Jeffrey LewisNATO Nukes Not Secure

Hans Kristensen notes the final report of the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures reveals what has been an open secret in Washington for some time — that overseas bases with US nuclear weapons have significant security issues: Statement

Host nation security at overseas nuclear-capable units vcaries from country to country in terms of personnel, facilities and equipment. Supporting Information

The BRR team visited nuclear-capable units in Europe and observed a motivated USAF team working closely with their host nation counterparts. At the base level, there is a strong sense of teamwork between the host nation and the USAF personnel, but each site presents unique security challenges. Inconsistencies in personnel, facilities, and equipment provided to the security mission by the host nation were evident as the team traveled from site to site. Examples of areas noted in need of repair at several of the sites include support buildings, fencing, lighting, and security systems. In some cases conscripts, whose total active duty commitment is nine months, provide security manpower, while other locations have the challenge of working with unionized security personnel. A consistently noted theme throughout the visits was that most sites require significant additional resources to meet DoD security requirements. Recommendations

Investigate potential consolidation of resources to minimize variances and reduce vulnerabilities at overseas locations.

[Emphasis mine.]

For your information, the Dutch have unionized military forces and the length of conscription in Germany is nine-months. So, I think we can safely assume that the Volkel and BĂĽchel are among the sites with security issues.

This is crazy — imagine what would happen in the event of a significant security incident. Everyone talks about how these weapons are important to maintain alliance cohesion. Well, the worst possible threat to alliance cohesion would be a nasty, public dispute in the event of a significant security incident that led to the precipitous withdrawal of forward-deployed nuclear weapons.

Much like a party guest, it is much better to politely excuse yourself before your host throws you out.

I would endorse the recommendation of consolidation as a first step toward eventual withdrawal. The first step would be to open consultations with our allies about placing all NATO nuclear weapons at two US overseas bases like Aviano and Incirlik. Then we could talk about how to remove them, perhaps as part of a negotiated agreement with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons. But the important thing is to resolve the security issues immediately and begin think about life after NATO nuclear sharing.

This wouldn’t change our commitment to our allies one bit, which is really rooted in shared sacrifice and common interest, not this or that particular piece of hardware.


  1. elizzar (History)

    Hi. Even though I wouldn’t really be happy with increasing the nuclear weapons held in my country (the UK), would it not make sense for the majority of US non-battlefield nukes in Europe to be shifted here, as a) an island has intrinsic security advantages b) as a nuclear power we have systems / methodologies in place to protect such facilities. an alternative would perhaps be iceland as a nato partner, depending on their stance towards nukes.
    a broader question would be the necessity for keeping US nuclear weapons in europe at all, especially battlefield ones, since all it seems to currently achieve is heighten the risks of an accident / theft / misplacement (i.e. the recent shenanigans in the USAF), whilst winding up the russians. nato has sufficient military power these days to defeat the old warsaw pact idea of a mass land invasion through germany, and france, the uk and usa have sufficient strategic nuclear capability to first-strike / retaliate should russia launch a strategic strike itself.
    hope i’m not being too simplistic, just an interested amateur here 🙂

  2. Ak Malten (History)

    Dear Jeffrey and others,

    you might be interested in the following:

    1st July 2008 International Conference marking 40th anniversary NPT at the European Parliament, Brussels


    more info can be found at:

    Ak Malten, Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    Although one often hears about US nuclear weapons being stored at Lakenheath, I am not sure that is true anymore.

    The two bases that would be optimal are Aviano, Italy and Incirlik, Turkey.

    These are US bases where the US provides the security — as opposed to Buchel, Ghedi Torre, Kleine Brogel, and Volkel.

    And, of course, there are political advantages in leaving them in Turkey and keeping two sites. As long as Berlusconi is in the Prime Ministers office and not prison, Italy is a welcoming second site.

  4. wilful (History)

    Why on earth would having a unionised soldiery make a whit of difference? Sounds purely ideological to me.

  5. p

    I agree with wilful. That ‘unionized security personnel’ by itself would be a problem is a complete mystery to me. In the Netherlands military personnel can be member of a union, but I have never heard of anyone within the Dutch MoD claiming this would present any serious problems related to reliability etc. of the soldiers. It is of course possible that the report means private security personnnel when mentioning unionized security personnel. If not the question arises what criteria the BRR team uses to assess nuclear safety facility and to which extent ‘ideology’ plays a role, as ‘wilful’ suggests.

  6. Rwendland (History)

    If the non-UK B-61s are all moved to Aviano & Incirlik, WS3 vaults (Weapon Storage Security System) would have to be built/moved as well. Is that anything other than very difficult?

    Aviano & Incirlik have 43 WS3 vaults (154 bombs at 90% capacity), and the other non-UK sites have 44 WS3 vaults – so it would need about doubling up, which probably would not work. Moving a few to UK or U.S. might just squeeze them in.

    BTW Should perimeter security fail for a while, looks to me like the WS3 vaults would keep the B-61s secure for quite a while even against quite well equipped intruders.

  7. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    It is my understanding that NATO bases have more vault space than warheads.

    I believe 173 vault spaces would cover a substantial percentage — between 50-90 percent — of the current forward deployed force.

  8. SQ

    If the forward-deployed force exceeds the vault capacity at the two bases in question, why not just bring the remainder home?

  9. Ak Malten (History)

    Jeffrey Lewis wrote:

    “It is my understanding that NATO bases have more vault space than warheads.”

    That is correct.

    For this fact there are three reasons possible why this is done, I believe, but this is pure speculation:

    During training the bomb are flown by our fighter pilots from one NATO base, with B61 bombs deployed, to the other. There would be an enormous security risk if those B61 bombs, could not be stored on the receiving base, whereto the bombs were transported, for one.

    During crisis, c.q. political instability, in a “host country” it would be good to be able to transport the B61 bombs to other European “host countries”, for two.

    It enables the NATO to deploy the B61 bombs in the most strategic deployment formation during times of international crisis and of course, during a war in which nuclear weapons are used, for three.

    By the way. Is it known and understood that the majority of the population in the “host countries” do not want those US B61 bombs on their soil ?? Let us fly them home !!

    Ak Malten,
    Global Anti-Nuclear Alliance

  10. Oliver Meier (History)

    Consolidation as an interim measure might have advantages in terms of security but would likely by opposed by the defense establishments of several states from which U.S. nukes would be withdrawn. This is a reflection of the anachronistic thinking on which NATO nuclear sharing is based.

    Absurdly, having U.S. nuclear weapons based on one’s territory is still viewed in some quarters as a symbol of importance. Germany is a good example. The Defense Ministry and most Conservatives believe that Germany’s involvement in nuclear sharing gives them special status. Take the recently adopted Foreign Policy Platform of the Conservative Party which states: “Nuclear sharing, which has existed for a long time, guarantees Germany’s influence.” [My translation] What that influence might be good for, is not explained. Being part of the “inner group” of NATO countries that participate in nuclear sharing has become the main purpose of providing bases and aircraft as means of delivery for nuclear weapons.

    In that context I don’t see Germany and others Europeans giving that perceived influence away to others, particularly not Italy and the UK, two known EU sceptics.

    The better option would be for NATO members to come clean and end nuclear sharing altogether. In the context of the upcoming revision of its outdated 1999 Strategic Concept, NATO is already reviewing its future deterrence requirements. It is to be hoped that those in favor of a modern NATO will use Hans Kristensen’s shocking revelations about the lack of security at European nuclear weapon sites to put the last nail in the coffin of nuclear sharing.

  11. Allen Thomson (History)

    Just on the logistical side of things, if the NATO-deployed B61s were withdrawn to a central location — say in the UK or CONUS — but the present forward deployment facilites maintained at their current state of readiness, how long would it take to move the bombs back to the facilities if tensions(*) rose? B61s aren’t all that big or heavy and a C-130 or C-17 could move a bunch.

    (*) I’m not sure what “tensions” those would be, but suppose there were some.