We may not know a lot about thehush-hush Foreign Affairs briefing notes Maxime Bernier just apologized for leaving around Julie Couillard’s place, but it’s astounding what you can learn about NATO by simply perusing the Department of National Defence website.
For the last few months, DND has posted a NATO discussion document that appears to sell and legitimize first-strike nuclear attacks.
Entitled Towards A Grand Strategy For An Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership, the document written by senior ex-defence chiefs from the U.S. and European countries states that “the first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
Iran isn’t specifically mentioned as the target, but the document does say Iran “is strongly suspected of engaging in a military nuclear programme” and that “as a nuclear power, it could become immune to international sanctions.”
So, what is Canada’s position on the use of nuclear first ?strikes these days anyway? Will we ever know exactly what role our government is playing in NATO as the controversial alliance – mired in a thankless Afghan mission – resumes the first-strike debate?At Canada’s Department of National Defence, Lieutenant I.M. Riche will only say that the document is not Canadian policy and forms part of a wider discussion.
Not exactly reassuring to many foreign affairs critics who worry that Canada is on a more militarist path.
In general, says Project Ploughshares co-founder Murray Thomson, this country has played an “ambiguous role” in international forums on nuclear disarmament and has never steered away from being loyal members of NATO, which oversees hundreds of U.S.-owned nuclear weapons on European soil.
Canada is a sitting member of the alliance Nuclear Planning Group, but Thomson says no recent prime minister “has had the courage to oppose NATO’s nuke policy. It’s so integrated with our own Defense Department. It’s a sacred cow.” He points out the contradiction that all alliance members are signatories to the Nuclear Non-?Proliferation Treaty.
A call to Foreign Affairs for clarification of Canada’s stance on the first-?strike debate yields only this from spokesperson Eugenie Cormier-?Lassonde: “NATO’s strategic concept, to which Canada fully subscribes, clearly states that nuclear weapons serve the purpose of preserving peace and preventing coercion and any kind of war.”
Grand purposes aside, Martin Butcher, a policy researcher at the UK-?based Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, says the move to codify NATO first-strike nuke use has been an American campaign since the mid-90s, though with little success.
Within NATO, he says, unresolved differences pit the European countries that want to reserve first-?strike use to major conflicts with states already armed with nuke weapons, like Russia and China, against the U.S., which seeks to broaden the targets to include enemy states with other weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical, biological and powerful conventional arms.First use, Butcher says, was a “last resort” under Bill Clinton until George W. Bush made it “the central plank” of his military strategy.
While NATO’s NPG meets almost symbolically for a mere two hours once a year, the group is likely to become more active given rising tensions over Iran. And there are unknowns about what will happen in this debate if John McCain, a hawk on Iran despite intelligence reports that the Mideast nation halted its nuclear weapons project in 2003, becomes prez or if Israel unleashes an attack.
“The U.S. doctrine allows for the use of nuclear weapons to prevent a country like Iran, which has the potential to produce nuclear weapons, from turning that potential into reality,” says Butcher, echoing journalist Seymour Hersh’s revelation two years ago that the Pentagon was exploring tactical nuclear weapons as an option against Iran.
Interestingly, at the RAND Institute, military analyst Lowell Schwartz dismisses fears the Bush admin has any real first-strike intent, saying most of such talk is bluffing. “When they talk about striking first, it’s generally in a conventional sense,’’ he says.
At the Washington-based Arms Control Association, military specialist Wade Boese agrees that while the Bush admin is careful about the public message around first use, some of its strategists are busy pushing what’s called “tailored deterrence.”
Proponents argue that smaller and weaker so-called rogue regimes cannot be intimidated by the U.S.’s arsenal of large-yield nuclear weapons, originally designed for annihilating the Soviet Union. “They therefore conclude that the U.S. should develop smaller-yield nuclear weapons that would ostensibly produce less collateral damage’’ Boese says.
“Such weapons, they say, would be more credible in deterring regional powers, because those governments might think the U.S. more likely to pull the trigger.”