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Reassessing NATO's Tactical Nukes

Stephen Herzog Monday, May 10, 2010

At a recent NATO foreign ministers meeting in Tallinn, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States would not withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) from Europe in the near-term future. Clinton also said that these weapons should only be drawn down if done so simultaneously with similar Russian systems. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed these sentiments and stated that U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe are an integral part of the alliance's deterrent. But in addition to being increasingly unpopular among U.S. allies, the estimated 150-200 U.S. TNWs in Europe (.pdf) also lack military utility and deterrent value, for a number of reasons.

The vast majority of foreign policy analysts view a potential Russian invasion of Europe as an anachronistic Cold War nightmare. Still, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty carries significant deterrent weight, because it represents a U.S. pledge to defend its NATO allies in the event of an attack. There is a certain level of redundancy to U.S. TNW deployments, since the United States has already committed itself to European security with its conventional and strategic nuclear forces. Additionally, there are legitimate questions regarding the ability of these weapons to serve their intended military purpose -- as a force multiplier to aid alliance troops on the battlefield. ...

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