Abolition 2000 Europe

An obstacle to nuclear disarmament!

Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy belong to both NATO and the EU. They are non-nuclear states; and yet they share nuclear weapons with a nuclear state, the US. These weapons are B-61 free-fall nuclear bombs designed to be dropped from aircraft. They are US-owned but European pilots are trained to deliver them. In time of war the US would hand over control of the B-61s to the European pilots. The countries concerned are also members of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and therefore take part in deciding how these weapons might be targeted.

Article I of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) says: “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear ... directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons ....”?.

Article II uses almost identical wording to say that non-nuclear states must not receive them. The US and the EU nuclear-sharing countries have all signed the NPT.

NATO's nuclear sharing therefore seems to violate Articles I and II of the NPT. However, the US and NATO have argued that the Treaty does not explicitly forbid the deployment of nuclear warheads in countries that are non-nuclear weapon states. This argument is unconvincing. It is as if we claimed that the law does not specifically forbid killing someone with a meat axe.

In addition NATO contends that the NPT is not binding in times of war. This raises the question of what is meant by war. NATO now retains the option to use nuclear weapons against opponents armed with biological or chemical weapons and NATO-sharing states could be involved.

The B-61s are militarily useless because they are obsolete. NATO officials admit that their sole purpose is political. They are there to shore up the Alliance's policy of shared risks, roles and responsibilities and to maintain a US nuclear presence in Europe. According to NATO’s Strategic Concept “Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance“?.

However, there is a heavy price to pay for these tokens. Nuclear sharing reinforces the political value of nuclear weapons and therefore promotes proliferation. Other states with nuclear ambitions could use exactly the same arguments and NATO would be the first to protest.

The European B-61s are tactical nuclear weapons. They block an arms control agreement with Russia which would cover tactical nuclear weapons. Such an agreement would make Europe safer and pave the way towards the creation of a European Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. It would be an important confidence-building measure, and would indicate the willingness of the Alliance members to comply with their obligation to achieve the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Before the next NPT Review Conference in 2005, the EU could well address the following: l Is Nuclear Sharing legal under the NPT? l Do Europe’s non-nuclear countries need the capability to use nuclear weapons? l Should it be firmly declared that the NPT are binding in all circumstances - including war? l Should Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy be encouraged to relinquish their nuclear-sharing status as a precondition for an agreement with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons?

For more detailed information:

British American Security Information Council: "Time for a Nuclear Weapons -Free Zone in Europe?", Nigel Chamberlain, 27 February 2003

Project on European Nuclear Non-Proliferation: "Questions of Command and Control: NATO, Nuclear Sharing and the NPT", Martin Butcher, Otfried Nassauer, Tanya Padberg and Dan Plesch, March 2000

Science for Democratic Action, Nuclear Sharing in NATO: Is it Legal?, Otfried Nassauer, May 2001