Should nuclear weapons be outlined worldwide

Nuclear weapons in Europe or European nuclear weapons?
An inventory

Peace forum

 by Oliver Meier

"Every nuclear weapon state that is a party to the contract undertakes not to pass on nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices or the power of disposal over them to anyone, directly or indirectly, and neither to support, encourage, nor induce a non-nuclear weapon state to manufacture or otherwise acquire or dispose of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices to get.

(Article I, Non-Proliferation Treaty)

"Maastricht II" is the keyword for the attempt of the member states of the European Union to promote the integration of the European states within the framework of an intergovernmental conference taking place in 1996/97. This is intended to create the basis for a common defense policy through the common foreign and security policy of the European Union (CFSP) already agreed in the Maastricht Treaty. In this context, the question of the future role of French and British nuclear weapons will inevitably arise. National control over these weapons is ultimately incompatible with a genuinely communitized European foreign, security and defense policy - either the weapons are either abolished or their control is "Europeanized". In recent years, France has therefore provided food for thought on the future role of British and French nuclear weapons. In September 1995, the French Prime Minister Alain Juppé renewed and specified the offer to place French nuclear weapons in a European context. Juppé spoke of "concerted deterrence", ie the possibility of using the force de frappe no longer exclusively in the context of French security policy. One year after Juppé's speech, it is time to take stock of the interim situation and to ask in which direction the nuclear weapons policies of the western nuclear-weapon states are developing.


Nuclear weapons in Europe: disarmament and modernization

Hundreds of American, French and British nuclear weapons remain stationed in Western Europe even after the end of the East-West conflict. Although all three countries have reduced their nuclear arsenals, they are consolidating and modernizing their stocks at a lower level.

The United States currently station at least 200 and a maximum of 400 airborne atomic bombs of the B-61 type in Europe. Tomahawk cruise missiles stationed at sea could also be assigned to NATO in times of crisis and used in Europe. The number of American tactical nuclear weapons in NATO's inventory has decreased by 91% since 1988.

Great Britain lost its land-based nuclear weapons when the US decided to retire all short-range nuclear warheads. The UK is currently in the process of decommissioning its atomic bombs by 1998. At the same time, the nuclear submarine fleet is being modernized. Four state-of-the-art Vanguard-class submarines are expected to be operational by 2000; the first has already been put into service. They will be equipped with American Trident II missiles and, according to government statements, carry a maximum of 192 warheads and will in future fulfill both the strategic task of deterrence and sub-strategic, tactical tasks. This will reduce the total explosive power of the British nuclear arsenal by 21% and the number of warheads will be 59% less than in the 1970s.

France also completely abandons its land-based nuclear weapons, but at the same time modernizes its air-based nuclear weapons stationed on submarines. Four new strategic submarines of the Triomphant class are to replace the five old ships of the Redoutable class by 2005. These submarines will be equipped with improved M45 missiles. Plans to develop a completely new strategic missile with the type designation M51 were stretched, but not abandoned. This rocket is not expected to be operational until after 2005. In addition, 80 relatively new, airborne stand-off weapons are to be modernized and equipped with a greater range. France has reduced the number of its nuclear weapons by 15% since 1991 and cut spending on nuclear weapons by 25% between 1993 and 1995.


Stationed nuclear weapons of the NATO countries

 USA 1996

(Tactical weapons)

USA 1995

(Strategic weapons)


(Strategic weapons)

France 1995

(All weapons)

France n. Restructuring
ation (all weapons)
UK 1995

(All weapons)

UK after restructuring
ation (all weapons)
Land-based missiles       
Missiles 57550048000
Warheads 2.07550048000
Submarines 16145444
Missiles 38433664644848
Warheads350 a3.0721.680384384160192
Planes 166708383960
Warheads600 b2.8001.320808045-1000
Total number of warheads9507.9473.500512464205-260192

aThese are sea-based cruise missiles (SLCM), the majority of which are stored on land in peacetime.
bThese are B61 tactical atomic bombs.
Sources: The British American Security Information Council: "Nuclear Futures: The Role of Nuclear Weapons in Security Policy", London / Washington: BASIC Report 96.1, April 1996, p. 10, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July / August 1996, p 63.


Strategies and Arms Control: Business as Usual

All three western nuclear powers provide only very poor information about the role and function of their nuclear weapons. Although the detailed and sophisticated nuclear target plans from the Cold War era are no longer valid, no public statements are made as to which targets these weapons should be aimed at in the future. General purposes, such as that nuclear weapons continue to be used as a deterrent, are all that sees the light of day. The new NATO strategy MC 400/1, adopted on the occasion of the NATO Council meeting on June 3, 1996 in Berlin, was not published either. However, the first outlines of its content are already emerging.

In view of the lack of concrete threat scenarios and military tasks, the nuclear weapons assigned to NATO should continue to fulfill a political task in addition to their deterrent function and serve as a "link" between the nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states within the alliance. Precisely for this reason, the stationing of these weapons in seven NATO countries and nuclear participation are being maintained. In addition, nuclear weapons are intended to deter those countries in the South that have weapons of mass destruction in particular. American politicians in particular also assign them a role in the context of counter-proliferation. All NATO nuclear-weapon states continue to refuse to completely forego the first use of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear disarmament process that led to the two START treaties on strategic weapons and the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe at the beginning of the 1990s has meanwhile come to a standstill. All three NATO nuclear-weapon states are skeptical about further disarmament steps. The nuclear arsenals of France and Great Britain have so far not been subject to any contractual restrictions at all. Since many of the previously made reductions were unilateral and without subsequent contractual fixing, they can also be reversed at any time.

The governments in London and Paris want this to continue. Participation in arms control negotiations is refused on the grounds that the USA and Russia have many more nuclear weapons than they do themselves and should first of all downgrade them to the French or British level. The United States, on the other hand, rejects a further reduction in its nuclear weapons, referring to the uncertain foreign policy course in Russia and wants to see the START II agreement implemented first.

The governments of all three western nuclear-weapon states do not see a world free of nuclear weapons as desirable. "As long as other countries have nuclear weapons, France will of course also have them," said French Prime Minister Juppé succinctly in a keynote address on security policy. In the future, too, nuclear weapons should serve as a deterrent to an attack on Europe: "Nuclear deterrence forms the basis of European security. A European security policy without nuclear deterrence would actually be a weak policy," said John Major and Francois Mitterand at a Franco-British summit in 1994.


Together we are strong

Indeed, nuclear weapons are intended to advance the process of European unification, but at least not to hinder it. Under public pressure, the European nuclear powers are moving closer together. For example, France and Great Britain have been working together in the military nuclear field since November 1992. In the "French-British Commission for Nuclear Policy and Fundamental Issues" the nuclear weapons doctrines and arms control policies of the two states are coordinated. Together, this is to prevent further disarmament agreements: "The British must understand that if we do not cooperate, neither of us will be able to withstand the pressure to take further disarmament measures and we will not be able to afford to maintain the deterrent," said a French Diplomat on the reasons for cooperation.

According to British press reports, German representatives are also expected to take part in the Franco-British talks. One motive of the nuclear-weapon states for Germany's participation in the talks could be the attempt to broaden international acceptance of their own policies. For example, German criticism of a resumption of nuclear weapons tests should be prevented by informing the federal government of such plans at an early stage: "Once the Germans are involved in the thought process of deterrence, they will hardly react hypocritically to the nuclear tests," said a British State Department official.


A European nuclear power?

The British-French-German cooperation could also represent an attempt to discuss and develop the first foundations and concepts for a European nuclear weapons policy. Considerations about the communitarisation of French and British nuclear weapons within the framework of a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) of the European Union have gained new relevance and urgency not only since the French offer to build up a "concerted deterrent". Alain Juppé asked the question about the future of French nuclear weapons on September 7, 1995: "We should all get used to the idea that the European countries must rethink their defense policy and that in this process the role of nuclear weapons over the two European ones Countries have to be checked. " As early as October 1994, a year earlier, the French Chief of Staff Jacques Lanxade had not ruled out the possibility of France using its own nuclear weapons to defend Western Europe, for example within the framework of the Western European Union (WEU).

France is by no means alone in these considerations. Some politicians in the European Parliament are taking a similar approach. In the draft motion for a resolution of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense Policy of the European Parliament, a communitarisation of the French and British nuclear weapons was recently advocated: The European Parliament - according to the draft - is "of the opinion that France and the United Kingdom, which for European security, due to its position as a nuclear power and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has a special responsibility and should, in the long term, consider putting its nuclear power at the service of the European Union (...). " The proposal failed, but similar considerations have also emerged from the ranks of the WEU parliamentary assembly. "Europeans in the Western European Union can no longer afford to ignore the issue of nuclear deterrence, even if they are not currently ready to build a European deterrent. Nuclear deterrence plays a role in Europe's defense policy, and it will Do it for the foreseeable future, whether you like it or not, "says a report by the Defense Committee of the WEU Parliamentary Assembly from May 1996.

The political and military problems associated with such a communitisation of nuclear weapons are still too great to be put on the political agenda. The question can only be postponed, but not avoided, if a common foreign, security and defense policy is actually the goal of the European unification process. Nuclear privileges for two states within an EU, which otherwise forms a comprehensive political unit, are hardly imaginable.


The European option and nuclear non-proliferation

However, there are also legal hurdles in the way of such communitization: within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was only extended for an unlimited period last spring in New York, the nuclear member states have committed themselves not to use nuclear weapons or the knowledge necessary for their manufacture to pass them on to non-nuclear-weapon states and not to share control over these weapons with other states. But this is exactly the case if, for example, Germany were to have a say in decisions about British or French nuclear weapons and their use. On the other hand, when the NPT was signed in 1969, the Federal Republic foresaw the problem of "nuclear participation" (which already exists within the framework of NATO) and stated that the NPT should not lead to a hindrance to the process of European unification. It is not only controversial whether a "nuclear power Europe" would be in conformity with the NPT, but especially whether the path to such a uniform nuclear weapons policy of the EU members can be designed in such a way that the NPT is not violated.

The political effect of such an attempt to put French and British nuclear weapons at the service of a European foreign, security and defense policy would in any case be fatal. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the world is seen in all western capitals as one of the greatest threats to international peace. At the same time, however, consideration is being given to how one's own nuclear weapons can be re-legitimized for the future. Instead of initiating new steps in disarmament and, as with biological and chemical weapons, achieving an international ban on nuclear weapons as well, nuclear weapons are to be given a new raison d'être. The elimination of French, British and all other nuclear weapons would be the best way to pave the way for a peaceful Europe as a whole.


Dipl.-Pol. Oliver Meier did his doctorate at the Free University of Berlin on American nuclear weapons policy after the end of the East-West conflict and works as a research assistant at the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and as a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin. The author thanks the W. Alton Jones Foundation and the Ford Foundation for their support.