USA nuclear warheads in Europe

translation: L. Salimbeni

There are 12 air bases, located in 7 countries, that are able to lodge atomic warheads under US control. In 2005 the nuclear weapons amounted to 480 units. The details of the Agreements regarding nuclear deployments in NATO countries are classified. The bombs are managed through a Weapons Storage Security System, that was established during the Cold War and planned to store the nuclear warheads, together with conventional arms, in underground vaults equipped with time locks. These vaults have been built since 1987 under the hangars that lodge the airplanes able to carry those warheads. Completed in about ten years, each one of these vaults can hold 4 warheads. In some bases, their care and maintenance are assigned to the so-called Munitions Support Squadrons (MUNSS), with up to 150 personnel each.

The full picture is the following:

1. Kleine Brogel Air Base (from now on, AB) in Belgium – where F-16s of the Belgian Air Force operate – has 11 vaults for a capacity of 44 warheads. It lodges 20, entrusted to the 701° MUNSS’ care.
2. Buchel AB in Germany – where German Tornados operate – has 11 vaults and 20 warheads, looked after by the 702° MUNSS.
3. Norvenich AB in Germany – with German Tornados – has 11 vaults but no warhead. Until 1995 there were 20, then relocated to Ramstein.
4. Ramstein AB in Germany – home to United States F-16s and German Tornados – has 55 vaults for a total capacity of 220 warheads. In 2005 there were 130, later we’ll try to explane what has probably happened in the following years.
5. Araxos AB in Greece – where A-7s of the Greek Air Force operate – has 6 vaults but no warhead. The 20 present until spring 2001 (when Greece unilaterally retreated from the “NATO Nuclear Strike Mission”) have been probably transferred to Ramstein in Germany.
6. Aviano AB in Italy – home to United States F-16s – owns 18 vaults and 50 nuclear warheads.
7. Ghedi Torre AB in Italy – where Italian Tornados operate – has 11 vaults and lodges 40 warheads, under the care and maintenance of the 704° MUNSS.
8. Volkel AB in Netherlands – home to F-16s of the Dutch Air Force – has 11 vaults and 20 warheads, left to the cares of the 703° MUNSS.
9. Akinci AB in Turkey – where Turkish F-16 operate – has 6 vaults, but no warhead.
10. Balikesir in Turkey – home to Turkish F-16s – has 6 vaults. The 20 nuclear warheads, present until 1995, have been relocated to the Incirlik base.
11. Incirlik AB in Turkey – where United States F-16s operate – has 25 vaults and 90 warheads.
12. to wind up with a flourish, Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, which is formally a RAF (Royal Air Force) base, is home only to United States F-15s. It owns 33 vaults and holds as much as 110 nuclear warheads: so this is very probably the place in Europe that lodges today the greatest number of United States nuclear weapons.

We must actually underline that in January 2007 the United States Air Force (USAF) has removed the Ramstein base from the list of the installations that receive periodic inspections of the nuclear weapons, probably as a result of the transfer to the United States of the existing warheads. If this is the case, the number of the warheads deployed in Europe can be reduced to 350, about the equivalent of the whole nuclear arsenal of France (but anyway still higher than the total of the Chinese warheads and than the sum of those held by the three countries – India, Israel and Pakistan – that haven’t signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

According to an anonymous official from the German Defence, quoted by the newspaper Der Spiegel, the United States have removed temporarily (and discreetly) the nuclear warheads from Ramstein beacuse of important works of restoration; the above-mentioned removal of the base from the list of the periodic inspections seems to mean that the decision has become definitive.

In spite of the apparent reduction, the NATO Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) has reasserted – in June 2007 – the importance of the deployment of US-nuclear weapons in Europe. Their purpose should be “to keep the peace and to avoid threats and every kind of war”, even though NATO doesn’t specify who is the enemy against whom these weapons should be used. It asserts instead that the nuclear warheads symbolize “an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the Alliance”.

Have you taken the hint?

Italian version

3 thoughts on “USA nuclear warheads in Europe

  1. This January [2009] a high-level task force appointed by Pentagon chief Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense Task Force on Defense Department Nuclear Weapons Management chaired by former defense secretary James Schlesinger, released a report advocating that the “United States should keep tactical nuclear bombs in Europe and even consider modernizing older warheads on cruise missiles….” The document states “The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe remains a pillar of NATO unity.”

    Germany And NATO’s Nuclear Nexus,
    by Rick Rozoff

    report of Task Force on Defense Department Nuclear Weapons Management,
    phase I:
    phase II:

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  2. One of the chief purposes of the founding of NATO in April of 1949 – months before the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb in August of that year – was to allow the U.S. to station some of the nuclear weapons of which it had a monopoly in Europe. Although Washington’s arsenal of nuclear warheads in Europe was drastically reduced after the end of the Cold War, American nuclear weapons remain on the continent, by some estimates several hundred.

    NATO’s Strategic Concept adopted in 1999 states that “The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States….Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance. The Alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe.”

    A new version is being crafted currently, with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright heading up the group preparing it. In announcing the launching of that initiative, NATO reiterated that “The Strategic Concept is the authoritative statement of the Alliance’s objectives and provides the highest level of guidance on the political and military means to be used in achieving them.”

    Each summit and several ministerial and Military Committee meetings over the past decade have reaffirmed the Alliance’s dedication to the deployment and use of nuclear weapons in Europe.

    As one of Turkey’s main daily newspapers, Zaman, said this July 31, “NATO rules allow for the possible use of nuclear weapons against targets in Russia or countries in the Middle East such as Syria and Iran….”

    A Time magazine report last year claimed that “The U.S. keeps an estimated 350 thermonuclear bombs in six NATO countries. In four of those — Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands — the weapons are stored at the host nation’s air bases, where they are guarded by specially trained U.S. military personnel.”

    Pentagon Plans For Global Military Supremacy: U.S., NATO Could Deploy Mobile Missiles Launchers To Europe,
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  3. Is Italy capable of delivering a thermonuclear strike? Could the Belgians and the Dutch drop hydrogen bombs on enemy targets?…Germany’s air force couldn’t possibly be training to deliver bombs 13 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, could it?

    The above is from the opening paragraph of a feature in Time magazine’s online edition of December 2, one entitled “What to Do About Europe’s Secret Nukes.”

    In response to the rhetorical queries posed it adopts the deadly serious tone befitting the subject in stating, “It is Europe’s dirty secret that the list of nuclear-capable countries extends beyond those — Britain and France — who have built their own weapons. Nuclear bombs are stored on air-force bases in Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands — and planes from each of those countries are capable of delivering them.”

    The author of the article, Eben Harrell, who wrote an equally revealing piece for the same news site in June of 2008, cites the Federation of American Scientists as asserting that there are an estimated 200 American B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs stationed in the four NATO member states listed above. A fifth NATO nation that is home to the warheads, Turkey, is not dealt with in the news story. In the earlier Times article alluded to previously, author Harrell wrote that “The U.S. keeps an estimated 350 thermonuclear bombs in six NATO countries.” They are three variations of the B61, “up to 10 [or 13] times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb” – B61-3s, B61-4s and B61-10s – stationed on eight bases in Alliance states.

    The writer reminded the magazine’s readers that “Under a NATO agreement struck during the Cold War, the bombs, which are technically owned by the U.S., can be transferred to the control of a host nation’s air force in times of conflict. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dutch, Belgian, Italian and German pilots remain ready to engage in nuclear war.

    The B61 is the Pentagon’s mainstay hydrogen weapon, a “lightweight bomb [that can] be delivered by…Air Force, Navy and NATO planes at very high altitudes and at speeds above Mach 2.”

    Also, it “can be dropped at high speeds from altitudes as low as 50 feet. As many as 22 different varieties of aircraft can carry the B61 externally or internally. This weapon can be dropped either by free-fall or as parachute-retarded; it can be detonated either by air burst or ground burst.”

    The Time report of 2008 wrote of the ongoing policy that it is:

    “A ‘burden-sharing’ agreement that has been at the heart of NATO military policy since its inception.

    “Although technically owned by the U.S., nuclear bombs stored at NATO bases are designed to be delivered by planes from the host country.”

    It also discussed the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review of Nuclear Weapons Policies and Procedures released in February of 2008 which “recommended that American nuclear assets in Europe be consolidated, which analysts interpret as a recommendation to move the bombs to NATO bases under ‘U.S. wings,’ meaning American bases in Europe.”

    Both Time articles by Eben Harrell, that of last year and that of this month, emphasize that the basing of nuclear warheads on the territory of non-nuclear nations – and Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are non-nuclear nations – is a gross violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT],

    NATO’s Secret Transatlantic Bond: Nuclear Weapons In Europe,
    di Rick Rozoff

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