UNODA Occasional Papers No. 24: Contrasting Perspectives on Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe

Understanding the Current Debates

image of UNODA Occasional Papers No. 24: Contrasting Perspectives on Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe
This series of ad hoc publications deals with topical issues in the field of arms limitation, disarmament and international security and are intended primarily for those concerned with these matters in Government, civil society and in the academic community. This issue focuses on tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) reduction, both in the US and Europe. Despite the many debates, little has been done in recent years to reduce or eliminate the forward-deployed NATO nuclear weapons. This paper presents an overview of relevant discussion points ranging from a brief historic outline, theoretical and practical arguments for TNW disarmament, the logic of nuclear disarmament, and the provision of a clear description of the different positions of relevant NATO member States on the TNW issue.




On 19 June 2013, United States President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world in Berlin at the historic Brandenburg Gate, just as he did four years prior in Prague. One particularly interesting statement was his call to “work together with our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to seek ‘bold reductions’ in US and Russian tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in Europe”. The United States (US) proposal to discuss a TNW reduction or even removal reflects a debate, both in the US and Europe, spanning many years. A credible NATO effort on TNW disarmament could complement the “New START” initiative between the US and the Russian Federation, which was also potentially strengthened by Obama’s proposal to opt for a reduction of the deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by an additional third to approximately 1,000 on both sides. More importantly, a removal of forward-based US TNWs in Europe could open up opportunities to negotiate other issues on the disarmament agenda that are currently deadlocked, such as for example Russian (tactical) nuclear disarmament. Regardless of the many debates on the US TNWs in Europe, there have been little practical steps in recent years to actively reduce or eliminate the forward-deployed NATO nuclear posture. In the coming years NATO could pursue a realistic policy shift devoted to nuclear disarmament. This effort would correspond to United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane’s recent call on NATO to outline a clear pathway to giving up its nuclear deterrent in May 2013. Kane said that “[t]he time may have come for NATO to consider adopting a Strategic Concept paper devoted just to nuclear disarmament”. She also stated that “[i]t is not sufficient simply to note the existence of a goal and to subject its achievement to numerous conditions. A world free of nuclear weapons is in fact not just a normative goal—it must also be a strategic goal, in the highest national security interests of each member of this alliance (i.e. NATO), and each member of the world community.”


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