A ban on nuclear weapons: what’s in it for NATO?

ILPI Publications > Policy Papers

The effects on NATO member states of an early adoption of a legally binding instrument

By Stein-Ivar Lothe Eide

The proposal that nuclear weapons should be banned through the early adoption of a legally binding instrument is gaining traction. A topic of increasingly serious discussion, it is making its way up the international agenda – from being an idea with no real prospect of successful adoption, to a proposal to be reckoned with. Arguing that a process to ban nuclear weapons could become a political reality in the foreseeable future, this paper considers the implications of such an instrument for NATO member states. The paper finds that as a matter of international law, there is no barrier to member states’ adherence to such a treaty. Likewise, concerns about the political implications for NATO ignore historical variations in member state military policy and underestimate the value of a ban on nuclear weapons for promoting NATO’s ultimate aim: the security of its member states.

Policy Paper No 5/2014


The proposal that nuclear weapons should be banned is about as old as the weapons themselves. While other weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, as well as other weapons with particularly indiscriminate or injurious effects, including landmines, incendiary weapons and cluster munitions, have all become subject to comprehensive prohibitions; the conclusion of a treaty explicitly prohibiting the use, production, possession, and transfer of nuclear weapons has, to date, proved impossible to achieve. On the contrary, while the abovementioned weapons systems have slowly been removed from the battlefield and the inventories of most states – due to the unacceptable consequences of these weapons’ use – nuclear weapons remain a core component of the military capabilities of the five nuclear-armed states recognised by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)[1], and the three nuclear-armed states outside the NPT.[2] North Korea, another state outside the NPT, is also believed to possess nuclear weapons, bringing the total number of states currently armed with nuclear weapons to nine.[3]

All other states have renounced the opportunity to acquire nuclear weapons by signing and ratifying the NPT. Due to the extension of so-called nuclear umbrellas, primarily by the United States and the Russian Federation, many other states nevertheless rely on nuclear weapons in their arrangements for deterrence and defence. These states include the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), plus Japan, South Korea and Australia, as well as some former Warsaw Pact countries.  In other words, nearly 40 states continue to rely on nuclear weapons in one way or another, and this number has not changed significantly since the end of the Cold War.

Noting that many (influential) states continue to place importance on nuclear weapons in their arrangements for deterrence and defence, and that prohibiting these weapons has proven extremely difficult in the past, one may well ask why anyone should care about present-day campaigns for a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons. What makes the call for the early commencement of negotiations on a ban more credible and persuasive today?

The first and most apparent reason why the call for a ban on nuclear weapons is gaining traction is the perception – shared by a growing number of states – that nuclear disarmament is failing to progress at a meaningful pace. At least 17,000 nuclear weapons are still in existence and the destructive power of each warhead remains largely unchanged. Despite reductions in absolute numbers since the height of the Cold War, the nuclear weapons deployed today – often at high alert – retain a cumulative potential that could bring “untold sorrow to human kind” on a hitherto unprecedented scale.[4] Many states are concerned with this situation, and are losing faith in the instruments and institutions that have been entrusted with a mandate or expectation to deliver nuclear disarmament.

The Conference on Disarmament (CD), which is often referred to as the only permanent multilateral negotiation forum for disarmament, has been deadlocked since the mid-1990s. A decades-old promise of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East remains a distant dream, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has yet to enter into force, almost 20 years after its adoption. With prominent statesmen from the nuclear-armed states suggesting that the NPT gives them the “right” to possess nuclear weapons, and modernisation programs underway that may prolong the life of existing weapons by perhaps as much as 50-60 years, a growing number of observers are concluding that the nuclear armed states are bent on maintaining the status quo, rather than working to eliminate all nuclear weapons.[5] Frustrated with this situation, many non-nuclear weapon states have begun looking for ways to strengthen international law with regard to nuclear weapons.  The early negotiation of a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons is one of many ideas circulated in recent years.[6]

A second reason why the current campaign for a ban on nuclear weapons matters is that a growing number of states are showing an interest in the idea that an instrument could be negotiated and adopted outside the existing multilateral disarmament forums, and if need be, without the participation of the nuclear-armed states. Inspired by the processes which led to the adoption of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, proponents of this approach argue that a strong and comprehensive legal instrument could be adopted by a sufficiently representative group of states, so as to forever change the status of nuclear weapons under international law. A single treaty would remove the ambiguities that have marred the current regime: With a comprehensive ban, the weapon’s use, as well as possession, production, and transfer would be illegal, without exception, for all ratifying states. A fundamental assumption is that no state could be politically indifferent to such an instrument, and that all states – whether parties to the treaty or not – would be judged on the basis of their compliance with the new norms.

A third reason why the campaign for a ban on nuclear weapons matters is that developments in international humanitarian law and security policy have made it increasingly difficult to argue that banning nuclear weapons is a bad idea, or somehow out of step with principles to which states generally subscribe. Although states may argue that nuclear weapons have military utility under certain circumstances, they are at a disadvantage in making that argument: The campaign for a ban emphasises the humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons, and the indisputable fact that any use of nuclear weapons in populated areas would result in indiscriminate killing and devastation on a massive scale. In responding to this, states cannot simply argue that nuclear weapons have military or strategic utility without running the risk of suggesting indifference to humanitarian considerations.

A comprehensive ban treaty would pose few legal challenges for the more than 100 states that have already prohibited nuclear weapons through multilateral treaties or national legislation.[7] The adoption of such an instrument would essentially promote the universalization of norms to which these states are already legally committed. At the other end of the scale, it is evident that a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons would put pressure on the five nuclear-armed states recognised by the NPT, and challenge their claim to special privileges. A comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons would also put pressure on the four states known or suspected to possess nuclear weapons outside the NPT, by further underlining that such weapons are incompatible with international norms, and no viable basis for status and respectability in the 21st century. The picture is less clear, however, for an intermediary group of states, namely those that do not themselves possess nuclear weapons, but that rely on nuclear weapons through formal arrangements for collective security. The majority of these states are NATO members, which in turn raises some important questions about a potential ban: What would be the implication for NATO? Could the non-nuclear members of the Alliance join an international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons?

NATO and nuclear weapons

NATO is a formal inter-governmental organisation, established under the North Atlantic Treaty (1949).  The Alliance simultaneously functions as a transatlantic security community, consisting of 28 sovereign nation states committed to advancing individual and collective security.

As a legal matter, NATO member states are bound, first, by the UN Charter, since all NATO member states are also UN member states; and second, by the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article 7 of the North Atlantic Treaty reiterates that the UN Security Council retains “primary responsibility” in matters of international peace and security and that the North Atlantic Treaty does not affect its member states’ existing rights and obligations under the UN Charter.

In addition to the broad outlines contained in its founding treaty, NATO is also governed by a variety of non-legally binding but politically influential policy documents, such as the NATO Strategic Concept. Moreover, the Alliance’s individual member states have adopted a host of reservations, declaratory policies and military doctrines, which comprise additional elements of NATO security policy.

The distinction between NATO as an inter-governmental organisation on the one hand and NATO as a transatlantic security community consisting of 28 sovereign nation states on the other is important when trying to make sense of NATO’s nuclear weapons policies. Those policies are formulated and expressed at both the inter-governmental level and at the level of the individual member states. The North Atlantic Treaty itself is silent on the topic of nuclear weapons.

Similarly, discussions on the legal consequences of assuming new treaty obligations in this area must distinguish between the North Atlantic Treaty, which is a binding legal instrument, and NATO’s Strategic Concept, which is a non-binding policy document. While the former contains binding obligations for member states, the latter comprises a set of non-binding political commitments, which may be altered or even disregarded without legal repercussions.

The following paragraphs briefly describe these different components, and suggest that NATO’s stance on nuclear weapons is in reality more complex and contested than often assumed.

Nuclear capabilities and doctrine

As an international organisation, NATO does not possess any nuclear weapons of its own. Three out of the five nuclear-armed states recognised by the NPT are members of NATO, however. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States, the United Kingdom, and France possess approximately 7700, 225 and 300 nuclear weapons, respectively. Altogether these three countries possess almost half of the estimated global nuclear weapons stocks, and a majority of the warheads that are currently operational.[8]

Although NATO’s Strategic Concept insists that the “circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote”, it accepts as a fundamental premise the idea that nuclear weapons contribute positively to the security of the Alliance and its member states. Illustrative of this view is the Strategic Concept’s designation of nuclear weapons as the provider of “the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies”, and its suggestion that “an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities” should remain the basis of NATO’s approach to deterrence.[9]

While the nuclear capabilities that underpin NATO’s nuclear doctrine are owned by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, NATO seeks to ensure the “broadest possible participation of Allies in collective defence planning on nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces, and in command, control and consultation arrangements”.[10] This policy is consistent with NATO’s emphasis on cultivating a sense of shared purpose and fair burden sharing among member states. In practice, this means that the 25 NATO member states that have renounced the option to acquire nuclear weapons actively participate in consultations and exercises involving nuclear weapons, and otherwise prepare for and facilitate the potential use of nuclear weapons by the Alliance.

With the exception of France, all members of NATO attend meetings in the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). As defined on the NATO website, the NPG

provides a forum in which NATO member countries can participate in the development of the Alliance’s nuclear policy and in decisions on NATO’s nuclear posture, irrespective of whether or not they themselves maintain nuclear weapons.[11]

As a practical expression of the principle of burden sharing, several European member states host forward-deployed US nuclear weapons. While NATO neither confirms nor denies the number or exact location of these weapons, it has been estimated that the United States deploys somewhere between 150 and 240 air-delivered nuclear weapons at six air force bases in five European countries.[12] These weapons can be delivered through the use of Dual-Capability Aircraft (F-15s, F-16s and Tornados). NATO’s non-nuclear weapons states maintain a fleet of such aircraft to ensure that US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe can be transferred to and ultimately used by Allied forces if deemed necessary.

Commitment to nuclear disarmament

According to the Strategic Concept, as well as other high-profile documents, NATO aims to “create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.” This objective is linked to NATO’s commitment to seek “a safer world” and to the goals of the NPT.[13] The relationship between nuclear disarmament and “a safer world” is recognised also in other NATO documents. A 2009 policy paper states, for example, that “NATO Allies have maintained a long-standing commitment to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation as an integral part of their security policy, firmly embedded in the broader political context in which Allies seek to enhance stability and security by lowering arms levels and increasing military transparency and mutual confidence.”[14]

In order to achieve full nuclear disarmament, NATO has adopted an approach based on taking incremental steps.[15] The Alliance insists that an 85% reduction in the number of weapons available for its sub-strategic forces in Europe since 1991 demonstrates the Allies’ commitment to disarmament.[16]  At the same time, the Strategic Concept declares that NATO is committed to remaining “a nuclear alliance” for as long as nuclear weapons exist.[17]

National reservations and declaratory policies

Although a NATO policy on nuclear weapons exists at the inter-governmental level, NATO member states have – since the early days of the Alliance – reserved the right to adopt independent national policies on nuclear weapons, and to restrict their participation in nuclear weapons activities. Member states like Denmark, Norway, and Spain do not allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory in peacetime. Iceland and Lithuania have taken this one step further, by not allowing nuclear weapons to be deployed on their soil, without any distinction between war- and peacetime.[18]

Iceland, Denmark and Norway also restrict port visits by nuclear-capable naval units. Since the mid-1970s, the Norwegian government has expressly admonished the warships of all states, including those of NATO Allies, to refrain from visiting Norwegian ports while carrying nuclear weapons. In October 1975, then Norwegian Prime Minister Trygve Bratteli presented the following policy, which subsequent Governments have confirmed to remain in place:

Our assumption, as foreign ships visit, has been and is that nuclear weapons are not carried on board. Norwegian authorities anticipate that allied, as well as other nuclear powers, respect this assumption.[19]

It is, however, not only the non-nuclear weapons states of the Alliance that have adopted independent national policies on nuclear weapons, and restricted their participation in the nuclear weapons activities of the Alliance. As noted above, France does not, and in fact has never participated in the Nuclear Planning Group, which was established in 1966.[20] No French nuclear weapons are assigned to NATO, and while France returned to NATO’s integrated command structure in 2009, France remains outside NATO’s arrangements for collective nuclear planning.[21] France’s nuclear capabilities are cast as “independent”, and the country’s nuclear strategy is guided by national priorities – in the past, often at odds with the policies and preferences of other Allies. During the Cold War, for example, France typically emphasised the use of a single salvo of tactical nuclear weapons as a “last warning” to a potential aggressor, prior to unleashing France’s full strategic nuclear arsenal.[22]  According to Georges-Henri Soutou, “no other parties to the Alliance, especially not the Germans or the Americans, were enthusiastic about this strategy.”[23] On the contrary, from 1967 onwards, NATO adopted a “graduated deterrence” or “flexible response” strategy, which unlike the French strategy, presumed that fighting a “limited” nuclear war was possible, and indeed preferable, to relying on a massive retaliation doctrine.[24]

Because NATO’s claim to be a nuclear alliance rests upon its nuclear-armed members’ willingness to make their nuclear weapons available for collective defence arrangements, any doctrinal change in either the United Kingdom, the United States or, to a lesser extent, France may bear on NATO’s nuclear posture. For example, when the United States published its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), it signalled a series of shifts in its declaratory policy. Most importantly, the NPR declared that “the fundamental role of US nuclear weapons” is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, its Allies, and partners; and that the United States intended to strengthen its negative security assurances.[25] While these changes were welcomed as important steps towards reducing the salience of nuclear weapons and addressing the security concerns of non-nuclear weapons states, they raised some questions regarding NATO’s declaratory policy, especially as the United Kingdom released the results from a similar review process soon thereafter.  Specifically, as these two states are the only member states that assign some part of their nuclear force to NATO, unilateral decisions regarding their purpose and potential use drew into question the credibility of NATO’s declaratory policy. Some of the new tenets in UK and US policies were nowhere to be found in the then-guiding NATO declaratory policy. In other words, the existence of a NATO declaratory policy does not seem to have prevented the United States or the United Kingdom from adopting new national positions regarding the purpose or use of nuclear weapons. Rather, the NATO declaratory policy has since been reviewed (2012), and adjusted to reflect US and UK policy changes.

Member states’ legal obligations outside NATO

Outside of the Alliance, NATO member states vary in the extent to which they have accepted legal obligations that advance nuclear disarmament. These variations suggest two things: first, that NATO member states are not unanimous in their nuclear policies, and second, that nuclear disarmament is compatible with member states’ obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty.

Today, all 28 NATO member states are parties to the NPT. This has, however, not always been the case, with France acceding as late as 1992. All states parties to the NPT are under a legal obligation to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons (Articles I and II), and, in accordance with Article VI to:

… pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.[26]

Individual member states routinely express their commitment to upholding the NPT. That commitment is similarly reflected in numerous NATO documents, underlining that there is no contradiction between states’ disarmament obligations under the NPT and their membership in NATO. The 2010 Strategic Concept, as mentioned above, links NATO’s commitment to seeking a world without nuclear weapons to the goals of the NPT. A 2009 policy document outlining NATO’s positions regarding nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament, adds that NATO Allies view the “NPT as a cornerstone of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts…and an essential basis for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.”[27]

All NATO member states, with the exception of the United States, are parties to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).[28] Complementing the NPT’s prohibition on the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the non-nuclear weapons states parties to that treaty, the CTBT bans all nuclear weapon testing.[29] The CTBT has yet to enter into force, due to the non-ratification of eight specific states, including the United States. Many NATO member states have expressed disappointment at the United States’ failure to ratify the Treaty, as they consider the CTBT’s early entry into force an important step towards achieving nuclear disarmament.

The vast majority of NATO member states are also party to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT). More limited in scope than the CTBT, the PTBT bans nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in space, but not underground. France never signed the PTBT, and became instead, in January 1996, during the final stages of the negotiations of the CTBT, the last of the nuclear-armed states recognised by the NPT to openly test nuclear weapons. The tests were widely criticised, including by the United States, other nuclear-armed states, and many NATO member states.

Member states and the humanitarian discourse

An important catalyst for re-engaging states on the idea of a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons has been the emergence, or rather the intensification, of a global discussion about the humanitarian consequences of these weapons. Most NATO member states have welcomed this discussion. With three notable exceptions,[30] all member states attended the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which took place in Oslo in March 2013. During the Conference, participants listened to experts describe the extent to which any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Summarising the discussion, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Espen Barth Eide, highlighted three key points:

  1. It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected. Moreover, it might not be possible to establish such capacities, even if it were attempted.
  2. The historical experience from the use and testing of nuclear weapons has demonstrated their devastating immediate and long-term effects. While political circumstances have changed, the destructive potential of nuclear weapons remains.
  3. The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of cause, will not be constrained by national borders, and will affect states and people in significant ways, regionally as well as globally.[31]

Several NATO member states took the floor during the Conference in Oslo, including Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Turkey and Norway.[32] Since then, many other NATO member states have expressed concerns regarding the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. In an October 2013 letter to Italian civil society organisations, the Italian Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli confirmed Italy’s support for the humanitarian approach, explaining that “with nuclear weapons you cannot say: I’m sorry, I was wrong, next time I’ll be more careful.”[33] Many NATO member states also addressed the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons during both the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Weapons in September 2013,[34] as well as during the First Committee of the UN General Assembly in October 2013.[35]

The end or a new beginning for NATO?

There is little doubt that the adoption of a treaty banning nuclear weapons would have policy and practical implications for NATO and its member states, for example, with regard to nuclear weapons hosting and planning. As with other treaties, however, ratification of a treaty banning nuclear weapons would not in itself necessarily prevent military cooperation with states not parties, even if they engage in activities prohibited under the treaty. The fact that different states have different treaty obligations, be it under disarmament or weapons law, human rights law or other fields of international law, have rarely constituted interoperability obstacles in international military cooperation. There is no reason why ratification of a treaty banning nuclear weapons would prevent military cooperation between NATO Allies in the future.

As demonstrated above, individual member states have, since NATO’s founding, adopted independent national positions on nuclear weapons on a number of occasions. A precedent exists for allowing member states to restrict their participation in collective nuclear planning and sharing, as most clearly demonstrated by France’s pursuit of an independent, national nuclear strategy, which led, among other things, to its decision to remain outside the NPG. Other examples are the decisions by Lithuania, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Spain to not allow deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory.

A similar precedent for variation is found in the realm of international law, as all existing legal instruments involving nuclear weapons have elicited different reactions from different NATO member states. NATO’s status as a “nuclear alliance” and its emphasis on collective nuclear planning have not prevented its member states from pursuing or opposing, ratifying or not ratifying – according to national priorities – such instruments as the NPT, the PTBT, and the CTBT.

Various NATO member states have moreover been associated with a number of different nuclear weapons-related initiatives. Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Turkey are members of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI). Canada, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Norway are members of the Vienna Group of Ten. Norway, Romania, and the United Kingdom took part in the Seven Nation Nuclear Non-Proliferation Initiative (7NI), which arose after the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference. Moreover, in responding to the 2013 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, NATO’s nuclear-armed member states chose to coordinate among themselves, and with China and Russia, rather than with the 25 other members of the Alliance.[36]

Accordingly, ratification of a treaty banning nuclear weapons by one or more NATO member states would not in itself constitute a departure from past practice. Rather, it would be consistent with the manner in which NATO member states have responded to developments in international law since the Alliance’s inception. Very few international law instruments in this field have been met with a unified NATO position. Instead, accession to new instruments has progressed according to national timelines, on the basis of national preferences, legal views and security priorities.


As discussions about a prospective ban on nuclear weapons mature, states and campaigners will inevitably meet objections. After all, such a treaty would constitute a major addition to international law. By intent and design, it would challenge a curious, yet strongly defended, idea, namely, that the use of nuclear weapons is a legitimate means of warfare. One likely objection is the view that joining such a treaty would be impermissible for NATO member states due to certain policies adopted by the Alliance. As this article has argued, however, NATO’s stance on nuclear weapons is in fact more complex and contested than is often assumed, and implied by this objection. Moreover, NATO policy documents that envision a role for nuclear weapons in Alliance security arrangements, such as the Strategic Concept, are political commitments, rather than binding legal documents. Accordingly, they do not and cannot form a legal barrier to the adoption of a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons.

In short, there are four main reasons why NATO membership is not an obstacle to becoming a party to a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons. First, NATO’s Strategic Concept explicitly recognises that nuclear weapons are problematic, and that the Allies should seek their elimination. A treaty banning nuclear weapons would reinforce this component of NATO’s policy on nuclear weapons.[37]

Second, NATO’s nuclear weapons policy is not reducible to the policy agreed at the inter-governmental level, and for example, articulated in the Strategic Concept. It also includes a host of reservations, declaratory policies and military doctrines adopted by the Alliance’s individual member states. Some of these restrict participation in the nuclear weapons activities of the Alliance, without restricting these states from participating in the work of the Alliance more generally. Importantly, this right to pursue independent policies has been reserved by nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states alike, suggesting that a precedent exists for allowing individual member states flexibility vis-à-vis policies agreed at the inter-governmental level.

Third, it is clear that few instruments of international law in this field have been met with a unified NATO position. As explained above, NATO member states’ reactions to the PTBT, NPT and the CTBT have varied considerably. The ratification of a treaty banning nuclear weapons by one or more NATO member states would not represent a substantial departure from this practice.[38] On the contrary, one may ask whether any of these hallmark instruments would have been possible if complete unanimity among NATO member states had been required at the time they were negotiated.

Lastly, the fundamental purpose of NATO is the preservation of peace and security for the Allies. The conclusion of a treaty banning nuclear weapons would contribute towards that end by facilitating nuclear disarmament and making it unambiguously clear that nuclear weapons are an unacceptable means of warfare.

In sum, there are signs that the movement to adopt a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons is gaining momentum. For NATO member states, this development represents not a threat, but rather, an opportunity to re-evaluate the assumed necessity to Alliance security of a weapon with unacceptable humanitarian consequences.

February 2014


[1]       United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China.

[2]       Israel, India, and Pakistan.

[3]       Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and related activities have received considerable attention in recent years, with many observers suspecting that the government is aiming at building nuclear weapons. As of January 2014, however, Iran is not known to currently possess nuclear weapons. See for example NTI, Country Profiles: Iran, www.nti.org/country-profiles/iran/, Accessed: January 30, 2014.

[4]       Estimates from SIPRI, World Nuclear Forces 2013, January 2013; Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, 1945.

[5]       Tony Blair in Parliament, 2007, quoted in Article 36, Banning nuclear weapons without the nuclear-armed states, Briefing Paper, October 2013, p. 3.

[6]       Other ideas include the adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a declaration on no-first use of nuclear weapons, various measures to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in military and security doctrines, and the enhancement of the role of nuclear-weapon-free zones. These and other proposals are listed in: UN General Assembly, Report of the Open-ended Working Group to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons, September, 2013.

[7]       This includes all States Parties to the Treaty of Tlateloco (1967), the Treaty of Rarotonga (1985), the Treaty of Bangkok (1995), the Treaty of Pelindaba (1996) and the Treaty of Semipalatinsk (1996). In addition, Mongolia, New Zealand, Austria and Philippines have declared themselves nuclear-free. ILPI, Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, 2011.

[8]       SIPRI, 2013.

[9]       NATO, Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, November 2010, p. 14.

[10]      Ibid., p. 16.

[11]      NATO, The Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-24A1E2F6-99731ECC/natolive/topics_50069.htm?, Accessed: October 10, 2013.

[12]      Steve Andreasen, Malcolm Chalmers and Isabelle Williams, NATO and Nuclear Weapons: Is a New Consensus Possible, Occasional Paper, Royal United Services Institute, August 2010, p. 5.

[13]      NATO, 2010, p. 23.

[14]      Emphasis added. NATO, NATO’s Positions Regarding Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament and Related Issues, October 10, 2009.

[15]      Ibid.

[16]      Ibid., p. 2.

[17]      NATO, 2010, p. 14.

[18]      Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Nuclear Weapons, http://www.mfa.is/foreign-policy/disarmament/issues/nuclear-weapons/, Accessed: November 5, 2013; “Rolf Tamnes og Knut Einar Eriksen, Norge og NATO under den kalde krigen” in Chris Prebensen and Nils Skarland, NATO 50 år: Norsk sikkerhetspolitikk med NATO gjennom 50 år, Oslo: Den Norske Atlanterhavskomité, 1999; Nuclear Threat Initiative, Treaties & Regimes: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), http://www.nti.org/treaties-and-regimes/north-atlantic-treaty-organization-nato/ Accessed: November 5, 2013.

[19]      Trygve Bratteli cited in Jacob Børresen, “Alliance Naval Strategies and Norway in the Final Years of the Cold War”, Naval War College Review, Spring 2011, Vol. 64, No. 2, p. 103.

[20]      Georges-Henri Soutou, “The Fifth Republic and NATO: Odd-man out or the only country in step?”, in Jussi Hanhimäki et al (eds),  The Routledge Handbook of Transatlantic Security, London: Routledge,” 2010.

[21]      Malcolm Chalmers, “Words that Matter? NATO Declatory Policy and the DDPR”, in Steve Andreasen and Isabelle Williams (Eds.),  Reducing Nuclear Risks in Europe: A Framework for Action, Washington: Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2011, p. 56.

[22]      Georges-Henri Soutou, 2010, p. 63; David S. Yost, “France’s Nuclear Deterrence Strategy: Concepts and Operational Implementation” in Henry D. Sokolski (Ed.), Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, its Origins and Practice, Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2004, p. 202.

[23]      Georges-Henri Soutou, 2010, p. 63.

[24]      For a discussion of the “massive retaliation versus graduated deterrence” debacle see Paul H. Nitze, “Atoms, Strategy and Policy”, Foreign Affairs, January 1956.

[25]      US Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010.

[26]      UNODA, The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), 1968.

[27]      NAT O, 2009, p. 1.

[28]      ILPI, Counting to Zero: A Statistical Report on the Interest and Participation of United Nations Member States in the issue of Nuclear Disarmament, 3rd Edition, October 2013.

[29]      UNODA, The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), 1996.

[30]      United States, United Kingdom, and France.

[31]      Espen Barth Eide, “Chair’s Summary”, Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, Oslo, March 5, 2013.

[32]      Reaching Critical Will, Documents and statements from the conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/others/oslo-2013/statements, Accessed: November 8, 2013.

[33]      Cited in ICAN, With nuclear weapons you cannot say: I’m sorry, I was wrong, next time I’ll be more careful, November 5, 2013.

[34]      Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.

[35]      Denmark, Iceland and Norway were among the 125 signatories of a joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons presented by New Zealand, whereas Belgium, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey were among the 17 signatories of a joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons presented by Australia. Both statements expressed concern with nuclear weapons, on grounds that their use would have devastating humanitarian impacts, and welcomed the Conference in Oslo, as well as the upcoming Conference in Mexico. Both statements were delivered October 21, 2013.

[36]      See ILPI, Counting to Zero: A Statistical Report on the Interest and Participation of United Nations Member States in the issue of Nuclear Disarmament, 3rd Edition, October 2013.

[37]      See Article 36, Banning Nuclear Weapons: Responses to Ten Criticisms, December 2013; ILPI, About A Ban: Dismantling the Idea of a Ban on Nuclear Weapons, 2013.

[38]      See for example Susi Snyder and Wilbert van der Zeijden, Withdrawal Issues: What NATO countries say about the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, IKV Pax Christi, March 2011; Steven Andreasen et al, “NATO and Nuclear Weapons: Is a New Consensus Possible”, Royal United Services Institute, Occasional Paper, August 2010; John Borrie and Tim Caughley, “After Oslo: Humanitarian Perspectives and the Changing Nuclear Weapons Discourse”, Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Project Paper, No 3, UNIDIR, 2013.

9 thoughts on “A ban on nuclear weapons: what’s in it for NATO?

  1. Excellent paper.
    One small comment, among the aircrafts you mentioned you should add the nuclear-capable F35 recently sold to Italy.

    • Thanks, Daniela. Several countries have ordered the F-35 fighter jets (including Norway, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, and Denmark). They are, however, still undergoing tests.

      • It’s still a highly relevant point, though. From what I can tell, there has been little discussion about this around Europe during the procurement process for the F-35 planes.

        • Agreed! The constant delays, technical problems, and cost-increase have taken much of the attention. The nuclear aspect is definitely under communicated.

  2. As I mentioned to you in Berlin, an important declaration at the time of the first new member states -Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland – joining NATO was the ¨Three Nos¨ on nuclear weapons, in which NATO declared they would not deploy nuclear weapons in those countries. This was to stop the campaign for a central and eastern European Nuclear Weapon-free Zone.

    • Thank you for the comment, Xanthe. From what we could find, the “three no’s” was a decision made by NATO, and not by the individual states, which is the reason it was not included in the article. It is a very relevant point, however, and if you have some links to more information about this, feel free to share it.

  3. I concur with this statement in the article: “Despite reductions in absolute numbers since the height of the Cold War, the nuclear weapons deployed today – often at high alert – retain a cumulative potential that could bring “untold sorrow to human kind” on a hitherto unprecedented scale.” However, it is also worth noting–and celebrating–that the explosive power, measured in kilotons, of the world’s arsenals has dramatically declined since the height of the Cold War, in addition to the numbers of weapons.

  4. Surprised there was not more discussion of NATO’s “nuclear sharing” arrangements of 180 U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bombs based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey…

    • Thanks for your comment, Mr Seay. The issue of “nuclear sharing” – including the practices of hosting US nuclear weapons and participating in the Nuclear Planning Group – is a very important aspect indeed. Although it would depend on the provisions of the (still hypothetical) ban treaty, think it is pretty reasonable to suggest that a NATO state that ratified a ban could not participate in such practices.
      More broadly, the fact that five states have bilateral hosting agreements with the US – while others have explicit policies against this – illustrates the broad range of institutional arrangements already exiting within NATO.
      We will be working more on these issues at ILPI in the future.

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