31st Oct 2020

Nato inches closer to new strategic concept

Foreign and defence ministers from Nato's 28 member states on Thursday (14 October) broadly endorsed a draft strategic concept meant to adapt the Cold War-era military alliance to new threats such as cyber attacks. But Germany and France are at odds over the role of nuclear weapons and missile defence.

"This document and the conversation it has sparked among member states serves an important function, which is to ensure that Nato evolves as the world evolves ... Relying on the strategies of the past simply will not suffice," US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said at a press conference after the meeting.

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  • Nato can no longer "rely on the strategies of the past," Clinton said (Photo:

Praised by ministers for being "short and readable," the final wording of the draft document put forward by Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen is set to be approved by heads of state and government on 19-20 November in Lisbon.

"I see real convergence arising on what modern defence entails and on balancing the importance of having a strong deterrence posture with the desire to strengthen arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation efforts," Mr Rasmussen said during a separate press briefing.

The former Danish prime minister said he was confident that Nato leaders in Lisbon will agree to inter-linking European systems to a US-developed missile defence shield under the Nato umbrella.

"I believe we are nearing a consensus at the Lisbon Summit for Nato to have a capability to defend all of Nato-Europe against the threat of a missile attack," Mr Rasmussen said.

He added that the cost for Nato countries would be minimal, just €147 million for 10 years, divided by 28, and that Russia would be invited to participate as well.

Asked by a Ukrainian journalist if other countries may also join the shield as partners, Mr Rasmussen said that he explicitly mentioned Russia because Nato has a special relationship with the country. "But I would expect the invitation to be an invitation to other European partners as well," he added.

As to France's comments that the shield would be inefficient, Mr Rasmussen said: "I have not heard objections to moving forward on making a decision in Lisbon about a Nato-based missile defence system."

French defence minister Herve Morin separately told journalists that the missile defence shield is similar to the unsuccessful Marginot defence line built by the French to protect them from a Nazi invasion in 1940.

"You protect yourself against the Apocalypse, when the best way of avoiding Apocalypse is to be able to make yourself respected with a military tool and a credible defence," he said.

According Romanian foreign minister Theodor Baconschi, present at the debate, the French comments had to be read in the context of Paris' national policy regarding nuclear arms.

"There is this robust nuclear deterrence culture in France and they had to put this national accent, but they didn't break the consensus that Nato should develop the missile defence shield," Mr Baconschi said.

Mr Morin's comments were also sparked by Germany's push to make nuclear disarmament a central point in the Nato strategic concept.

"Arms control and disarmament must be the trademarks of our political alliance," German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.

Linking nuclear disarmament to the development of the missile shield, as the two countries suggest, is however out of the question for the US.

"I didn't hear anything about linkage in terms of missile defense and nuclear reductions. Indeed, a number of speakers today talked about as long as we live in a world of nuclear weapons that it is important that NATO remain a nuclear-armed alliance," US defence secretary Robert Gates said at a press conference.


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