A standard conservative argument made against efforts to cut the US nuclear arsenal is that doing so would sell out our allies who would be placed in danger and would lose confidence in the United States. This argument, however, is a relic of the Cold War and is reflective of outdated nuclear thinking. Our allies today, despite these claims, are strong supporters of reducing nuclear stockpiles and of Obama’s global zero vision more broadly.
This month five European foreign ministers from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Luxembourg called on NATO to take steps to remove US tactical nuclear weapons from European soil. The US has between 150 and 225 nuclear gravity bombs — which are essentially old-school dumb bombs — that are simply dropped on their targets. These nuclear weapons are relics from the Cold War when the NATO alliance feared they would need to use nuclear weapons to stop advancing Soviet forces on the battlefield.
Fortunately those days are long gone, but the irrelevance of these weapons has led to new security dangers. This year there was a shocking security breach at a base in Belgium where some of these weapons are stored. Peace activists were able to jump a chain link fence and walk up to a storage depot that held US tactical nuclear weapons. They also video taped the whole thing. Watch it:
As nuclear weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis put it, “holy crap.” The fact that a large group of people was able to just walk up to nuclear weapons storage facilities and basically had to seek out security personnel is incredibly unnerving.
Last week a delegation of European political leaders came to Washington to echo the calls for the removal of tactical nuclear weapons. These leaders included Des Browne, the former UK defense minister, Jan Kavan the former Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, and former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell-Magne Bondevik. Browne told Julian Borger of the Guardian that, “senior European politicians are moving to the view that we can reduce the salience of these weapons and still retain our security.” This also is not just a Western European effort. Eastern European leaders like Kavan and former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski are supportive, as well as the Turkish government. NATO is currently developing a new strategic concept and as Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association argued, NATO “should seize the opportunity to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons by declaring that NATO nuclear sharing no longer is necessary for alliance defense.”
These European efforts also come on the heels of bold calls from two of our key allies in the Pacific — Japan and Australia — for nuclear disarmament. Prime Ministers of both Australia and Japan jointly released a report from the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament that laid out a bold and comprehensive plan to slash nuclear weapons.
Despite these growing international calls, conservatives continue to insist that nuclear arms reductions cannot be made because of “our allies.” They are living in denial. Our allies know that the possession of nuclear weapons makes the world less safe and that America’s conventional military might is a fully sufficient deterrent against potential adversaries.