And What About a New Security Architecture?

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The fact that the world needs a new financial and economic architecture can no longer be disputed. The G-20 World Financial Summit on Nov. 15, 2008 is a first, but crucially important step for overcoming the failed G-7 mechanism and the “Washington consensus”. Yet, the need for a new international security architecture – starting with the space “from Vancover to Vladivostok” – is at least as pressing as is the need for a new financial and economic architecture. A new security architecture must include fresh approaches to nuclear weaponry, non-proliferation and foreign military bases.
By Michael Liebig


Even here in Germany, the euphoria over the election of Barak Obama has significantly calmed down. There was a trace of disappointment when the future president decided not to get personally involved in the G-20 World Financial Summit on Nov. 15 in Washington. He left it to George W. Bush to represent the Unites States at an international conference which finalized the demise of the G-7 as the world’s “directorate” for running international economic and financial affairs. The G-20 conference marks the beginning of a new multipolar economic and financial world architecture. And statements over the past days by leading officials from India, China or Brazil indicate that these countries do know what their new role will be.

If the agenda – agreed upon at the G-20 meeting in Washington – is implemented by next April, the working mechanisms of the post-1971 world financial system will indeed have changed substantially. In the meantime, there will have to be a lot more financial “crisis management” as well as actions to protect and stimulate the real economy around the world. Putting together a “Bretton Woods II” over a weekend with a “lame-duck” US president was not a realistic proposition. And, as German Finance Minister Steinbrueck emphasized again in Washington, analogies with 1944 Bretton Woods conference can be quite misleading. In 1944, the USA were the sole industrial and financial hyperpower, while Europe, Russia and China lay in ruins und India was still a colony. Obviously, the world of today is a very different place.

A “New Look” for US Foreign Policy?

The United States are stuck too deeply in a financial and economic quagmire as to be able to launch major initiatives for a new world financial and economic order. More likely, the Obama administration will launch some spectacular foreign and security policy initiatives, while quietly pulling out of Iraq and looking for a face-saving exit strategy from Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton, as the next Secretary of State, might be just the right person to stage a “New Look” for US foreign and security policy. It may be helpful to remember how Mikail Gorbachev launched spectacular actions in the foreign policy realm, while remaining stuck on the domestic front.

During the week after the G-20 conference, I attended a seminar in the Bavarian Alps which dealt with nuclear proliferation and nuclear strategy. There were experts from Europe, India, China, Pakistan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); unfortunately, the representative from Iran did not show up.

At the seminar, the following scenario was raised: President Obama announces the unilateral reduction of US nuclear weapons to 1000 systems. The elimination of some 6000 nuclear weapons from the current US arsenal would certainly seize worldwide attention. Such a “bold move” would seem to prove that Obama is really serious about “change” in America’s stance towards the rest of the world. And, such a “bold move” could be timed with NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit in Strasbourg (France) and Baden-Baden (Germany) in April 2009.

Would a sharp cut in nuclear weaponry imply risks for America’s national security? No. 1000 nuclear weapons are not only sufficient to annihilate any other major power, but to devastate much of the globe. Would such a “bold move” be risky in terms of domestic US politics? Again, no. The majority of the US foreign policy establishment would back it.

On Jan. 15, 2008, the Wall Street Journal carried a commentary, titled “Towards a Nuclear-Free World,” signed by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn. The two former Secretaries of State are Republicans, the former Defense Secretary and Senator are Democrats. They demanded “turning the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a practical enterprise among nations, by applying the necessary political will to build an international consensus” for a “global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world.”

The four “elder statesman” note that the 1991 US-Russian “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty” will expire on Dec. 5, 2009. Besides extending the key provisions of this treaty, “there should also be an agreement to undertake further substantial reductions in US and Russian nuclear forces” beyond those recorded in the treaty. As such “reductions proceed, other nuclear powers would become involved.” And that would “strengthen the means of monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a counter to the global spread of advanced technologies”.

They also note that their policy position “towards a nuclear-free world” is also backed by former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker III, Warren Christopher and Colin Powell, among many more leading figures in the US foreign policy establishment – “realists” and “liberals” alike.

Looking at the “Small Print”

At first sight, a policy of radical nuclear disarmament “towards zero” seems to be reasonable and almost altruistic. But, that should not restrain anybody from asking whether other geopolitical motivations might be involved here?

In the “real world” of great power competition, there is a simple and sobering equation, namely: A deep reduction of nuclear weapons (as welcome as that would certainly be) means that “conventional” forces carry a bigger weight. And, as far as conventional fighting power is concerned, in particular naval and air forces, the United States is quantitatively and qualitatively way ahead of any competing power. And, the USA alone sustains a network of almost 750 military bases in literally every corner of the globe. For almost 20 years, US military spending has been larger than that of the rest of the world combined. Even if US military spending were signficantly cut down in the coming years, the USA will keep their global military superiority for many years to come.

Russia’s conventional forces are no match for those of the United States, and that won’t change in the forseeable future. Therefore, Russia’s national security and Great Power status “asymmetrically” depends on her strategic nuclear forces. The same is true for China, whose strategic nuclear forces are not only miniscule, but technologically way behind in comparison to the USA. But China is expanding and modernizing her nuclear forces. In the European Union, there are two nuclear powers, France and Britain. Again, the their national nuclear forces are miniscule vis-à-vis the USA. Yet smaller, by an order of magnitude, are the nuclear forces of India and Pakistan – and Israel.

Paradoxically enough, in the “real world”, a unilateral and deep reduction of US nuclear weapons would not diminish, but rather strengthen America’s global strategic position. Such a “bold move” would put enormous diplomatic pressure on America’s main military-strategic competitors to act likewise: Russia, with weak conventional and strong nuclear forces, and particularly China which is trying to catch up with the USA in the nuclear weapons field.

A radical reduction of nuclear weapons by the Obama administration would also further increase the diplomatic and political pressure on Iran, which seems to aim at becoming a “virtual nuclear weapons state”. Iran does not actually want to acquire nuclear weapons, but wants to be technologically capable of producing them. Of course, there are at least 30 other “virtual nuclear weapons states”, which do not want to have nuclear weapons, but possess the technical infrastructure to produce them.

Thus, a deep cut in US nuclear weapons would tend to generate an alliance of interest between the USA and the many cannot afford them. Such an alliance of interest would further strengthen America’s political and diplomatic leverage vis-à-vis her two main military-strategic competitors as well as other exisiting and potential nuclear weapon states.

German Contradictions

Today Germany stands at the forefront of nuclear non-proliferation. That was different in the 1960s and early 1970s, when German governments – conservative and socialdemocratic alike – opposed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT has a fundamental, intrinsic defect because it codifies an arbitrary divide between five “legitimate” nuclear weapon states and the rest of “nuclear have-nots”. Since the mid-1970s, Germany with the typical “thoroughness” has turned “anti-nuclear”. In respect to nuclear weaponry that is understandable, because Germany was the main nuclear “battle ground” during the Cold War. What concerns civilian nuclear power production, we are dealing here with an eerie ideological obsession.

The adoption an international “pioneer role” on nuclear non-proliferation is also the reason why Germany became the sixth party, along with the five “official” nuclear weapons states, on Iran’s nuclear program. Security issues are not a decisive motivation, because Germany does not seriously fear being attacked by Iranian nuclear missiles.

Therefore, Germany would warmly welcome a deep reduction of US nuclear weapons. Germany would certainly appeal to the other nuclear powers to act likewise and point to the NPT, which obliges the five nuclear weapon states to radically reduce their nuclear arsenals. And, Germany would probably further intensify the diplomatic pressure on Iran to terminate its nuclear enrichment program (to which it is legally entitled according to the NPT).

But, there is an ironical contradiction in Germany’s stance on nuclear weapons: An estimated 20 American nuclear bombs are being held ready at the German Air Force Base in Buechel. German nuclear-capable Tornado fighter bombers with German crews (theoretically) could be armed with these B-61-3/4 atomic bombs (stored in tightly US-controlled underground depots at German air base) for combat missions.

During the Cold War, the political-psychological purpose of this arrangment was to give Germany at least a minimum say in the nuclear target planning of the United States, in view of the fact that West and East Germany would have been the main – nuclear – battlefield in war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. To that end, the “Nuclear Planning Group” (NPG) was established within the NATO command, which, besides Germany, involved Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Greece and Turkey.

A deep cut in the nuclear weapons arsenal would also mean the withdrawal of these US nuclear weapons from Germany sharing arrangment within NATO. There are already unmistakeable signals that the US government does want its nuclear weapons out of Europe: Last summer, a top-secret USAF report on the security of these US nuclear weapons in Europe was leaked to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), claiming the “host nation security personnel and equipment” for the protection of these nuclear weapons showed worrisome deficiencies.

German security expert Otfried Nassauer has noted that the US government wants the withdrawal of all US nuclear weapons from Europe, because the European NATO partners are to be kept out of US nuclear target planning – even if their influence is probably miniscule to the point of irrelevance.

When the FAS report was released, the liberal, green and leftist opposition parties in Germany called for the immediate withdrawal of US nuclear weapons and the termination of the “nuclear sharing agreement” with the US. However, the German government said that there was no need for changing the status quo in respect to US nuclear weapons on German soil. Quite a contradictory position of the “anti-nuclear” German government.

But, there are more contradictions. While the US wants to bring their nuclear weapons in Germany back home, the past years’ builddown of US troops levels and US military bases in Germany has been reversed. There are currently 150.000 US troops in Iraq and most of them will be withdrawn in the coming years. Guess where many of them are supposed to go, at least for a transitional period? To US bases in Germany with their well-functioning infrastructure and a politically stable enviroment. But is a large US troop presence in Germany’s national interest– almost two decades after the end of the Cold War? Certainly not.

A New Security Architecture “from Vancouver to Vladivostok”

This messy and convoluted situation for Germany is syptomatic for a much deeper problem: The existing security space has become not only outdated, but unacceptable. As General de Gaulle once noted: Both beautiful girls and military alliances do wither with time.

If the Obama administration will announce deep cuts and US nuclear weapon arsenal und pulls back its nuclear weapons from European soil, Germany should not simply applaud. A truly “bold move” is required in Germany’s national interest: Taking the initative for a new, cooperative security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic/Eurasian space. The twin issues of radically reducing nuclear weapons and nuclear non-proliferation are of utmost importance in such new security architecture. The second fundamental issue are foreign military bases. It is an absurd proposition that America’s legitimate national security should depend on a vast network of US military bases in foreign countries on other continents.

As long as nuclear weapons and an international non-proliferation regime do exist, a benchmark has to be introduced in nuclear strategic affairs: Minimum Credible Deterrence. The acceptence of this benchmark by the nuclear weapons states is the precondition not only for sustaining the nuclear non-proliferation regime, but of a new global security architecture. This is no abstract theoritizing. The need for a new security architecture is at least as pressing as the the need for new financial and economic architecture. The 60th Anniversary NATO Summit in Strasbourg/Baden-Baden provides an opportunity to get serious about a “new security architecture from Vancouver to Vladivostok”.

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