Jeffrey LewisNATO Nukes

The first “revelation” from the Wikileaks cache is something we already knew — that there are US nuclear weapons stored in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Turkey — at least, as of November 2009.

That much is clear from a conversation between German Chancellery National Security Advisor Christoph Heusgen and Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon:

In response to Gordon’s question about how the government planned to take forward the commitment in the coalition agreement to seek the removal of all remaining nuclear weapons from Germany, Heusgen distanced the Chancellery from the proposal, claiming that this had been forced upon them by FM Westerwelle. Heusgen said that from his perspective, it made no sense to unilaterally withdraw “the 20” tactical nuclear weapons still in Germany while Russia maintains “thousands” of them. It would only be worth it if both sides drew down. Gordon noted that it was important to think through all the potential consequences of the German proposal before going forward. For example, a withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany and perhaps from Belgium and the Netherlands could make it very difficult politically for Turkey to maintain its own stockpile, even though it was still convinced of the need to do so.

The are three interesting things about this exchange.  First, the author of the cable, nominally the US Ambassador, placed quotation marks on “the 20” US nuclear weapons in Germany and “thousands” of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, clearly  suggesting he believes the real numbers are different.  Second, Phil Gordon judges that Turkey is convinced about the need to retain US nuclear weapons, which is a different attitude than Turkish officials express when asked in public (and sometimes in private, too). Finally, Phil makes no mention of Italy, presumably because the withdrawal from the chocolate makers would have little effect on the Berlusconi government, which loves US nuclear weapons so much it has managed to keep them stored at two bases (everyone else makes do with one).

But the exchange illustrates a larger point I have been making on the blog — if our ability to maintain political support for a few hundred gravity bombs in Europe is so tenuous that a wild card as German Foreign Minister can ignite fears of a cascading evictions from NATO, isn’t that a sign that NATO’s nuclear posture is broken?  That maybe we should try something else?

I think so, which is one reason I continue to think that the US should immediately consolidate all US nuclear weapons in Europe at one or two US airbases (Aviano, Incirlik), as the beginning of a consultation within NATO about the conditions for their withdrawal.

I understand the US can’t withdraw nuclear weapons from NATO like the Baltimore Colts leaving town, but c’mon.


  1. Brian Merrell (History)

    It is my understanding that in at least two of those countries (Turkey being obviously one of them) the request has been explicitly made by the host government to station U.S. nuclear arms there. I’m not sure about the other two.

  2. Mark Lincoln (History)

    As the republicans are about to reject the treaty up for consideration in the Senate, the world might as well give up on any hope for a tactical nuclear weapons agreement.

    Reality is something that we all must live with.