Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2014

NATO's Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Beyond "Yes" or "No"

Karl-Heinz Kamp

September 2010

NATO Defense College


"NATO is a nuclear alliance," stated US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at NATO's informal ministerial meeting in Tallinn in April 2010. NATO always was, but many had forgotten about this constituting element of the North Atlantic Alliance. Today, the nuclear question and the so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons (TNW), i.e. the US nuclear bombs stationed in five European member countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey) are back on the political agenda. Ignited by some European member governments, a debate on the pros and cons of the American nuclear presence in Europe has started. Some are in favor of a rapid withdrawal of these weapons from European soil and claim that the strategic rationale for these types of weapons, which are supposed to be used against Warsaw Pact forces, had long gone. Opponents of quick removal point out that a credible nuclear deterrence posture remains essential for NATO - not least to reassure most of the new NATO members who still harbor concerns with regard to a potentially aggressive Russia (which keeps an estimated number of 3,000 tactical nuclear weapons in its European part - about 10 to 15 times as many as NATO).