The West must be prepared to carry out pre-emptive nuclear strikes to halt the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, according to a radical manifesto for a new NATO by five of the West's most senior military officers and strategists.

Calling for reform of NATO and a new pact drawing the U.S., NATO and the European Union together in a "grand strategy" to tackle the challenges of an increasingly brutal world, the former armed forces chiefs from the U.S., Britain, Germany, France and The Netherlands insist a "first strike" nuclear option remains an "indispensable instrument" since there is "simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world."

The document had been presented to the Pentagon and NATO's Secretary-General, The Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday.

The manifesto is likely to be discussed at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, in April.

The authors include some of the top defense minds in the West, including Gen. John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and NATO's former supreme commander in Europe.

The others are Gen. Klaus Naumann, Germany's former top soldier and ex-chairman of NATO's military committee; Gen. Henk van den Breemen, a former Dutch chief of staff; Adm. Jacques Lanxade, a former French chief of staff; and Lord Inge, field marshal and ex-chief of the general staff and the defense staff in the U.K.

The Guardian reported that the manifesto had been written following discussions with active commanders and policy-makers, many of whom were unable or unwilling to publicly air their views.

"The risk of further (nuclear) proliferation is imminent and, with it, the danger that nuclear war fighting, albeit limited in scope, might become possible," the authors wrote. "The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction."

The five commanders argued the West's values and way of life were under threat, but the West was struggling to summon the will to defend them.

It identified a number of key threats to the West's values and way of life, including international terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism.

It also cited the weakening of organizations such as the U.N., NATO and the EU.

The five senior figures at the heart of the Western military establishment also declared NATO's future was on the line in Afghanistan's Helmand province. "NATO's credibility is at stake in Afghanistan," said Gen. Van den Breemen.

Gen. Naumann delivered a blistering attack on his own country's performance in Afghanistan. "The time has come for Germany to decide if it wants to be a reliable partner."

To prevail, they said, NATO's decision-taking methods must be overhauled, moving to a majority rather than a consensus model, putting an end to national vetoes.

A new "directorate" of U.S., European and NATO leaders must also be established to respond rapidly to crises.

The five also proposed the use of force without U.N. Security Council authorization when "immediate action is needed to protect large numbers of human beings".

Ron Asmus, head of the German Marshall Fund thinktank in Brussels and a former senior U.S. state department official, described the manifesto as "a wake-up call." "This report means that the core of the NATO establishment is saying we're in trouble, that the West is adrift and not facing up to the challenges," he told the paper.

General Naumann admitted the plan's retention of the nuclear first-strike option was "controversial" even among the five authors.

But he said proliferation was spreading, and NATO needed to show "there is a big stick that we might have to use if there is no other option," he said.

Lord Inge argued that "to tie our hands on first use or no first use removes a huge plank of deterrence."

The 150-page blueprint for urgent reform of Western military strategy and structures has been presented to the Pentagon in Washington and to NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, over the past 10 days.