Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has reduced the presence of U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) in Europe by 95%. In order to have the last 200 – 240 TNW removed as part of Europe’s contribution to a nuclear weapons free world, NATO must redefine ‘extended deterrence’ in a post-Cold War security environment, in a way that satisfies all members of the Alliance. One thing is clear: TNW have no conceivable military function anymore. The debate about whether or not the TNW can be withdrawn is a political one.
The United States currently deploys between 150 and 240 Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) in five European countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. From Greece and the UK, the U.S. nuclear weapons have been removed but could probably be redeployed in case of a crisis.
A variety of U.S. TNW have been deployed in Europe since 1954: nuclear artillery, missiles, landmines, depth charges (against submarines), and gravity bombs. In 1971, the total amount of U.S. TNW peaked at 7,300. After 1971 the numbers gradually dropped. The end of the Cold War led to drastic unilateral reductions which were partly reciprocated by Russia.
All of the remaining ‘battlefield nuclear weapons’ are B61 type freefall gravity bombs designed to be dropped by dual capable F-16 or Tornado aircraft. They are stored in bunkers where they are assembled and mounted onto the delivering planes.
The explosive components are stored separately from the explosive mechanisms and the bomb husks. The alert status of these weapons has been lowered the past years and is now measured in months, instead of minutes.
In November 2010, the 28 NATO members will agree on a new Strategic Concept- meant to outline the strategic priorities of the alliance over the next decade. The debate on how nuclear weapons will be referenced in the new concept continues, and is not expected to be resolved until the summit in Lisbon.
To read the 1999 Strategic Concept, click here.
A downloadable fact sheet is available here.