The United States is reportedly resisting the efforts of several European members of NATO to remove U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NATO foreign ministers meeting in Estonia last week that the Obama administration is not opposed to cuts in the weapons, but that such cuts should be tied to reductions in Russian tactical nuclear weapons–an approach that would probably have the effect of delaying removal of the weapons indefinitely (Mark Landler, U.S. Resists Push by Allies for Tactical Nuclear Cuts, New York Times, 22 April 2010).
Clinton also reportedly argued that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. As a nuclear alliance, sharing nuclear risks and responsibilities widely is fundamental.” This position, if taken literally, would imply that the U.S. will continue to base nuclear weapons in Europe, and to operate nuclear-sharing programs with European allies, until the very day that nuclear abolition is achieved.
Her position probably ought not to be taken literally, however. The Obama administration may be posturing on this issue to avoid right-wing charges of unilateral disarmament as it tries to secure Senate support for ratification of the New START treaty. And there is likely to be some negotiating room in the administration’s position. The U.S. may be willing to remove most or even all of the weapons if it can explain the move as a decision advocated by its allies in NATO.
Signs of an Alliance disarmament drive were hard to discern at the NATO meeting, however. “We’re not in a hurry,” said Poland’s foreign minister. Germany’s foreign minister asserted a need for alliance unanimity on the issue, commenting that “of course, we would not go it alone.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, for his part, stuck to current NATO doctrine at the meeting, stating that “the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible deterrent.”
Thus, for the time being, the prospects for the early removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe seem to have dimmed considerably.