2019 - A NEW ERA FOR NUCLEAR DETERRENCE? MODERNISATION, ARMS CONTROL, AND ALLIED NUCLEAR FORCES

JOSEPH A. DAY (Canada)

11 July 2019

The Alliance’s nuclear posture, which relies heavily on the strategic forces of the United States and, to a lesser extent, of France and the United Kingdom, is responding to a changing international environment and will likely change more in the not too distant future. Recent Russian aggression has prompted NATO to reaffirm the role of its strategic forces as the ultimate guarantee of Allied security. The question of nuclear weapons posture and management, however, has been a relatively peripheral issue in recent debates about NATO’s new defence and deterrence policy. Yet major international developments are renewing debate about the Alliance’s nuclear posture; particularly due to recent efforts by all nuclear states to modernise their forces, as well as the impending demise of the INF Treaty. Taken together, these factors pave the way for a potential new era of rearmament and a destabilising arms race.

Additional challenges to Allied nuclear deterrence are to come. The increasing reliance of nuclear weapons on cyber systems, in conjunction with technological developments such as hypersonic weapons, render the defence of strategic forces more difficult and significantly compresses the available response time. Likewise, the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons raises the potential for accidents and thefts. NATO’s nuclear posture will be increasingly at the centre of Allied government and civilian debate in the coming months and years. As such, it is vital for NATO parliamentarians to be informed about the challenges of this complex issue. The sufficiency of NATO’s nuclear posture today will be questioned if and when the INF Treaty falls into desuetude. As such, there will be a renewed debate about the correct mix of forces and negotiated arms control.