NATO still “brain-dead” when it comes to nuclear weapons doctrine

NATO’s Nuclear Doctrine fundamentally unchanged

On the opening day of its three-day Madrid Summit (28-30 June) NATO unveiled its updated Strategic Concept (SC), what American diplomat and former NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller describes as:

NATO’s statement of its strategic goals and objectives, its purpose in life.

One key aspect of the document is NATO’s approach to nuclear weapons and, more specifically, to deterring nuclear attacks. In essence, despite the war in Ukraine, nothing much has changed.

From the SC Preface:

The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. NATO’s goal is a safer world for all; we seek to create the security environment for a world without nuclear weapons.

Paragraph 28 elaborates on the role of nuclear deterrence:

Nuclear weapons are unique. The circumstances in which NATO might have to use nuclear weapons are extremely remote. Any employment of nuclear weapons against NATO would fundamentally alter the nature of a conflict. The Alliance has the capabilities and resolve to impose costs on an adversary that would be unacceptable and far outweigh the benefits that any adversary could hope to achieve.

In the section on Deterrence and Defence, section 20 further outlines the role of nuclear weapons:

 …NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is based on an appropriate mix of  nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities, complemented by space and cyber capabilities.

Paragraph 22 maintains the references to potential nuclear war fighting:

We will individually and collectively deliver the full range of forces, capabilities, plans, resources, assets and infrastructure needed for deterrence and defence, including for high-intensity, multi-domain warfighting against nuclear-armed peer-competitors. [emphasis added]

Paragraph 29 elaborates on the role of the US strategic nuclear forces, those of the UK and France and, most particularly, that of American tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

The strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States, are the supreme guarantee of the security of the Alliance. The independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France have a deterrent role of their own and contribute significantly to the overall security of the Alliance. These Allies’ separate centres of decision-making contribute to deterrence by complicating the calculations of potential adversaries. NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture also relies on the United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe and the contributions of Allies concerned. National contributions of dual capable aircraft to NATO’s nuclear deterrence mission remain central to this effort. [emphasis added]

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

The overriding lesson for NATO of the Ukraine war is the impossibility of a direct military confrontation between nuclear-armed peer adversaries because of the threat of escalation to catastrophic nuclear war.

Yet, NATO doctrine continues to be premised on the very opposite, the alleged credible threat of nuclear war-fighting.

Since the onset of the Russian invasion,  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly emphasized that NATO cannot enter the war directly because of the unacceptable threat of “escalation”.

Presumably this is the meaning behind the Gorbachev-Reagan declaration, reaffirmed by Putin and Biden at the June 2021 Summit:

A nuclear war can never be won. A nuclear war must never be fought.

Yet, we repeat, both NATO and American nuclear doctrine continue to include nuclear war-fighting as an important component of their respective “deterrence and defence” postures. And nowhere in the SC is there language that takes account of the inherent threat of escalation to nuclear war from a direct conventional military engagement between NATO and Russia.

But it could have been worse.

In an article written before the Strategic Concept was publicly released, former Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller (referenced earlier), outlined what most Eastern European members of NATO wanted:

newer members … are looking for a more robust nuclear stance from NATO and have even argued for the demise of the three “no’s” first articulated in the late 1980s to reassure Russia about enlargement: NATO has no intention, no reason, and no plan to station nuclear forces on the territory of its new members.

It is some small comfort that this extraordinarily destabilizing step was not taken.

Commitments on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation also maintained

Paragraphs 32 and 33 of the Strategic Concept emphasize the importance of arms control and are worth including in their entirety, even if they are often more honoured in their breach than in any effort at meaningful implementation:

32. Strategic stability, delivered through effective deterrence and defence, arms control and disarmament, and meaningful and reciprocal political dialogue remains essential to our security. Arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation strongly contribute to the Alliance’s objectives. Allies’ efforts on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation aim to reduce risk and enhance security, transparency, verification, and compliance. We will pursue all elements of strategic risk reduction, including promoting confidence building and predictability through dialogue, increasing understanding, and establishing effective crisis management and prevention tools. These efforts will take the prevailing security environment and the security of all Allies into account and complement the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture. We will make use of NATO as a platform for in-depth discussion and close consultations on arms control efforts.

33. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the essential bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons and we remain strongly committed to its full implementation, including Article VI. NATO’s goal is to create the security environment for a world without nuclear weapons, consistent with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Gottemoeller provides some useful insight into Alliance thinking on the retention of these commitments during the updating process:

Even the dialogue doubters among NATO member states would be unlikely to embrace a policy depending on deterrence and defense alone; it would doom NATO to being unable to change the status quo except by resort to the use of force.

She further elaborates:

Indeed, a comprehensive study by the Middlebury Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at Monterey found that NATO members from east to west understand the need for a dual-track approach. Some resist the idea in the light of Russian bad behavior, but they reluctantly accept that dialogue can be useful and necessary when well prepared and timely.

Whither Canada?

We call again on the Government of Canada to take meaningful steps both within NATO and at the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in August 2022 in furtherance of the Alliance recommitment — through its updated Strategic Concept — to arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. comments:

Regarding the welcome reaffirmation in the NATO Strategic Concept 2022 of the importance of arms control negotiations with adversaries, we would make the very same observation about the necessity of diplomacy to bring the terrible Ukraine conflict to an end.

And in that regard, we are pleased to include a link to a recent article in NATO WATCH by John Gittings entitled Memo on Ukraine Diplomacy (23 June 2022), that outlines a range of diplomatic work underway, out of the public eye and despite the prevalent — and dangerous — anti-negotiation narrative that dominates mainstream media.

Madrid NATO Summit Declaration

We will now consider some of the most relevant aspects of the Madrid Summit Declaration (with the exception of the paragraphs on the Strategic Concept, already discussed above).

Paragraph 2 reads:

We are united in our commitment to democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law.  We adhere to international law and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.  We are committed to upholding the rules-based international order.

China is referenced in paragraph 6:

We face systemic competition from those, including the People’s Republic of China, who challenge our interests, security, and values and seek to undermine the rules-based international order.

Note that China is also included, for the first time, in the Strategic Concept, in paragraphs 13 and 14, to be examined in more detail in an upcoming blog post. We note, en passant, that a factual listing of breaches of international law would place western countries, led by the USA, well ahead of China.

The Summit declaration outlines a veritable spending binge by NATO members, including in particular measures to “strengthen the eastern flank”:

9. …Allies have committed to deploy additional robust in-place combat-ready forces on our eastern flank, to be scaled up from the existing battlegroups to brigade-size units where and when required, underpinned by credible rapidly available reinforcements, prepositioned equipment, and enhanced command and control.

For more details, see NATO to boost its rapid reaction force to 300,000 troops (, 27 June 2022) and for new US and Canadian contributions, see U.S. increases its firepower in eastern Europe as Canada signs deal to bolster NATO presence in Latvia (, 29 June 2022).

The Government of Canada also issued a press release entitled Canada and Latvia sign Joint Declaration to augment NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Latvia (29 June 2022).

Government of Canada silent on presence of Canadian special forces in Ukraine

Conspicuously absent from NATO or Canadian announcements was the presence in Ukraine of special forces from a variety of allies. Drawing on a New York Times report, David Pugliese wrote in the National Post on 26 June:

Neither the Department of National Defence nor the office of Defence Minister Anita Anand would comment on the report published Saturday that noted a few dozen commandos from NATO countries, including Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, had been working inside Ukraine. The United States withdrew its own 150 military instructors before the war began in February.

He continues:

But the New York Times, citing three U.S. officials, reported that special forces from the NATO countries either remained or had gone in and out of Ukraine since then, training and advising Ukrainian troops and providing an on-the-ground conduit for weapons and other aid. comments:

Canada is participating in provocative, escalatory behaviour that increases the risk of a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia. It is also entirely unnecessary activity since the US is coordinating exponentially more weapons deliveries to Ukraine from a coalition planning cell in Germany.

The Summit Declaration in paragraph 18 outlines the next steps in the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, now that Turkish objections have been assuaged, albeit at a very high cost, which we examine a bit later in this post.

NATO, the USA and the defence of democracy

The final paragraph of the Madrid NATO Summit Declaration reads:

22. With our decisions today, we have firmly set the direction for the Alliance’s continued adaptation.  NATO remains the strongest Alliance in history.  Through our bond and our mutual commitment, we will continue to safeguard the freedom and security of all Allies, as well as our shared democratic values, now and for future generations.

The emptiness of this statement will, alas, become all too clear in the ensuing months as democracy in the USA continues to unravel, with imminent and recently rendered decisions of the US Supreme Court about to position the USA as the single greatest obstacle to successfully averting global climate catastrophe.

The opening lines of a New York Times article entitled Republican Drive to Tilt Courts Against Climate Action Reaches a Crucial Moment (Coral Davenport, 19 June, updated 28 June 2022) say it all:

Within days, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision that could severely limit the federal government’s authority to reduce carbon dioxide from power plants — pollution that is dangerously heating the planet.

In another article on the same subject, Stephen F. Eisenman  and Sue Coe explain:

The stakes in that case are nothing less than civilizational. The U.S. is by far the leading, per capita emitter of global warming gases (twice the rate of China). Unless we halt their release, and further regulate energy and industrial production, we haven’t a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C or even 2.0°C.

The human consequences of a heat increase beyond that already high threshold are catastrophic, according to the most recent IPCC reports.

But as Davenport points out in the New York Times article, this case is only the start:

Coming up through the federal courts are more climate cases, some featuring novel legal arguments, each carefully selected for its potential to block the government’s ability to regulate industries and businesses that produce greenhouse gases. comments:

The US and NATO are fixated on punishing Russia, no matter the cost, seemingly blind to the fact that every day the war continues, the planet is further imperilled.

More Ukraine war casualties: Turkey prevails on terrorism concerns

In our 10 June blog post we looked at the Finnish and Swedish decisions to abandon neutrality and fully embrace NATO. Today we consider the very high price that those two countries have apparently paid to secure the removal of Turkey’s objections to their accession to NATO as full members.

For the details we turn to a 29 June 2022 news brief from NATO WATCH entitled Murky trilateral agreement results in Turkey lifting objections to Finland and Sweden’s NATO application.

NATO WATCH elaborates on Turkish concerns:

Turkey had said it would block their applications unless it received satisfactory assurances that they were willing to address what it regards as support for Kurdish groups it designates as terrorist organisations, in particular the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK).

The problem, however, is that

the Turkish government tends to treat all Kurdish opposition, whether peaceful or militant, as terrorism and has taken its ‘war on terror’ into neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

The disagreement over Turkish interventions in Syria has been serious enough that full arms embargoes were imposed on Turkey by the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden in 2019.

NATO WATCH observes, however, that

most of these appear to have been discreetly lifted in recent months.

According to NATO Watch, rather than address the root causes of the conflict between Turkish security forces and the PKK, Turkey has been “over-reliant” on “militarised anti-terrorist methods”:

This has increased regional instability and created new Kurdish grievances. The charge sheet against the Turkish armed forces includes large-scale human rights violations, destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure, mass displacement and the violation of the sovereignty of other countries.

Despite all this, in the view of NATO WATCH, Turkey has prevailed and “got what it wanted,” including:

  • Finland and Sweden will “extend their full support” to Turkey in matters of national security
  • Finland and Sweden would “not provide support” to the PKK, a proscribed organization, but also to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), groups active in the fight against Islamic State in Syria
  • All three countries would work together on extradition requests.

Regarding extradition, Sweden is home to 100,000 Kurdish refugees and Turkey has called for the extradition of individuals allegedly linked to both the PKK and the YPG.

NATO WATCH summarizes key concerns about the agreement:

Many hard questions appear to have been glossed over—about the validity of Turkish security claims, the efficacy of its military-centric approach, and the reputational damage and potential blowback to Sweden, Finland (and indeed NATO) from an actual or perceived weakened commitment to human rights and asylum for political dissidents.

But there is more bad news because the agreement explicitly integrates “the fight against terrorism” into Finland and Sweden’s “core tasks”, in accordance with “relevant NATO documents and policies”.

NATO WATCH trenchantly observes:

The US-led, post-Cold War counterterrorism paradigm was fundamentally misguided, and often made the situation worse….

Other, more successful approaches—pioneered by countries like Sweden—are rooted in justice and funding for development programmes aimed at addressing local drivers of the violence, such as lack of adequate water and food, climate change and weak governance.

NATO WATCH concludes:

it remains to be seen if the concessions made to Erdogan’s authoritarian regime return to haunt the two Nordic countries.

For an even grimmer assessment of the situation, see: Not so fast: Erdogan still holds cards on NATO bids by Sweden, Finland (, 1 July 2022).

For the further benefits showered on Turkey, see Erdogan gains from lifting Sweden and Finland NATO veto with US fighter jet promise (, 29 June 2022).

More war casualties: vital Arctic cooperation still in abeyance

We promised last week that this post would examine a timely briefing by Ernie Regehr entitled Arctic Security Cooperation – Still Needed, but is it Still Possible? (Arctic Security Briefing Papers, the Simons Foundation Canada, 21 June 2022).

In sum, the paper makes the case for a pan-Arctic security dialogue forum and the utter unsuitability of NATO to take on such a role.

Regehr begins by reminding us that

NATO had suspended all practical cooperation with Russia as a result of its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russia, in response to sanctions, had stopped participating in the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable.

In his view, then, despite the fact that security is not part of its remit, the decision by the seven non-Russian states of the Arctic Council to temporarily pause “participation in all meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies” was “not a surprise”.

He continues:

But it does raise the broader question why dialogue and direct engagement mechanisms cannot be designed to carry on when needed most, when relations and violations of norms and laws are at their worst, without parties to the dialogue thereby condoning, or being seen to condone, the violation.

Dialogue with adversaries is pursued, as realists should recognize, because refusing to talk risks having confrontation spin out of control.

In that regard, Regehr reminds us of the “long history” of Russia and the West “threatening each other to the point of nuclear annihilation without leaving dialogue tables”, adding:

In the Cold War it was precisely the dangerous threats and counter-threats that required the creation of reliable avenues of sustained engagement. comments:

One of the most frightening aspects of our current situation is the fulsome embrace of cold war hostility by NATO but not its tools for managing the risks inherent in such a confrontation of nuclear-armed peers.

Indigenous communities and security

On the lack of consultations by Arctic Council governments before taking the decision to pause its work, Regehr writes:

Not consulting Indigenous communities on such a consequential decision, even though they are formal participants in the Arctic Council’s work, suggests they are even less likely to be consulted on explicitly security matters, for which there is now no formal consultative table.

In that regard, the briefing paper reminds us of a perspective we highlighted in our blog posts on the Rideau Institute co-hosted  Arctic Security webinar series that culminated in the ebook Beyond The Cooperation-Conflict Conundrum (Lackenbauer and Mason (eds), May 2021).

Bridget Larocque, a northern indigenous leader with extensive experience in indigenous organizations, self-government negotiations, and government, warns that

policies developed without the knowledge and wisdom of indigenous expertise, which we bring as life-long Northerners, is nothing more than the continuation of the colonial methodology that perpetuates antagonism.

NATO and Arctic bridge building? Not a good plan!

Regehr begins his last section by noting the irony of a war “begun in large measure to blunt the spread and influence of NATO” instead resulting in a situation where Russia is about to find itself the only Arctic Council member state that is outside the NATO Alliance.

But in a region where “cooperation is not just an option but a necessity,” Regehr emphasizes,

Russia seems to be left on its own, but of course the most prominent, dominant, presence in the region will not be isolated – it will have to be reckoned with.

Arguing powerfully that “geography determines neighbours, not political preferences” and “stability is not achieved by shunning powerful or prominent neighbours but by managing neighbourhoods”, Regehr makes his “critical” argument:

the management of intra-Arctic stability cannot credibly be outsourced to NATO. A Western defence alliance is not the institutional medium through which to pursue mutuality and stability in a region that includes Russia. comments:

This is a timely, clear-eyed, sensible briefing that sets out the overriding need for dialogue in the Arctic and, in particular, for a dedicated forum for security dialogue that NATO cannot provide.


In our 24 June blog post, we outlined the progress made at the historic first meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) held in Vienna June 21-23. Despite several NATO attendees as observers, Canada was not among them.

Describing his reaction to Canada’s behaviour in a recent article for the Hill Times, former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, former Senator,  prodigious author and indefatigable campaigner for peace and nuclear disarmament the Honourable Doug Roche O.C. stated:

It is utterly sad that a country which once led the way in telling the nuclear powers to cool down the arms race, which once stood up against NATO’s nuclear weapons policies, which once pioneered the Landmines Treaty, wouldn’t even attend as an observer a meeting that solidified the Prohibition Treaty as a permanent instrument to protect humanity against annihilation.

Roche quotes UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who told the meeting:

Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us. … We must stop knocking at doomsday’s door.

In his article, Doug Roche draws attention to a particularly important accomplishment of the meeting — the naming of Ireland to explore potential cooperation between the Prohibition Treaty regime and that of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, writing:

Ireland is the perfect state to bring these two treaties into working collaboration, for Ireland has been widely regarded as the “father” of the NPT and also played an active role in creating the Prohibition Treaty.

Doug Roche urges Canada to go into “immediate consultations” with Ireland with a view to overcoming the hostility of  NATO to the Prohibition Treaty.

He ends on a positive note:

The Prohibition Treaty has integrated civil society into its future work, a collaboration that is surely deepening the input of highly knowledgeable and deeply committed people into governmental decision-making on the future of humanity.

For the full Hill Times article (available to subscribers) click on Canada’s absence at nuclear prohibition treaty meeting a disappointment and, for non-subscribers, we include a PDF version with the kind permission of the author.

Whither Canada?

We reiterate our call for the Government of Canada to adopt a constructive approach to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

And, as seems most appropriate for a blog post on Canada Day, we end with some good news:


The headline for a recent CTV article proclaims: Canada outperformed most G10 countries during first two years of pandemic response: study (Megan DeLaire, 27 June 2022).

Researchers from the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto found that

Canada handled key aspects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic better in the first two years of the health emergency than most G10 countries.

The countries — including Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — were chosen due to similarities in their economic and political models, per-capita income levels and population size.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Canada has the highest proportion of fully vaccinated people as of February, 2022.
  • Canada’s per capita rate of COVID-19 was the second lowest of all the peer countries studied, after Japan.
  • Canada’s rate of COVID-19 deaths was also second-lowest among countries in the study, again after Japan.

Had Canada experienced the same death rate as the USA, about 68,800 more Canadians would have died of COVID-19. In the words of one of the report authors:

That number means that most of us probably would have a friend or a family member … who would have died in Canada in the last two years … and who’s alive today. comments:

This result is all the more impressive given that most of Canada’s peer group in the study — the USA being one of the exceptions — did not have to contend with a constitution that gives primary jurisdiction over health to the provinces.

We commend the leadership of the Government of Canada and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam.


Photo credit: (1) Courtesy Douglas Roche (Rooj Ali – intern, Senator Marilou McPhedran, Sarah Rohleder – intern); (2) Courtesy Douglas Roche; (3) Government of Canada is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace.



Tags: Arctic Security, arms control, Canadian Special Forces in Ukraine, climate catastrophe, Climate change, disarmament and non-proliferation, Douglas Roche, Ernie Regehr, escalation, forward-deployed nuclear weapons, Madrid Summit 2022, Madrid Summit Declaration, NATO Deterrence and Defence, NATO Madrid Summit, NATO nuclear capability, Nuclear Deterrence, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Nuclear weapons, Rose Gottemoeller, Strategic Concept, Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), Ukraine