It may seem like a strange thing to propose while there is the largest land war in Europe since 1945 going on, but as it is something I’ve been a supporter of for a few decades I might as well be consistent: we are long overdue to remove American nuclear weapons from Europe.
It is 2023. Just look at this map.
How did we get here? Via Jonathan Masters and Will Merrow at CFR:
U.S. nuclear weapons were originally deployed to deter Soviet aggression, via conventional military attack or nuclear strike, and to reassure NATO allies in Western Europe. At the time, NATO members’ conventional armies were outnumbered by those of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons on the continent was viewed as a means of making up for this deficiency in NATO forces.
… security analysts estimate that the United States has about one hundred nuclear bombs stored across the six facilities in Europe.
The U.S. nuclear arsenal in Europe consists entirely of B61 gravity bombs [PDF], which are designed to be dropped from allied bombers or fighter aircraft. In service for more than fifty years and modernized many times, the B61 is the last remaining tactical nuclear weapon the United States has. It can carry warheads with a wide range of yields, delivering blasts into the hundreds of kilotons. By comparison, the U.S. bombs that killed more than one hundred thousand people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 had yields of fifteen and twenty-one kilotons, respectively.
The Soviet Union stopped existing over three decades ago.
Even though we’ve decreased from 7,000 warheads down to 100 … there really is no reason to keep what remains in Europe.
Gravity bombs on continental Europe - that require tactical aircraft to deliver them - are the least survivable, reliable, or timely way to deliver a nuclear weapon.
There is no such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon. I don’t care what some theorist proposes to defend their pet theories, you lob one nuke an order of magnitude larger than the Hiroshima bomb and only a foolish nation would let their strategic nuclear forces stay unused and in danger.
Gravity bombs are not a first strike weapon and are a poor second strike weapon. As such, you have to consider that the the time gap from approval to flash-boom would be so long the war would be over before your F-XX pickled their nuke over their target - even if the aircraft made it off the ground.
If they are NATO weapons, you not only have to get NATO to approve their use, but host nation to as well … in addition to the USA. Do you really think the Russians would not leverage their influence with the useful idiots in the Euro-Green parties, former communists, and general black-block anti-nuke activists to politically of physically stop the use of the nukes, especially in BEL, NLD, DEU, and ITA? Add that to point 3 above.
Especially with the weapons in Turkey - the risk of these bombs having a bad day due to human or natural causes is non-zero. In the days of mutually assured destruction, those non-zero odds were manageable, but there is no reasonable person in the third decade of the 21st Century who can with a straight face explain to you why any tactical, operational, or strategic use justify their presence. They deter no enemy, but puts every friend in danger.
Look again at the map above. Exactly what target set are you going to “service” at that range (non-refueled)?
If things go nuclear in Europe then the right weapons are either British, French, and if they must be American are sitting in a silo in CONUS, a SSBN in the Atlantic, or a B-2 in Missouri.
Or, as they say in the article;
… with the end of the Cold War, many Western military strategists, peace advocates, and politicians questioned the need to keep these legacy weapons in Europe. Not only was the Soviet Union gone and NATO greatly enlarged, they said, but the United States’ strategic nuclear arsenal—including long-range bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched weapons—served as a sufficient deterrent against any potential adversary, including Russia. Moreover, many defense analysts have said that allied aircraft attempting to drop the bombs would likely be shot down by sophisticated enemy air defenses.
It really is that simple. It is 2023, not 1983.
Yet, proponents of keeping U.S. nuclear forces in Europe say these weapons continue to provide NATO with a valuable military deterrent and are an important symbol of the United States’ commitment to its allies. Withdrawing them would send a dangerous message of U.S. retrenchment to would-be adversaries in Europe and beyond, they say. Even if these weapons do have little military value, advocates say they could be used as a bargaining chip in future diplomacy with Russia, particularly since Moscow has long pushed for their removal. Therefore, they say, the United States shouldn’t remove them without obtaining significant concessions from Russia.
One of the least convincing arguments in the national security arena. Why would Russia negotiate anything about nukes in Europe? They cannot produce the massed conventional armies of the old Soviet Union. They are in demographic collapse. They are surrounded by people who do not like them. Included in that, they are an European nation who, rightfully, should be able to deploy what they want where they want without the meddling of a North American nation. Really, this is an European problem best delt with by Europeans. They/we lost that window 25-30 years ago anyway.
Meanwhile, many Western observers have questioned whether it has nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave located between NATO members Poland and Lithuania. In 2018, a Russian government official reportedly confirmed that Russia had sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad; separately, Western researchers said Russia was upgrading a nuclear storage site there, although it remained unclear if nuclear warheads were actually present then. In April 2022, Lithuania’s defense minister said Russian nukes “have always been kept in Kaliningrad.” At the time, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that if Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, which they subsequently did, Russia would have to restore the nuclear balance in the Baltics.
If I were Russian, I’d do the exact same thing.
Going back to the lead in to this post, these nuclear gravity bombs add no value to NATO. If anything they are just one more crutch for NATO nations to not invest what they need to in conventional defense.
Russia was, is, and will be the major external military threat to Europe and we have learned in the last year that they can be met on the field of battle, and defeated, by a well armed conventional force. Ukraine was and is the poorest and most corrupt European nation and she held the Russians at bay for over a year so far.
When you look at her demographics, economics, and unsustainable political system, Russia is no military threat to an even modestly armed and sufficiently led NATO. Tactical nukes in 2023 are not needed and if anything are a distraction.
On top of the all, I also stand by this long standing Salamander proclamation: in the next large war nuclear weapons will be to it what chemical weapons were in WWII. Everyone had them. No one used them.
Are we sure we can get our nukes out of Turkey?
Nuclear weapons are a political statement as much as military. Would the government classes in those countries accept the withdrawal?