Monday, 28 September 2015
The Burden of Sharing – Continuing Nuclear Deterrence
We live in an age of sharing. We share pretty much everything you can imagine: we share our lives, our holiday pictures and our thoughts with our friends on Facebook, we share news and information through twitter, and we share cars if we don’t want to spend money on an own one; young people and students share flats to reduce living costs. Sharing is the normative of the postmodern information age and even goes so far that countries share nuclear weapons. Although nothing new, it is a big commitment to share WMDs among friends and allies. Being part of the nuclear sharing programme among NATO states, non-nuclear members have agreed to station a limited number of nuclear warheads on their own territories. Albeit publically extremely unpopular and controversially discussed, the sharing will continue.
Even though Germany does not have own nuclear weapons and has no intentions ever to develop an own nuclear weapons programme whatsoever, it does not mean that it is a totally nuclear weapons free zone. In fact, there is not a single country in Europe being part of the Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone. Apart from the two European nuclear powers in NATO – France and the United Kingdom, there are estimated 150 to 200 US nuclear warheads throughout Europe, stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey.
In the Eifel Mountains there are estimated 20 nuclear warheads permanently stationed at the German Air Base in Büchel – home of the 33rd Tactical Air Force Wing. Although the German government has been requesting the US government to withdraw these B-61 nuclear warheads since 2009, the US Government recently announced to modernise rather than withdrawing them. This modernization will also include a security upgrade of the respective storage facilities, according to information from the Berlin Institute for Transatlantic Security.
In Turkey alone, right at the ISIS front line, there are estimated 80 nuclear warheads. With information that the US intends to modernize its European based arsenal, the security matter rises high, one more time, and the ghosts of the Cold War keep rumbling.
Ground Zero Hazard in the Middle of Europe
Each one of the 20 Type B-61 bombs stationed at the Büchel Air Base has a yield of about 340,000 tons of TNT, which is 26 times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945. In the past, even the German Air Force had conducted various training manoeuvres with these bombs, attached to Panavia Tornado IDS fighter jets. Thinking of fighter jets thundering at supersonic speed over Germany with nuclear weapons on-board – even if it’s for training purposes only – causes a sincere shudder that an accident with horrific consequences might occur. Even the slightest accident during training could either lead to radioactive material escaping from the bomb and radiate wide regions of Germany and Europe, or in the worst case completely level a city or residential areas, with vast environmental, social and economic devastations – not mentioning political turmoil potentially arising from such an accident.
From a tactical point of view, the range of Tornado jets armed with B-61 bombs is limited to a few hundred kilometres, due to the bomb’s heavy load. Presumably sufficient in times of the Cold War with a scenario of dropping these bombs on advancing Warsaw Pact troops, but nowadays this range and these technical attributes are highly inadequate for contemporary security requirements, with the immediate security theatres being located far outside the European core land.
The question remains: if there are no obvious tactical reasons for maintaining nuclear weapons in Europe, why keeping them anyway? The answer is rather simple: for strategic and above all deterrence reasons.
Non-existent US Foreign Policy
With Russia having launched its own military mission in Syria to support President Basher al-Assad in its fight against ISIS, the US and the West remain paralyzed, only very slowly starting an approach towards Assad. Unwilling to be committed in another long-term full scale military operation in the Middle East and only focusing on next year’s Presidential elections, the US seems to be trapped in a hastily quick changing strategy of bombing ISIS, without taking a clear stand in backing either the Opposition to Assad or the Kurds, against Assad, ISIS, or both. In opposite, the US is more paralyzed by Russia’s quick and decisive move to support the Assad regime against ISIS.
The current US security policy is trapped in a no-man’s land, unwilling to take sincere actions, and vaguely attempting to set a strong footprint in their selected strategic regions of interest. After the Iraqi disaster by his predecessor, President Barack Obama no longer conducts any visible foreign policy whatsoever, apart from restoring relations with Cuba. The message sent is clear: future foreign and security policy will be conducted by the future administration, whoever is going to be the next President – Democrat or Republican.
Still, all the US can do for now – or at least until the end of 2016 – is putting signals to the world that it still has vital strategic interests all over the world and that it does not refrain from its leading position in the world. This also includes its nuclear arsenal stationed in Europe.
Keep Deterrence Alive, no Matter How
Nuclear Sharing has in essence lost its deterrence character and has to be contemporarily regarded as a mere symbolic instrument. Though tactically obsolete, the image of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe sends a message to any potential adversary the US might identify as such one: whenever necessary, we can rapidly deploy them to any crisis region.
The deterrence mechanism needs to keep alive, that is the persistent strategic security normative for any US military doctrine, and with the deteriorating East-West relations the falcons keep this nuclear deterrence mechanism alive, disregarding the fact that this instrument of deterrence is an anachronism to contemporary security. The main security theatres are at Europe’s periphery and no longer in the middle of it, and even from a strategic point of view, Germany as a “nuclear base” can only serve as a back drawn nuclear depot. Still, with the bombs being stationed deep inside NATO territory gives the US a safe haven, far away from the front lines, and yet not too far to be rapidly deployed whenever necessary.
Germany on the other side, unable or unwilling – from the conservative government’s side – to oppose the nuclear sharing programme by the US, sees itself in a dilemma that was implemented by its previous CDU led governments, which technically bilaterally obliged Germany to station US WMDs on German airbases. Highly controversial and heatedly discussed, the public calls for an immediate withdrawal of the US nuclear bombs and making Germany a de facto nuclear free zone – ignored voices of common sense in an anarchic sea of security. As such, Germany will continue to keep shared objects which it doesn’t really want to have.
Unlike Facebook however, these 20 bombs can neither unliked, nor unfriended nor blocked just like that.