U.S. Expected To Withdraw Nuclear Weapons from Europe


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) - The much awaited review of U.S. nuclear forces in Washington’s global strategy in the coming years is expected to reduce the role of atomic weapons in regional scenarios and retire the nuclear-armed Tomahawk sea-launched land-attack cruise missile, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).


The ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), undertaken by the United States Department of Defense, is the third in a series that started with the first appraisal in 1994 and was followed by the second in 2002. The final report is National Security Classified and submitted to the U.S. Congress. However, the 2010 NPR is expected to include an unclassified version.

A blog posted February 22 by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists says the apparent reduction in the role of nuclear weapons in regional scenarios is suggested by “a little-noticed section of the Quadrennial Defense Review recently published by the Pentagon”.

The proposed cutback coincides with a proposal by five NATO allies to withdraw the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

“Another casualty appears to be a decision to retire the nuclear-armed Tomahawk sea-launched land-attack cruise missile, despite the efforts of the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission,” writes Kristensen.

President Barack Obama told the Global Zero Summit February 2-4 in Paris that the NPR “will reduce [the] role and number of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy”. The reduction in numbers will initially be achieved by the START follow-on treaty soon to be signed with Russia, but where the reduction in the role would occur has been unclear.

Yet, says Kristensen, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) published in February 2010 strongly suggests that the reduction in the role will occur in the regional part of the nuclear posture:

“To reinforce U.S. commitments to our allies and partners, we will consult closely with them on new, tailored, regional deterrence architectures that combine our forward presence, relevant conventional capabilities (including missile defenses), and continued commitment to extend our nuclear deterrent. These regional architectures and new capabilities, as detailed in the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review, make possible a reduced role for nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”

There are two parts -- with some overlap -- to the regional mission: the role of nuclear weapons against regional adversaries such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria; and the role of nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, explains Kristensen.

He refers to rumors which have circulated for long that the Obama administration will remove the requirement to plan nuclear strikes against chemical and biological weapons from the mission; to limit the role to deterring nuclear attacks.

Doing so would remove Iran, Syria and others as nuclear targets unless they acquire nuclear weapons. A broader regional change could involve leaving regional deterrence against smaller regional adversaries (including North Korea) to non-nuclear forces and focus the nuclear mission on the large nuclear adversaries (Russia and China).

“An immediate consequence of the new architecture appears to be a decision to retire the nuclear Tomahawk sea-launched land-attack cruise missile (TLAM/N). According to a report by Kyodo News (see also report by Daily Yomiuri), Washington has informally told the Japanese government that it intends to retire the weapon. The 2009 Congressional Strategic Posture Commission report had recommended retaining the weapons, but neither the Pentagon nor the Japanese government apparently agreed,” Kristensen writes on the FAS Strategic Security Blog.


The other part of review concerns the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe, where the U.S. Air Force currently deploys 150-200 nuclear bombs in 87 aircraft shelters at six bases in five countries, a reduction from approximately 480 bombs in 2001.

Some of the TLAM/Ns also are earmarked for support of NATO, but are stored on land in the United States. The weapons are the last remnant of the Cold War deployment of thousands of tactical nuclear weapons to deter a Soviet attack on Europe. Similar deployments in the Pacific ended two decades ago and pressure has been building for NATO to finally end the Cold War.

Germany has repeated demands for withdrawal of U.S. nuclear bombs on its territory. News agency reports said four other NATO countries were expected to do so. A spokesperson for the Belgian Prime Minister was reported saying that Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, together with Norway and Luxemburg, in the coming weeks will formally propose within NATO “that nuclear arms on European soil belonging to other NATO member states are removed”:

Kristensen presumes that some coordination with Washington has taken place. “Otherwise, if the NPR does not recommend a withdrawal from Europe, the five countries’ initiative will from the outset be in conflict with the Obama administration’s nuclear policy, which NATO likely will follow.”

The European initiative would, in fact, help the Obama administration justify a decision to withdraw the weapons from Europe by demonstrating that key NATO allies no longer see a need for the deployment. Extended nuclear deterrence would continue, as the QDR language underscores, but with long-range strategic weapons as it is done in the Pacific.

Other than the forthcoming NPR, the political context for the European initiative is NATO’s ongoing review of its Strategic Concept, scheduled for completion in November, writes Kristensen.

“The Obama administration might not want to preempt that review, so an alternative could be that the NPR concludes that the U.S. sees no need for the continued deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe but leaves it up to NATO’s new Strategic Concept to make the formal decision. In that case, the initiative by the five NATO countries could serve to formally start that process within NATO.”

Whether that means a complete withdrawal from Europe now, a decision to end the NATO strike portion -- a controversial Cold War mission that assigns nuclear weapons for delivery by Belgian, Dutch, German, and Italian aircraft -- and consolidating the remaining weapons at one or two U.S. bases in Europe, or something else remains to be seen.

“But a reduction rather than complete withdrawal would achieve little,” argues Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of FAS.


The Federation of American Scientists was founded in 1945 by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bombs. These scientists recognized that science had become central to many key public policy questions.

They believed that scientists had a unique responsibility to both warn the public and policy leaders of potential dangers from scientific and technical advances and to show how good policy could increase the benefits of new scientific knowledge.

With 84 Nobel Laureates on its Board of Sponsors, FAS provides timely, nonpartisan technical analysis on complex global issues that hinge on science and technology. Priding itself on agility and an ability to bring together people from many disciplines and organizations, the organization often addresses critical policy topics that are not well covered by other organizations. (IDN-InDepthNews/23.02.2010)

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