 2010: .

[10] NPT/CONF.2010/50, Conclusions and Recommendations for follow-on action, B, Action 5.

[11] The absence of this phrase in the new Strategic Concept certainly illustrates the division on nuclear sharing policy across the Alliance.

[12] NPT/CONF.2010/50, Conclusions and recommendations for follow-on actions, I,A, Action 1.