Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MADness Abounds

By Cernig

In a textbook example of why democracies ensure that civilians, not military types, make overarching policy on the use of force, five retired senior generals from NATO nations have argued that NATO must keep its option for the first use of nuclear weapons. To do so they leave out a lot of getting-there-from-here, since the original option was formulated as a response to an overwhelmingly superior Soviet conventional attack on Europe. Now these military thinkers want to be able to exercise that option to prevent a state they don't like from developing its own nukes despite NATO being the one who would have overwhelming conventional superiority over any such state even were the US to drop military spending to match European rates. That's a monumental change and those who argue that strategic ambiguity as practised against the Soviets can thus be extended as if it were "nothing really new" are underselling that fact.

The authors of this remarkable bit of excluded-middle thinking are five retired NATO top military figures - the former chiefs of staff of the US in the Clinton era, the UK, France, Germany and Holland. At least one, Peter Inge of the UK, has made a career since his retirement of doom-and-gloom pronouncements about the perilous state of the British military. This new report is in the same vein in many respects, citing as it does threats to which there may well be not enough military spending to ever solve.

Political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism.

· The "dark side" of globalisation, meaning international terrorism, organised crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

· Climate change and energy security, entailing a contest for resources and potential "environmental" migration on a mass scale.

· The weakening of the nation state as well as of organisations such as the UN, Nato and the EU.
And yet, when all you know is hammers, every problem is a nail. As Rubber Hose blog points out such a first strike policy fatally undermines non-proliferation theory with an obvious double standard: "when NATO says that it will nuke countries to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons isn't that nuclear blackmail in and of itself?" A doctrine of first strike to support non-proliferation is redolent of "do as we say, not as we do" colonialism and as such entirely non-productive and non-deterrent. Despite having some good ideas about reformation of NATO at a purely decision-making level which would make that organisation more flexible and relevant in a changing world the report is thus fatally flawed by its presumption that military means - NATO and nukes - are necessarily the tools to use to solve the non-proliferation problem.

Knowing clearly that a nuclear first strike is one of the options that has always been on the table, it seems we must also re-evaluate political pronouncements by current and prospective leaders of NATO nations about keeping all options available for use. Worth thinking about in terms of the current US presidential race.