The U.S. militarys educational system continues to produce outstanding research and writing on topics strictly military as well as on themes that have a broader interest. This paper from the Joint Forces Command is a recent example. The Editor
The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS JANUARY 27, 2010
Imagine a military operation where Italian air forces, under North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Operational Control, would use their dual-use fighters to load and deliver U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in defense of a member country of the NATO Alliance. You probably can’t, and neither can NATO planners. This kind of scenario might have been plausible in 1980, but it is not fathomable thirty years later. So why does the U.S. continue to store tactical nuclear weapons on European soil for just this purpose? Why does NATO continue to maintain its Cold War nuclear weapons architecture and archaic policies?
NATO is now uniquely oriented to take advantage of recent Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) developments by the U.S. and Russia and “reset” its own nuclear policy by removing tactical nuclear weapons from European soil, adopting a nuclear weapons-free posture, and transforming itself to be a leader throughout the world in nuclear materials/weapons non-proliferation and disarmament. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO has struggled to remain relevant in the changing geo-strategic environment of the 21st Century. Within the framework that established the Alliance in 1949, NATO has worked hard to remain the world’s premier security stability organization: it has expanded its membership to former Warsaw Pact countries, transformed almost every military organization under its peacetime structure to meet the new threats of a Post Cold War era, and expanded its mission capabilities by conducting “out of area” operations in parts of the world never envisioned by its founders. NATO’s nuclear weapons arm, however, remains unchanged from the policies and procedures of the Cold War.
NATO’s Current Nuclear Force Posture In 1949, NATO was formed to be a security collective to counter Soviet aggression in Europe. Under Article V of the NATO charter, each member of the Alliance is committed to sharing risks and responsibilities in the process of enjoying the benefits of collective security, to include nuclear deterrence.1 As the only nuclear power in the early days of the Alliance, the U.S. provided nuclear deterrence for Western Europe as the Soviet threat grew. In order to dissuade U.S. allies from developing their own nuclear weapons programs, and to assure NATO members that they were protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the U.S. initiated the NATO “nuclear sharing” program which led to the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on European soil.
U.S. B-61 bomb disassembled (US Navy)
Since then, U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe have been labeled as “an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the alliance.”2
The nuclear sharing concept that resulted in the deployment of tactical U.S. nuclear weapons on the territories of European countries was the result of over a decade worth of secret nuclear agreements negotiated between the U.S. and each NATO host/user country. These NATO nuclear agreements generally consisted of storing U.S. nuclear weapons in host national facilities and/or integrating these weapons into host nation delivery platforms such as dual-use (conventional and nuclear weapon) aircraft.3
Storage of U.S. nuclear weapons at European host nation site for host nation employment
Storage of U.S. nuclear weapons at European host nation site for “Third Party” employment
Nuclear information sharing
Military-to-military technical agreements for nuclear deployment and use
In the last decade, NATO discussion and policy on nuclear sharing has shifted from one of Article V operational employment to one of a political nature. NATO nuclear policies today are viewed by some as a pillar of transatlantic security relations, and yet there has been no serious debate within the Alliance on the role of nuclear weapons for 20 years.4 The current NATO Strategic Concept, drafted in 1999, nearly a decade after the end of the Cold War, states “NATO will maintain, at the minimum level consistent with the prevailing security environment, adequate sub-strategic forces based in Europe which will provide an essential link with strategic nuclear forces, reinforcing the transatlantic link.”5 Though NATO’s fundamental raison d'être — to defend members from Soviet aggression — has evaporated, NATO has retained its nuclear weapons programs since the end of the Cold War.
Why NATO should be a nuclear weapons free organization As NATO embarks in early 2010 to draft a new Strategic Concept, the true pillar of collective self-defense is the clear and undisputed collective security guarantee articulated in Article V, not a tactical nuclear weapons program that is reflective of a bygone era centered on deterring a highly militarized Soviet Union that no longer exists. Russia, for all its faults, political struggles and identity crises, is not the Soviet Union. It has abandoned communist ideology, adopted a free (though arguably flawed) market economy, cut its military personnel strength by over 75% and its military budget from over 15% of GDP to approximately 2.5%.7 At a recent NATO Strategic Concept Seminar, Secretary of State Clinton stated, “While Russia faces challenges to its security, NATO is not among them. We want a cooperative NATO-Russia relationship that produces concrete results and draws NATO and Russia closer together.”8 Such a fundamental change in the European strategic environment begs the question as to why NATO continues to maintain a policy that is clearly a vestige of the Cold War era. There are several reasons why transforming into a nuclear weapons free organization makes sense for NATO.
From a diplomatic perspective, nuclear weapons are one of many tools for defense -- today they are not the essence of NATO security. NATO’s core security is derived from Article V, which provides membership unity to stand as one to counter threats. Secretary of State Clinton also emphasized this point, stating, “I want to reaffirm as strongly as I can the United States' commitment to honor Article 5 of the NATO treaty. No Ally — or adversary — should ever question our determination on this point. It is the bedrock of the Alliance and an obligation that time will not erode.”9 In addition, removing the U.S. weapons from Europe would serve to break the deadlock on arms control efforts between the U.S. and Russia with respect to tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.10 A bold policy statement from NATO renouncing these weapons would be tremendous diplomatic leverage to engage Russia, through the NATO-Russia Council, to reciprocate and reduce its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, particularly the ones deployed in Western Russia. It would also put meat on the bones of NATO’s assertion that the Alliance, and its expansion, does not pose a threat to Moscow. In addition, a renewed emphasis on a theater missile defense effort, one that is NATO focused and includes Russia as a partner, would more closely reflect the changing European security environment.
From a force posture prospective, removing tactical nuclear weapons from European soil and adopting a nuclear weapons-free policy in NATO does not restrict Alliance nuclear powers (U.S., UK and France) from choosing to employ a nuclear response to either a conventional or Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) attack on an Alliance member. Nuclear weapons from nuclear capable Alliance members will also continue to provide a nuclear deterrent for the entire Alliance through the protections provided in the Article V collective defense commitments each member state has agreed to. This framework of employing national capabilities outside of the NATO Command and Control architecture has been successfully executed in the NATO International Security Assistance Force — Afghanistan. In this manner, in cases where it was not feasible for NATO to come to consensus, participating nations’ Special Operations Forces have conducted military operations where Operational Control of these missions remained with their national or coalition chains of command.
Asa K. JenningsProtesters at anti-nuclear demonstration in Europe (Greenpeace)
From a strategic communications perspective, NATO’s nuclear sharing program is inconsistent with worldwide diplomatic efforts at counter-proliferation of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. On the one hand, Western leaders campaign to ensure other nations don’t develop their own nuclear programs; yet, through current NATO policy these same leaders agree to share nuclear weapons with non-nuclear states in the Alliance. Key nuclear sharing partner states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands) are committed signatories under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with little interest in building nuclear programs of their own.11 By integrating nuclear operations into their nation’s military forces (through NATO’s nuclear sharing program), they behave in a manner that is contradictory to the NPT and generally out of step with public opinion on nuclear weapons. This undermines NATO’s credibility in non-proliferation and disarmament initiatives.
From a military perspective, NATO has transformed its operations such that the use of tactical nuclear weapons is obsolete. NATO strategic planners do not envision a geo-strategic environment where tactical nuclear weapons would be employed, NATO operational planners no longer target any country and modern conventional strategic strike weapons can achieve the same military effect.12 Nations such as Poland and Sweden have spoken up about reducing the tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, calling them “dangerous remnants of a dangerous past” which should not have a place in Europe’s future. Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden and Radek Sikorski, Foreign Minister of Poland cite the diminished tactical use of these assets is evident, given the advances in other weapons technology over the years.13
German dual-capable aircraft with B-61 bomb (FAS)
From an economic standpoint, maintaining nuclear proficiency is costly; it requires specialized security, personnel training, logistics, and infrastructure. If the operational environment has made the employment of European tactical nuclear weapons highly unlikely, then it is contrary to good stewardship of limited national resources to retain these programs. As European nations are faced with the expense of modernizing their aging air forces, some are opting out of the nuclear weapons sharing arrangement by default, with acquisition of less expensive non dual-capable aircraft. For example, Germany is considering replacing its Tornado fighter jets with the Euro-fighter, which is not capable of employing tactical nuclear weapons.14 The nuclear sharing European countries continue to give low priority to this mission, contributing to the degradation of this capability. A change in NATO policy would lend coherence to this issue and prevent a haphazard deterioration of the nuclear force posture. At this rate, the diplomatic window for using the removal of these weapons as leverage for arms control negotiations with Russia is rapidly closing.
Another economic aspect of this issue is opportunity cost. The U.S. has been pressuring European allies for years to focus ever shrinking defense budgets on niche capabilities that contribute to NATO’s rapid reaction mission capability. Secretary of Defense Gates has urged NATO allies to use the 2010 Strategic Concept review process to address these shortfalls. "For many years, for example, we have been aware that NATO needs more cargo aircraft and more helicopters of all types, and yet we still don't have these capabilities…and their absence is directly impacting operations in Afghanistan." Additionally, he advocates that NATO acquire more aerial refueling and surveillance aircraft for immediate use in the current ISAF mission.15 Given that European defense budgets have been shrinking over the last two decades and are unlikely to increase, it is critical that their defense budgets are focused on improving the capabilities that best meet today’s threat environment, vice upgrading expensive dual capable aircraft.
Finally, securing U.S. nuclear weapons in European storage facilities presents risk. According to a blue ribbon review by the U.S. Air Force in 2008, most U.S. nuclear weapon storage sites in Europe don't meet Defense Department security standards.16 This is particularly worrisome in view of potential terrorist threats, many operating out of major European cities. A frightening example from recent history is how the Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium was on the target list of Nizar Trabelsi, a Muslim extremist with ties to Al Qaeda.17 Storing nuclear assets in these countries creates lucrative terrorist targets. Instead of promoting peace. these weapon systems pose a security risk.
The Case Against Removal of Nuclear Weapons The most common argument made against the removal of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is that the loss of nuclear weapons within NATO’s force composition would significantly blunt the Alliance’s deterrence capability.18 This sentiment particularly resonates among some of NATO’s newest members, who continue to view Russia as a national security threat. With the United States’ conventional capabilities stretched to the limit by two regional wars, they argue, credible deterrence to potential Russian aggression can only be achieved by the threat of nuclear response. They point out that the presence of tactical nuclear weapons on the continent and integration into NATO force structure provide a tangible demonstration of Alliance commitment to mutual security. As a corollary, these nations argue that in order to secure public support for national contributions to NATO’s out of area operations, such as ISAF, their governments must be able to demonstrate that their own internal security concerns are being met.
In order to overcome this issue and alleviate new member states’ concerns about their security guarantees, a nuclear free NATO would have to visibly demonstrate a credible Article V commitment. Words are important, but actions speak louder. Fundamentally, a greater level of engagement with these partners would go a long way to assuaging their concerns about the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from NATO’s toolkit. One way to do this is more integrated regional security planning and exercises with those partners particularly concerned by a Russian security threat. But it should not be our intent to undertake security cooperation activities that risk an escalation of tensions with Russia. Any increased defensive posturing on NATO’s eastern flank would have to be married with greater confidence building measures between the Alliance and Russia. Increased transparency and openness about weapons modernization, new military facilities and exercises, as well as regular Russia-NATO exchanges of information on posture, doctrine, and planned force changes, have all been cited as benefiting European security.19 There is no shortage of common interests that can be pursued by NATO and Russia. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen highlighted such topics as counterterrorism, counter WMD proliferation, missile defense and maritime security, stating “there is considerable scope for NATO and Russia to do more together — and this will…help us re-build confidence and trust.”20
Another argument for maintaining nuclear weapons and planning within NATO concerns the threat of nuclearization of the Middle East, which would confront Europe with a neighboring region in which each conventional conflict would bring with it the specter of nuclear escalation. Without the presence of nuclear weapons on the European continent and a nuclear sharing agreement, this inherent insecurity would lead European states to question the “virtual” security guarantee of the U.S. extended deterrence umbrella.21 While it’s true that a nuclear free NATO might cause concern among some member states, as discussed earlier, can it truly be said that the presence of aging, nuclear gravity bombs, carried by aging dual-capable European aircraft limited in range and enemy airspace penetration capability, is so much more reassuring? Similarly, does such an anemic nuclear posture really provide a significant deterrence to Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons? The answer to both questions is surely no.
This means that if a nuclear NATO is to be a credible deterrence to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a tremendous investment in modernization of this capability would be required, the unintended consequence of which would likely be a new nuclear arms race with Russia. The political will necessary to embark on such a risky effort simply does not exist. The better alternative would be to channel concern over Middle East nuclearization into a theater missile defense program, a theme echoed by Secretary of State Clinton. Missile defense, she argues, would make Europe a safer place, “and that safety could extend to Russia if Russia decides to cooperate with us. It provides an extraordinary opportunity for [NATO and Russia] to work together to build our mutual security in the 21st century.”22
A Nuclear Weapons Free NATO Twenty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the time has come for NATO to take a leadership role in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as it transforms itself at the beginning of the 21st century. NATO is poised like no other organization to lead the world in the goal of ridding it of nuclear weapons. Western European governments have increasingly led the effort to elevate arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament in Alliance policies.23 As the international community’s premier military alliance, NATO has the credibility and political influence that no other country or security organization possesses, but to really make a difference in the nuclear non-proliferation debate, NATO must engage the international community and not just talk about nuclear non-proliferation, but “walk the walk.” A nuclear weapons-free NATO will require a number of bold actions by the NATO HQ in Brussels and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) staffs along with the nuclear-armed countries in the Alliance (U.S., UK and France) and the nuclear sharing countries. These steps include:
1. NATO must establish itself as a military and political Alliance that conducts only conventional military operations. A well articulated strategic communications plan outlining NATO’s way ahead as a nuclear free Alliance in order to assure Alliance members, in particular former Warsaw Pact members, that a nuclear weapons free NATO in no way diminishes the true pillars of the Alliance, the fourteen Treaty articles and in particular, collective self-defense as articulated in Article 5. 2. The Nuclear Planning Group at NATO HQ in Brussels should be disestablished. 3. SHAPE’s Nuclear Operations Branch should be disestablished. All NATO nuclear planning documentation should be turned over to the nuclear armed Alliance members and those target sets required to be maintained with SHAPE planners can be turned over to conventional force planners. 4. NATO should establish a new Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Group in Brussels to lead the international political effort of reducing the number of nuclear warheads and working with nuclear-armed countries in efforts to disarm their nuclear weapons. As a military alliance that itself voluntarily disarmed, NATO would bring a credible voice to join forces with the UN, the Federation of American Scientists, Greenpeace, and many other organizations that have been working to reach the goal of a nuclear free world. A nuclear free NATO would be the first incremental but substantive step toward this noble goal. 5. The U.S. should remove all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from European soil. Countries with dual use aircraft would no longer be required to train and equip their air forces for tactical nuclear weapons delivery missions, significantly reducing time and cost each of these countries are spending. 6. NATO should codify its future role as a nuclear weapons free organization and leader in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by adopting these policies in the Strategic Concept and other NATO strategic policy. A nuclear weapons free NATO does not entail, in the short term, adopting the idealized pacifism of the nuclear abolitionist movement. While advocating reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national security strategy, and urging others to do the same, President Obama has also stated that “as long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”24 While NATO as a military alliance will be nuclear weapons-free, nuclear capability will remain within the force structure of three Alliance members — Great Britain, France, and the U.S. — and can be brought to bear as a unilateral mission capability should military necessity dictate.
The 2010 NATO Security Concept review is a useful tool to address these options. Implementing the measures discussed in this paper would show the world that nuclear states are taking their disarmament responsibilities seriously, returning credibility to NPT signatories that participate in the NATO Nuclear Sharing Program. As the only international organization to disavow nuclear weapons in its charter, NATO would gain a moral high ground and become a key player in the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Furthermore, this policy change, more than any other NATO transformation initiative, would demonstrate the Alliance’s ability to continue to reinvent itself from a Cold War static posture to an agile security organization responsive to a broad range of international strategic challenges.
This article is based upon a paper submitted to the Faculty of the Joint and Combined Warfighting School in partial satisfaction of the requirements for Joint Professional Military Education Phase II. The contents of the article are not necessarily endorsed by the Joint Forces Staff College or the Department of Defense.
Endnotes 1. Article V of the NATO charter states: “… an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self- defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary…”
2. Christos Katsioulis and Christoph Pilger. “Nuclear Weapons in NATO’s New Strategic Concept; A Chance To Take Non-Proliferation Seriously.” Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Library. http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id/ipa/05425.pdf (accessed February 12, 2010).
4. Butcher, Martin. “Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review – Putting flesh on the bone of his nuclear diplomacy.” BASIC: Getting to Zero Special Briefing. (British American Security Information Council, 25 June 2009), 12-13 http://www.basicint.org/gtz/index.htm (accessed February 10, 2010).
10. After the Cold War the United States and Russia implemented unilateral reductions, which withdrew approximately 17,000 tactical nuclear weapons from service, but no treaty ever imposed legally binding limits. While the U.S. enjoys a significant margin in the numbers of strategic nuclear arms, Russian tactical nukes widely outnumber America’s and are now seen by Moscow as a bulwark against American conventional supremacy.
11. Turkey, the other nuclear sharing state, presents a more complicated case. Some experts claim that Turkish hard-liners might push for a domestic nuclear arsenal if Iran develops a nuclear weapons capability; that said, the hard-line position probably wouldn’t be changed by the absence, or the presence for that matter, of U.S. nuclear weapons. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Time to reconsider U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.” By Bob van der Zwaan and Tom Sauer, November 23, 2009. http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/time-to-reconsider-us-nuclear-weapons-europe (accessed February 12, 2010).
12. NATO Handbook, Chapter 7 and Cimbala, Stephen J. "Nuclear First Use Prudence or Peril?" JFQ: Joint Force Quarterly no. 51 (October 2008): Military & Government Collection, 28. EBSCOhost (accessed February 3, 2010).
13. Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden, and Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister of Poland, co-authored a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times from the 1st of February 2010. Bildt, Carl and Sikorski, Radek 2010. Next, the Tactical Nukes. New York Times. February 1. Federation of American Scientists. “FAS Strategic Security Blog ” Hans Kristensen. http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2010/02/kleinebrogel.php (accessed February 12, 2010).
18. Department of Defense. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Report of the Secretary of Defense Task force on DoD Nuclear Weapons Management, Phase II: Review of the DoD Nuclear Mission, 2008; pg 14 .
23. Butcher, Martin. “Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review – Putting flesh on the bone of his nuclear diplomacy.” BASIC: Getting to Zero Special Briefing. (British American Security Information Council, 25 June 2009), 12-13 http://www.basicint.org/gtz/index.htm (accessed February 10, 2010).
25. Missile defense, cyber defense and energy security were discussed as 21st century non-traditional threats that NATO’s new Strategic Concept must address by Secretary of State Clinton at a NATO Strategic Concept Seminar on 22 Feb 10.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Byrne, USMC, is currently serving as the CENTCOM Support Cell Chief at Headquarters, United States Special Operations Command, J-4 Operations Division. He was commissioned through the Officer Candidate Class program in December 1993. Lt. Col. Byrne received a BA in Political Science from Loyola University (MD). Prior to his current assignment, he was an exchange officer at Norwegian Command and Staff College, Oslo, Norway. His previous assignment in the operational forces was with 3d Marine Regiment (REIN), MCB Kaneohe, HI where he served as the Regimental S-4.
Commander Douglas L. Edson, USN, recently detached from command of USS Barry and is on route to Standing NATO Maritime Group One as Chief of Staff. He was commissioned through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Program in 1990. CDR Edson received a BA in Political Science from the University of Rochester in 1990. He received a MA in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2001. His operational tours include command of USS Barry, USS Grapple and USS Chinook, along with tours in USS Carl Vinson and USS Rentz. His staff tours include Assistant Operations Officer at Commander, Task Force Six Three, Flag Secretary for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe/U.S. Sixth Fleet, and Chief of Legislative Affairs for Commander U.S. European Command (EUCOM) / Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).
Lieutenant Colonel Andrea L. Hlosek, USAF, is currently serving as the Chief of Intelligence Operations, Joint Information Operations Warfare Center, J2 Directorate, San Antonio, TX. She was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program in May 1991. Lt Col Hlosek has a BA in Political Science/Soviet Studies from Arizona State University and an MA in National Security Studies – Russia/Eurasia. Prior to her current assignment she completed her Intermediate Developmental Education at the Naval Postgraduate School. Previous assignments include the National Security Agency, Ft. Meade MD, where she served as a Foreign Affairs Officer and HQ Air Combat Command, Langley AFB VA, where she served as Executive Officer for the Director of Intelligence.