Whatever else Wikileaks may be revealing, there is nothing new about the info they are providing on NATO’s nuclear weapons in Europe. Indeed it is quite extraordinary that NATO is condemning the ‘leaking’ of this information, for the location and number of US nuclear weapons in Europe is common knowledge and had been published on CND’s website for years. And what is our source? Nothing more sinister than the Swedish government-backed Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.Writing recently, nuclear analyst Hans Kristensen has reconfimed estimates that the US still has up to 200 tactical nuclear weapons in western Europe under the auspices of NATO. These are free-fall B-61 bombs which can be dropped from planes. The total comprises up to 20 each in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany, and up to 70 each in Italy and Turkey. Until two or three years ago, there was also a pile of them located at Lakenheath airbase in East Anglia – the focus of much CND campaigning. Those have been removed – unconfirmed by our own government, which refused to confirm or deny either their presence there or their removal.
In fact, far from being a secret, these weapons have been the cause of considerable controversy within NATO in recent weeks particularly in the run up to the NATO summit in Lisbon. Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands have all stated that they wish the weapons to be removed from their territory. The US refused to comply with these states’ demands for removal, saying that all NATO states had to agree to this.
In spite of a softening of language on the issue, and some verbal gestures towards a disarmament vision, the NATO summit failed to agree to withdraw the weapons. Some commentators say that this is because new member states along the Russian border want to retain US nukes in Europe. Whatever the reason, there will have to be movement towards their removal. Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle is absolutely adamant that they must go, and will not let the matter drop. Can the US afford to have internal NATO tension on this when its key concern is to retain member states’ support for the war in Afghanistan? Whichever way you look at it, there is no future for US nukes in Europe.