Interview with Oliver Meier on U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed by NATO

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Tactical U.S. nuclear weapons have long been deployed in member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In Germany, after mounting calls for eliminating the weapons, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stipulated in an agreement with her coalition partners last October that her administration will aim to remove the weapons. In Tokyo, the Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Oliver Meier, 45, a research fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, about the current situation surrounding the issue.

Why has the Merkel administration pursued a policy of removing the weapons?
In large part, it is due to the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Prague about creating a world without nuclear weapons and strengthening the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), and governments of the world have endorsed this vision. It was as if an issue that had not yet become an official matter was pushed forward by mounting public support for withdrawal inside and outside of Germany.

At the end of February, the foreign ministers of five European nations, including Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium where tactical nuclear weapons are deployed, sent a letter to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO, to call for discussion on the nuclear issue. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Poland and Sweden jointly wrote an article in a U.S. newspaper, calling for reducing tactical nuclear weapons.

But a fundamental rule of the decision-making process within NATO holds that unanimity is required. Nations in Central Europe, which are cautious about Russia, are adamantly opposed to the removal and obtaining approval from all 28 member nations is not an easy task.

If tactical nuclear weapons are removed, will "nuclear sharing" be eliminated as well?
Even if the deployment is annulled, as long as nuclear facilities remain inside military bases, nuclear sharing is theoretically possible. Some therefore have leveled criticism against Germany, saying Germany's argument goes only halfway. I feel this critique hits the mark.

We have not yet seen what sort of stance Germany and other nations will take on such broad challenges as "nuclear sharing."

The United States will soon issue the nation's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and a meeting of NATO foreign ministers will be held in Estonia at the end of April. NATO will release its "New Strategy Concept," articulating long-term policies, including nuclear policy, by mid-November. Before this document is compiled, member nations must share the understanding that "tactical nuclear weapons have become obsolete and no change in security will result by removing them."

What roles can Japan and Germany play in the international arena?
As nations standing under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, both Japan and Germany must take the lead in lowering the level of dependency on nuclear weapons. First, supporting the idea that "the sole purpose of possessing nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack" is vital.

Challenges lie ahead. In Japan, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has made some bold statements, initiating active discussions surrounding this "sole purpose" and the "no first use" of nuclear weapons. But it appears that Mr. Okada is not necessarily supported by the bureaucrats and experts around him.

In Germany, discussions tend to focus on the issue of nuclear deployment and do not progress beyond that. Among NATO member nations, not only the United States, but the United Kingdom and France possess nuclear weapons, too. In particular, France does not support a "no first use" policy. For that reason, it's hard for Germany to advance its discussions with regard to reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference to be held in May is now around the corner. I hope that both Japan and Germany will jointly send a signal of supporting the elimination of nuclear weapons. That would contribute to an energized conference.


Oliver Meier
Oliver Meier was born in 1964 in the former West Germany. He received a Ph.D. in political science from the Free University of Berlin. He serves as International Representative of the U.S. Arms Control Association which issues the journal Arms Control Today.


NATO's tactical nuclear weapons
It is believed that about 200 B61 nuclear warheads produced by the United States are deployed at Air Force bases in five European nations to constitute the nuclear capability of NATO. Under the "nuclear sharing" policy which has continued since the Cold War era, in the event of emergency, the weapons will be handed over for control to the host nations. Deep-rooted criticism insists that this policy violates the NPT as it amounts to the virtual possession of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear weapon states.

(Originally published on March 18, 2010)

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