23 April 2010


Dear readers,

The BBC reports that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's chief, declared that NATO should retain nuclear capacities as long as there would be rogue regimes and terrorists threatening the Alliance. He added that such threats also made a serious anti-missile defense system all the more important.

While I completely agree with mister Rasmussen's second statement, the first one is, to say the least, debatable. The Danish former Minister is well aware of one of the reasons for this, the economic one. He addressed it in his comment, by mentioning that NATO should find a way of mutualizing the costs of such "deterrents". Denmark is indeed a member of NATO, and pays for its own expenses within the Alliance. However, very much like the Netherlands and most other NATO members (apart from France, the UK and the USA), Denmark enjoys the protection of the nuclear weapons of the three members who operates them, but without supporting any of the costs.

However, there is another reason to find mister Rasmussen comment slightly aloof. And it is the rational behind the deterrence issue. It is not very clear that nuclear weapons really were any deterrent at all, at least since the Cuban missile crisis. It is fairly obvious that even at the end of the Cold War, none of the sides was actually ready to use its nukes in a first strike against its opponent. A deterrent was thus unnecessary. Now that the Cold War is over, most states owning nukes are even less likely to use them. More importantly, Rasmussen is actually not referring to such states, but to "rogue countries and terrorist organisations". And that's where the logic is flawed. Rogue regimes and terrorist organisations are totally uninterested in deterrence. Terrorists can not be stopped or deterred by nukes. They are ready to die and bring as many people in death with them. They simply don't care about the possibility of a nuclear answer to their threat. Actually, they would very much enjoy it. Getting more civilian people killed in the bombing is simply bonus for them and their cause.

As for rogue states, it is maybe slightly more ambivalent. But who does mister Rasmussen mean by these? Well, it's quite obvious. He means the two who are openly hostile to NATO: Iran and North Korea. One could also argue about China and Pakistan, but these two countries are not more likely to use nukes in a first strike against NATO than the USSR was at the end of the Cold War. So what about Iran and North Korea? Well, I dare say that the deterrence of our own nukes against these regimes is near to zero. These are secretive and violent regimes which routinely kill, torture, persecute and oppress their own citizens. These are leaders who live under high protection, with deep bunkers ready to shelter them in case of an attack. They are very well aware that any strike (first or second) against them with NATO nukes would only hurt the very people the NATO cares about: their civilian population. In case of an attack, these leaders would of course already be in deep shelters, well protected against nuclear missiles.

If they would threaten NATO, nukes would certainly not be the answer to the threat they pose. So mister Rasmussen, don't bother about the cost of NATO nukes. These costs could be much better used in the building of a common missile defence system. This is actually the only good idea that ever came from the former US Bush administration. NATO should stick to it and spend its money where it is really needed: in protecting its citizens against bombs, not in threatening other civilians with its own.