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Update July 9, 2007: Nuclear weapons withdrawn from Ramstein Air Base. European deployment reduced to about 350 weapons. Read the story here.


» News since report was published

June 13: Russia refuses to talk tactical nukes because weapons are not covered by any treaty.
June 12:
Two members of the Green Alliance in the European Parliament submit a Written Declaration calling for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe by the end of 2006.
June 7:
Turkish parliament debates US nukes.

May 25: Majority of Europeans want US nukes to go, survey finds.
January 30, 2006: The German parliament group Die Linken presents a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany. Die Linken also sends the government a list of 28 questions about the status of nuclear weapons in Germany. (Both documents in German)
October 31, 2005: During an interview with Der Spiegel, Ronald Rumsfeld suggested that European NATO countries are responsible for the continued presence of US nuclear bombs in Europe.
September 29:
In an op-ed in the news paper De Standaard, Belgian MP Diek van der Maelen calls for a withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe.
July 13:
Belgian House of Representatives resolution calls for withdrawal of NATO nukes.
June 30:
Ukraine says it will not permit nuclear weapons if it joins NATO.
June 9:
The NATO Nuclear Planning Group reaffirms continued deployment of US nuclear bombs in Europe.
June 4:
Der Spiegel reports that the German government has decided not to raise in NATO the issue of US nuclear weapons withdrawal from Germany after all.
June 2:
Interfax quotes Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov saying Russia will only talk about tactical nukes when US nukes have been withdrawn from Europe.
May 26:
Belgian Defense Minister André Flahaut states in parliament that Germany has not  contacted Belgium about the future of US nuclear weapons in Europe and the issue is not on the agenda for the NATO meetings in June.
May 23:
Der Spiegel reports the US has quietly removed nuclear bombs temporarily from Ramstein Air Base due to major construction work.
May 6:
German Defense Minister Peter Struck states during visit to Ramstein Air Base that Germany will consult with other NATO countries about removing US nuclear weapons from Europe.
May 3:
Egypt says at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference that it would examine whether "nuclear sharing" was a violation of the treaty.
May 2:
On behalf of the non-aligned countries at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, Malaysia calls for an end to "nuclear sharing for military purposes under any kind of security arrangements."
May 2:
Der Spiegel publishes poll showing 3/4 of Germans want US nuclear weapons withdrawn.
April 26:
Norwegian Christian Democratic Party states during Parliament debate that US nuclear weapons should be withdrawn from Europe.
April 21:
Belgian Senate unilaterally calls for withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe.
April 13:
German Liberal Party (FDP) proposes a resolution calling for withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe

New report provides unprecedented details (February 2005)

The United States continued to deploy roughly 480 nuclear bombs in Europe, more than double the number normally estimated by the media and non-governmental analysts. The deployment was detailed in the report "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe" published by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The weapons are all B61 gravity bombs and are deployed at eight bases in six NATO countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom (see map below).

The 480 nuclear bombs in Europe are the last of a huge arsenal of forward-deployed weapons that NATO and the Warsaw Pact used to deploy in Europe during the Cold War. The Soviet Union deployed nuclear weapons in Eastern European countries, but all of these weapons have been withdrawn to Russia. On the NATO side, the stockpile peaked at some 7,300  nuclear warheads in 1973 and gradually declined over the subsequent years (see table). In 1991, the U.S. government decided -- and NATO agreed -- to withdraw almost all of the remaining weapons, but left 480 air-delivered bombs in place.

Today, the United States is the only nuclear power that continues to deploy nuclear weapons outside its own territory. The approximately 480 nuclear bombs in Europe are intended for use in accordance with NATO nuclear strike plans, the report asserts, against targets in Russia or countries in the Middle East such as Iran and Syria.

The report shows for the first time how many U.S. nuclear bombs are earmarked for delivery by non-nuclear NATO countries. In times of war, under certain circumstances, up to 180 of the 480 nuclear bombs would be handed over to Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey for delivery by their national air forces. No other nuclear power or military alliance has nuclear weapons earmarked for delivery by non-nuclear countries.

Although the United States retains full control in peacetime, this quasi-nuclear status of non-nuclear NATO countries violates the objective of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The U.S. and NATO argue that there is no violation because the U.S. retains control of the weapons. But the allied nuclear role is far from dormant in peacetime, with host country pilots practicing nuclear strikes and their aircraft being maintained ready to delivery the nuclear weapons if necessary. Besides, the strictly legal argument misses the bigger point: equipping non-nuclear NATO countries with the means to deliver nuclear weapons if necessary contradicts the non-proliferation standards that the U.S. and Europe are trying to impress upon other countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Satellite images of the bases are available for download in the right-hand bar.

The report reveals that although the U.S. in 1994 and 1996 withdrew Munitions Support Squadrons (MUNSS) from five national bases in Germany, Italy and Turkey, the weapons at the bases were not returned to the United States but instead moved to the main U.S. operating bases in those three countries. Moreover, the weapons continued to be earmarked for delivery by host nation aircraft. MUNSS number designations were changed in 2004 and logistics concentrated at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany for the remaining four nuclear weapons custodian units deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Nuclear Weapons For U.S. And NATO Forces

Note: Of the weapons listed at Ramstein Air Base, 40 may have been returned to the United States.

The report also provides new insight into the logistics of the nuclear weapons deployment in Europe, including the capacity and characteristics of the Weapons Storage and Security System (WS3) used to store the weapons underground inside Protective Aircraft Shelters at the individual bases. It also highlights the fleet of Weapons Maintenance Trucks (WMTs) dispersed to the bases to provide on-site maintenance of the nuclear bombs. Because this maintenance program occasionally disassembles weapons inside the Protective Aircraft Shelter, the report reveals, the U.S. Air Force discovered in 1997 that the procedure created a risk of inadvertent nuclear explosion if a disassembled weapon was struck by lightning.

Risk of Inadvertent Nuclear Explosion at NATO Bases

A U.S. Air Force safety review determined in 1997 that lightning could cause an accidental nuclear explosion during service of B61 nuclear bombs in NATO’s protective aircraft shelters.

Another finding of the report is that the the United States have quietly modernized the B61 nuclear bombs in Europe over the last five years to upgrade the bombs' use-control and improve the stability of the weapons' during employment.


Recent Modernization of U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe

Between October 1998 and September 2003, the United States modernized the nuclear surety capabilities and the trajectory spin control of the B61 nuclear bombs in Europe.

The report also documents that the U.S. military in 1994 made arrangements for nuclear targeting and use of nuclear weapons in Europe outside European Command's (EUCOM) area of responsibility. For EUCOM, this means CENTCOM (Central Command) which incorporates Iran and Syria (see 1994 documents in the right-hand bar). It is unclear whether NATO parliaments are aware of arrangements to target and potentially strike Middle Eastern countries with nuclear weapons based in Europe. The arrangements may be the result of a general broadening of U.S. nuclear policy after the Cold War to also target proliferating nations with nuclear weapons.

A Role For NATO Nuclear Weapons Against Iran?

Documents partially declassified and released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act reveal that arrangements were made in the mid-1990s to allow the use of U.S. nuclear forces in Europe outside the area of responsibility of U.S. European Command (EUCOM). As a result of these arrangements, EUCOM now supports CENTCOM nuclear missions in the Middle East, including, potentially, against Iran and Syria. (Download full copy of these two documents from the right-hand bar)

The report concludes that the United States and NATO have been incapable of articulating a credible mission for the nuclear weapons, that the deployment needlessly continues a nuclear deterrence relationship with Russia in Europe, and that equipping non-nuclear NATO countries with the capabilities to delivery nuclear weapons undercuts U.S. and NATO nonproliferation objectives in the 21st century. The report asserts that NATO's recent announcement that the readiness level of nuclear-capable aircraft has been reduced to "months" suggests that the nuclear electronic and mechanical interfaces on the strike aircraft may have been removed from the aircraft, in which case there is no operational need to keep the nuclear weapons in Europe.

The principle of nuclear burden-sharing began to unravel in 2001 when nuclear weapons were withdrawn from Greece. The inactivation of the Munitions Support Squadron at Araxos Air Base was ordered in April 2001 after the withdrawal of the weapons was authorized by Presidential Decision Directive/NSC-74 in November 2000. Greece's departure from NATO's nuclear club contradicts the Alliance's Strategic Concept from 1999 which emphasizes widespread deployment of nuclear weapons in European member countries. If Greece can withdraw with no severe consequences for NATO deterrence or unity, so can the other European host countries that currently perform the NATO nuclear strike mission.

The report recommends that all the weapons should be withdrawn to the United States, and that the U.S. and NATO should use the political leverage from such a move to engage Russia to drastically reduce the large number of Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons, as well as revitalize efforts to create a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Initiatives like these, the report concludes, would -- unlike continuing to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe -- provide real security benefits to NATO.

The full report is available from the right-hand bar along with a number of documents released under FOIA. Also made available are satellite photos of many of the European bases where U.S. nuclear weapons are stored.

Statistics: During 2006, the U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe report was the third-most downloaded report on the Natural Resources Defense Council web site.

© Hans M. Kristensen/Federation of American Scientists | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2007

download documents:

» Department of the Air Force, HQ USAFE, Special Order GD-17, April 6, 2001.
Released under FOIA. (0.78 MB)

» Paul Sparaco, USAF/ESC/FD, "WS3 Sustainment Program: Program Management Review for HQ USAFE/LG," March 3, 2000.
Released under FOIA to Joshua Handler. (1.3 MB)

» SSS (C/DECL OADR, source dated 24 Apr 98), ACC/DONP, "Request or Executive Summaries of Nuclear Evaluations for CONUS-Based Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA)," April 24. 1998.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.62 MB)

» SSS, ACC/DONP, "Reduction in CONUS-Based Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA) Fighter-Nuclear Readiness Posture (U)," April 23, 1998.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.63 MB)

» IOI (S/DECL X-4), ACC/DONP to ACC/CC, "Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA) Fighter-Nuclear Readiness Change," April 13, 1998.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.92 MB)

» Paul Sparaco, USAF/ESC/FD, "Weapon Storage and Security System (WS3): Status Briefing to AF/ILM," December 16, 1997.
Released under FOIA to Joshua Handler. (0.45 MB)

» Msg (S/DECL x4), 121705Z Dec 97, USCINCEUR/ECDC to JCS/J3 et al., "CONUS-based Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA) Readiness Requirements (U)."
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.39 MB)

» U.S. Department of the Air Force, AFSC/WSNSD, "Operational Safety Review of the F-15E and F-16C/D Weapon Systems," Air Force NWSSG 97-1, April 1997.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (2.5 MB)

» SSS (U), ACC/DONP, "Operational Plan Data Document (OPDD) for Dual Capable Aircraft," February 18, 1997.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.72 MB)

» Msg, 151700Z May 96, Acc/DDO to CINCUSACOM/J5/J3, "CONUS-based Dual Capable Aircraft Readiness Posture."
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.15 MB)

» SSS/atch, ACC/DONP, "Reassigning CONUS-based Dual Capable Aircraft (DCA) Taskings," May 10, 1996.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.31 MB)

» STRATCOM/J513, Memorandum for the Record, "NSNF Working Group Meeting Minutes of 10 May 94," May 10, 1994.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.75 MB)

» STRATCOM/J513, Memorandum for the Record, "NSNF Working Group Meeting Minutes of 29 Mar 94," March 31, 1994.
Partially declassified and released under FOIA. (0.92 MB)

background reports:

» "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe," Natural Resources Defense Council,  January
(7.25 MB)
[Backup also available here]

» NATO, "NATO's Nuclear Forces in the New Security Environment," Issue Paper, updated February 18, 2005. (0.07 MB)

» NATO, "NATO's Nuclear Forces in the New Security Environment," Issue Paper, updated June 3, 2004. (0.14 MB)

satellite images:
(note: give the image time
to download)

Araxos Air Base
Greece (0.94 MB)

Aviano Air Base
Italy (0.94 MB)

Balikesir Air Base
Turkey (0.95 MB)

Ghedi Torre Air Base
Italy (1.05 MB)

Incirlik Air base
Turkey (1.09 MB)

Kleine Brogel Air Base
Belgium (1.10 MB)

RAF Lakenheath
United Kingdom (1.09 MB)

Ramstein Air Base
Germany (1.08 MB)

other images:

Büchel Air base
Germany (0.87 MB)

Memmingen Air Base
Germany (0.66 MB)

Nörvenich Air Base
Germany (0.58 MB)

Nörvenich Air base
Germany (0.78 MB)
(to access the unedited
original photo, click here)

Volkel Air Base
Netherlands (0.62 MB)

other documents:

Belgian Senate Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee resolution, April 21, 2005. (0.03 MB)

» German Liberal Party (FDP) Bundestag resolution, proposed April 13, 2005. (0.05 MB)

Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe," briefing given to members of the German Bundestag, Berlin, February 25, 2005. (2.07 MB)

» Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe," briefing given to members of the Belgian and Dutch parliaments, March 1, 2005. (1.95 MB)

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  © Hans M. Kristensen