Likely Targets Are Russia and The Middle East
WASHINGTON (February 9, 2005) -- The United States still deploys approximately 480 nuclear weapons in Europe, according to a new report by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The targets for these weapons are most likely in Russia, Iran and Syria, according to NRDC experts. The report, U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe, includes satellite images of the bases that store U.S. nuclear weapons.
"The fact that the United States has some 480 nuclear weapons still stationed in Europe will come as a surprise to a lot of Europeans," said Hans M. Kristensen, the author of the report. "The big question is: 'Why are they still there more than a decade after the Cold War ended?' Neither the United States nor NATO has been able to articulate a credible mission for the weapons."
Following the 1987 U.S.-Soviet INF Treaty and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia withdrew all of its tactical nuclear weapons from the former Soviet states. During the same period, the United States withdrew thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, but left 480 in place.
Although 480 nuclear weapons are only a fraction of what the United States deployed in Europe during the Cold War, they constitute an arsenal that is larger than that of any nuclear weapons state besides the United States or Russia. France and the United Kingdom also have approximately 350 and 185 nuclear weapons, respectively, in Europe, but the United States is the only country that deploys nuclear weapons outside its own territory. The U.S. weapons currently are located at eight air force bases in six European countries-Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
Kristensen relied on declassified documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, military publications, commercial satellite imagery, and other documents to compile a detailed, 100-page overview of past and present force levels, war planning, and nuclear weapon policy for the U.S. nuclear stockpile in Europe.
The NRDC report dispels rumors that the United States reduced its nuclear weapons in Europe in the mid- to late-1990s to 150 to 200 warheads. Even when it withdrew U.S. personnel that maintained custody of the nuclear weapons at German, Italian and Turkish bases in 1993 and 1996, the United States transferred the weapons to other U.S. bases in those countries rather than bringing them home. Declassified documents also indicate that as of 1994, NATO used 15 nuclear bombing ranges for pilot training in six European countries and Tunisia. Kristensen estimates that about a dozen of those ranges are still used today.
The report discloses for the first time how many nuclear bombs the United States would provide non-nuclear NATO allies in the event of war. It found that as many as 180 U.S. bombs would be delivered by Belgian, German, Italian, Dutch and Turkish aircraft. NRDC contends that this arrangement skirts international law because the Nonproliferation Treaty prohibits a nuclear state from transferring nuclear weapons to a non-weapon state, and prohibits a non-nuclear state from receiving such weapons.
Conversely, the United States and NATO argue that the nuclear weapons remain under U.S. custody and control and would only be transferred to allied forces in the event of war, at which point they contend the treaty would no longer apply. Additionally, they say, this arrangement was in place when the NPT entered into force in 1970 and that no NPT-signatory nation objected. This argument misses the point, the report asserts, because preparations for delivering the 180 nuclear bombs are taking place in peacetime, and because equipping non-nuclear countries with the means to conduct nuclear warfare is inconsistent with today's international efforts to dissuade other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons. Moreover, NRDC points out, the NPT would still apply during a war.
"If China deployed nuclear bombs in North Korea, equipped North Korean aircraft with mechanical and electronic devices to deliver the weapons, and trained North Korean pilots to draw up nuclear strike plans, there would be hell to pay, and rightly so," said Kristensen. "Yet that is precisely what the United States is doing in Europe."
NATO maintains that the nuclear bombs in Europe are not aimed at any particular country. Although NATO no longer keeps aircraft on alert at the end of runways as it did during most of the Cold War, it maintains detailed nuclear strike plans against potential targets, Kristensen said. The strike plans' potential targets are Russia and Middle Eastern countries, most likely Iran and Syria, according to NRDC.
The fact that the Middle Eastern countries are among the potential targets for U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is a fairly recent phenomenon. During the Cold War, nuclear weapons stationed in Europe were intended for use only within the European theater -- including Russia -- but in the 1990s the United States made arrangements to potentially use NATO nuclear weapons outside of Europe, according to declassified documents described in the report.
"Given that Russia is now a NATO partner, one would hope that both NATO and Russia have moved beyond threatening each other with tactical nuclear weapons," said Kristensen. "Likewise, holding the nuclear sword over Tehran is unlikely to convince the mullahs to give up their nuclear program. This kind of double standard undercuts the central message that NATO and U.S. diplomats are trying to send to Iran and others: 'Do not develop nuclear weapons.'"
All the NATO countries that store U.S. nuclear weapons on their territory voted in favor of a United Nations resolution in October 2004 calling for the "further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons." The resolution recognized that a world free of nuclear weapons "will require further steps, including deeper reductions in all types of nuclear weapons" to achieve this goal. As non-strategic nuclear weapons, the U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe belong to a particularly problematic category of nuclear weapons that is unregulated by arms control agreements, more widely dispersed, and more prone to theft than strategic nuclear weapons. The United States was the only NATO country that voted against the U.N. resolution.
The report concludes that the United States and NATO have no credible rationale for deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. It recommends that U.S. and NATO policymakers finally end the Cold War by completing the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. Doing so would afford the United States and NATO the political leverage to press Russia to reduce its own inventory of non-strategic nuclear weapons, and reinvigorate efforts to create a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East.