Jeffrey LewisWho's Keeping the Nuclear Weapons in Europe?

NRDC’s Hans Kristensen, sole proprietor over at, sends this little missive about the growing public opposition in Germany to US nuclear weapons stationed there:

Less than a month after the Belgian Senate unanimously called for a withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, Germany is going through what resembles a political landslide on the issue. Last month the Liberal Party (FDP) proposed a resolution in the Parliament asking the government to get the nuclear bombs out. This set off a number of news articles that led to Der Spiegel publishing a poll Monday showing that Germans overwhelmingly support a withdrawal. The poll asked the participants the following question:

“In Germany there are still 150 nuclear weapons under US command. Should these nuclear weapons be withdrawn from Germany?”

Y/N Total CDU/CSU SPD Greens FDP
Yes 76 73 82 90 66
No 18 24 15 5 29

Even among conservative supporters the support for a withdrawal is very high. The number 150 is from the report US Nuclear Weapons In Europe.

This coverage motivated a number a high-ranking government party officials to go on record saying they also favor a withdrawal, including the foreign affairs spokespeople from both the Greens and Social Democrats (government parties). More supporters are apparently on their way, and just over the last 24 hours, some 60 articles have appeared in the German media repeating these demands, often commenting positively.

The German foreign minister is scheduled to speak tonight at the NPT review conference in New York, and told AFP earlier today that the proposal to withdraw the nukes from Europe was “a reasonable initiative” that the German government would “seriously” deal with.

Belgium and Germany are two of the NATO countries that store US nukes on their territory. They are also two of only five non-nuclear NATO countries that are assigned strike missions with US nuclear weapons in times of war(!). A bizarre arrangement in this era of non-proliferation that would not be tolerated anywhere else. Greece quietly withdrew from this scheme in 2001, and the Belgian and German revolt makes an interesting prelude to the NATO nuclear planning group meeting in Brussels next month. NATO’s long-held principle of nuclear “burden sharing” seems to be unraveling.

Last fall ALL the NATO countries (except the Bush administration) voted for a UN resolution calling for reductions in non-strategic nuclear weapons. That resolution coincided with the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board recommending that the nukes be withdrawn. In February, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Commander of European Command (EUCOM), General James L. Jones, has privately told associates that he also favors a withdrawal. So the question is: who’s keeping the weapons in Europe?

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says he favors revolution in military affairs. Ending the Cold War nuclear deployment in Europe should be a no-brainer.


  1. Michael Roston (History)

    Jeffrey –
    Do you think there might be some unintended consequences of a withdrawal of US nukes from Western Eruope?

    Specifically, I have in mind that we might choose to move them to Poland, the Czech Republic, or Hungary, and therefore closer to Russia. These countries are participants in the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, and this makes it possible that they could be selected to deploy in place of Germany, Belgium, etc..

    We see that the Cold War nuclear mentality is very much alive both here and in Russia. If we consider nukes in Europe a priority, would we work to move them further east if deploying them in the west was less of an option? The reasons that this development could enhance instability seem self-evident.

    Ideally, I’d like Poland, etc., to withdraw from the NATO NPG – it seems like a good cause for tactical activism to undertake in the future. Does anyone have any idea how these newer states feel about the NPG?


  2. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    Hard to say about Michael Roston’s unintended consequences. My guess is that public opinion in Poland and the Baltic states would be mixed, but predominantly against locating nuclear weapons on their territories. The balance would be their national pride and defensiveness toward Russia versus becoming targets. Historically, when smaller countries have made this calculation, they have decided against being targets.

    It’s possible, of course, that the decisions would be made secretly by the governments without much consultation, but they might also see this as a poor idea in the long run.

    I’m wondering about other unintended consequences if countries that host US nukes cascade against them.

    The degree of ignorance of attitudes in other countries is getting dangerous. The US is decoupled from international concerns about the environment and war, and seems to have no idea how strongly these ideas and feelings are held elsewhere.

    The way to deal with it, of course, would be for the US to get out ahead with some bold proposals at the NPT RevCon, but it looks like the administration has no such intentions.

    The irony is that this kind of strategy would allow the administration a lot more control of outcomes. But, oh dear, they seem to prefer much sound and fury in the person of John Bolton to any such subtle Machiavellian maneuvering.

  3. otfried (History)

    Moving sub-strategic nuclear weapons into new NATO-members would violate a politically binding assurance given to Russia during the forst round of NATO-enlargement by the Clinton administration in 1997. The Bush administration also feels committed.
    This assurance implies, that the U.S. will neither
    * deploy nuclear weapons in the new member states nor
    * build nuclear weapons infrastructure or
    * use existing former Russian nuclear weapons infrastructure in these countries.
    In addition the Clinton administration stated, the they do not intend and don’t see any need to
    * train Polish soldiers to use nuclear weapons
    * agree on a nuclear “Program of Cooperation with Poland or
    * Poland to become equipped with dual capable aircraft.
    All new members were offered full participation in NATO nuclear planning (e.g. NPG)thus assuring them, that they would not become second call members within the Alliance