Saturday, September 6, 2008

NATO Nuclear Weapons

Europe is heavily armed with nuclear weapons. Both Britain and France possess their own nuclear forces and the United States has a long history of keeping nuclear weapons on European soil. Britain’s nuclear force is estimated at under 200 weapons, with approximately 150 deployed on four Vanguard submarines and the remainder kept in reserve. France is thought to have approximately 350 nuclear weapons in its Force de frappe (strike force). The US keeps some 200-350 nuclear weapons in six countries: Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Turkey and the UK. Recent unconfirmed reports indicate that the US has pulled its nuclear weapons out of the UK. If this is correct, approximately 240 US nuclear weapons remain in five European countries.

On the NATO website, it states, “NATO has radically reduced its reliance on nuclear forces. Their role is now more fundamentally political, and they are no longer directed towards a specific threat.” This is a rather enigmatic statement, leaving one to ponder how nuclear weapons are used in a “fundamentally political” role. The NATO website adds, “NATO's reduced reliance on nuclear forces has been manifested in a dramatic reduction in the number of weapons systems and storage facilities. NATO has also ended the practice of maintaining standing peacetime nuclear contingency plans and as a result, NATO's nuclear forces no longer target any country.”

Given the fact that NATO does not target any other country with nuclear weapons, one wonders what role they still serve. Again, the NATO website provides an answer, which is “to maintain only the minimum number of nuclear weapons necessary to support its strategy of preserving peace and preventing war.” But this still leaves one wondering with whom one is “preserving peace and preventing war.” Although nothing is stated, it would seem that the answer is likely to be Russia. This might explain why NATO has expanded up to the Russian western border, despite earlier US promises to Russia not to do so, and also why the US continues to pursue the placement of missile defense installations in new NATO states Poland and the Czech Republic, despite continuing Russian protests.

NATO reasoning for maintaining nuclear weapons seems very flimsy. If there is anything that is clear about nuclear weapons, it is that they cannot protect their possessors. All of the nuclear weapons in Europe cannot protect any European city from a nuclear attack by an extremist organization. Reliance upon these weapons provides an incentive for nuclear proliferation, increasing the possibilities that these weapons will fall into the hands of such an organization and will be used.

If European nations want to provide true security to the citizens of their countries, they should end NATO’s reliance upon nuclear weapons by taking the following steps:

  • Call for the removal of all US nuclear weapons from Europe.

  • Call for the US to remove its missile defense installations from the Russian border

  • Negotiate the removal of all tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and the western regions of Russia.

  • Create a global treaty to bring all weapons-grade fissile material under strict and effective international control.

  • Call for the NATO nuclear weapons states (US, UK and France) to fulfill their obligations under the
    Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

  • Take a leading role in initiating negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, setting forth a roadmap for the phased,
    verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

  • Join Russia and China in negotiating a ban on space weaponization.

David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and a councilor of the World Future Council (www.worldfuturecouncil.org).

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