BRUSSELS --- The Coronavirus is among the greatest threats the world has faced since the Second World War. However, that does not mean that others have gone away. We face the most difficult security environment for a generation. Around the world, terrorism continues, authoritarian regimes challenge liberal democracies, and we see the proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries like North Korea, as well as the continuing aggressive actions by Russia.
In recent years, Russia has invested significantly in its military capabilities, and especially in its nuclear arsenal. While NATO views its own nuclear deterrent primarily as a political tool, Russia has firmly integrated its nuclear arsenal into its military strategy. It has placed nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, just 500km from Berlin. It has threatened Allies such as Denmark, Poland and Romania with nuclear strikes. Russia also forcibly and illegally annexed part of Ukraine, a country whose borders it had previously committed to respect in return for Ukraine giving up its own nuclear protection.
In stark contrast, NATO seeks a world without nuclear weapons through effective arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. And we have made great progress in achieving this. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Europe by around 90%. That is significant.
Despite Russia’s flagrant breach of the INF Treaty with the deployment of a new intermediate range missile, which can reach European capitals with little warning, NATO has made clear that we have no intention of pursuing our own land based nuclear missiles in Europe. We will maintain an effective deterrence and defence, including through our existing nuclear deterrent.
Therefore, I welcome Germany’s clear commitment to NATO and our nuclear deterrent. This is even more significant since we have just marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Our Alliance was built on the ruins of that devastating war, to ensure peace and freedom for future generations. Germany joined our Alliance just 10 years after the war ended, on May 6 1955. Since then, you have been a valued member of the NATO family, with all the benefits and responsibilities that implies.
Our nuclear deterrence remains a vital part of keeping our peace and freedom. It is for the security of the whole alliance, for Germany, its neighbours, friends and Allies, who all have legitimate security concerns and who are all protected by NATO’s nuclear deterrent.
An important part of our nuclear deterrence strategy is nuclear sharing. NATO’s nuclear sharing is a multilateral arrangement that ensures the benefits, responsibilities and risks of nuclear deterrence are shared among Allies. Politically, this is significant. It means that participating Allies, like Germany, make joint decisions on nuclear policy and planning, and maintain appropriate equipment. It has also always been an important trust-building measure for Germany’s neighbours. Our common procedures, doctrine and exercises give Allies a voice on nuclear matters that they would not otherwise have.
NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements also directly support non-proliferation. For many decades, it has provided European Allies with an effective nuclear umbrella. This was essential for the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prevents the spread of nuclear weapons, as it removed the incentive for nations to develop their own nuclear capability. If our nuclear sharing arrangements came to an end, more countries may again seek their own nuclear weapons. This would result in a world this is less safe, not more.
All Allies appreciate Germany’s role in NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. Germany has contributed dual-capable aircraft for NATO’s nuclear mission since the beginning. It provides important leadership based on decades of experience working together with other Allies. To provide security for all our Allies it is essential that those who participate in nuclear sharing do so fully. This includes having capable aircraft that can support our nuclear deterrence mission.
NATO unites democratic nations in defence of our values - freedom, liberty and the rule of law. The commitment of NATO Allies to each other’s security remains rock solid. Our solidarity is our strength and the ultimate expression of that solidarity remains our nuclear deterrent.
The purpose of NATO’s nuclear weapons is not to provoke a conflict but to preserve peace, deter aggression and prevent coercion. Our Alliance seeks a world without nuclear weapons, sadly, these conditions do not exist today. A world where Russia, China and others have nuclear weapons but NATO has none, is simply not a safer world.
That is why all Allies have agreed that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance. To preserve peace and our freedom.