I have been reading a lot about ‘nuclear sharing’, the US provision of nuclear weapons to some NATO allies. The allies train to use the weapons, and could be ordered by NATO to use them in a war if the US President allowed it. Until then, the weapons are at bases in Europe, under US control. This is an effort that started early in the Cold War, and continues now with far fewer weapons. I discussed nuclear sharing here and here.
There is some controversy about this because some countries have the weapons and don’t want them any more, while other countries want to ensure NATO’s strength and also ensure continued US commitment to European security. Many academics, present and former government officials, and active and retired military officers have presented their opinions in articles that are easily found on the internet. The arguments are all over the map: eliminate weapons, reduce weapons, change the rules for use of weapons, maintain the weapons as-is. I haven’t seen an argument for increasing them yet, but everything else is discussed.
I have read a lot of proposals saying NATO can improve relations with the Russians, improve security in Europe, and meet the demands of European populations, all by removing US nuclear weapons from Europe. Often these proposals, by people somewhat knowledgeable about weapons, military matters, and diplomacy, betray an utter lack of understanding of … diplomacy. They show a naive, even childish, faith in negotiations, without understanding the first thing about how negotiations work. How can such well-read people be so ignorant?
Proposal #1. NATO will get rid of all US nuclear weapons in NATO territory, then negotiate with the Russians to get rid of their many non-strategic nuclear weapons. Because of course, giving the Russians what they want will encourage them to help us out by giving up the weapons that have a high priority in Russian military doctrine.
Dude, once you give the Russians everything they want, they will be less likely to negotiate, because you already gave them everything they wanted, for free. Why should they give anything up?
Proposal #2. Take the US nuclear weapons back to US and fly them to Europe as needed.
Just trust me on this: Any weapon that goes back to the US will never return to Europe. The idea that we are going to airlift a bunch of bombs to Europe as soon as a crisis hits is not realistic on many levels. Will we keep a bunch of US airmen (nuclear technicians and others) just hanging around somewhere in Europe with no nukes to maintain or guard? Will we move them to the US just waiting to fly to some NATO base they have never been to? What would be the reaction by Russians, other interested parties, and the European populations, to the US flying cargo planes full of weapons to various bases in Europe? The whole point of removal is that some Europeans don’t want the weapons there now. So we’re supposed to ‘snap back’ as soon as the Euros finally get a clue that the weapons provide useful security? We won’t.
Proposal #3. To protect Europe, the US should take all of its nuclear weapons back home and send more US conventional forces.
Is it conceivable that the Europeans could improve their own forces? Maybe by increasing their defense spending to two percent of their GDP, as they already pledged they would do? Why is everything the responsibility of the US? In NATO, are we the only adult in a room full of children? This proposal implies exactly that.
Proposal #4. To protect Europe, the US should take all of its nuclear weapons back home and the Europeans should buildup their own conventional forces.
Did I mention that European NATO nations have pledged to spend two percent of their GDP on defense? Have I mentioned that they are not dong it? Some are spending about half that. Would the removal of US nuclear weapons actually make Europeans serious about defending Europe? I doubt they would pay the bill. Far more likely is for the Europeans to suddenly wake up and decide they each need their own nuclear weapons. It’s already being discussed. The Non-Proliferation Treaty would be out the window, and a nuclear war would become more likely. The countries trying to remove US weapons now would be the first to start their own secret programs.
Proposal #5. As a confidence building measure, we will tell the Russians where all US nuclear weapons are in Europe, and ask them to reciprocate.
Dude, the Russians already know. Trust me on this. You are not going to get concessions from the Russians by offering to give them information that they already have. There are good reasons for telling the world a bit more about the US weapons in Europe, but here is why: so the US and other NATO countries can talk openly about the need to retain the weapons. US classification rules should be changed just enough that NATO can make the case to the people.
Proposal #6. As a confidence building measure, we will let the Russians inspect all the former nuclear weapon storage sites in Eastern Europe, so they know we are upholding the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997.
This may be the dumbest proposal, because it’s dumb on so many levels. If it’s a nuclear storage site in Eastern Europe, the Russians already know all about it, because they built it. Every one of those sites was abandoned around 1990 and none is in use. They are overgrown, weather beaten, and empty. The Russians know that. Also, there’s a built-in assumption that we would (for some reason) use decaying Soviet-era storage bunkers, instead of building our own new ones that conform to US security standards. Why on Earth would we use Soviet-built bunkers? We would not.
Anyway, props for mentioning that there actually were nuclear storage sites in Eastern Europe. Did the authors understand these were Soviet sites? Also, did they know many of the weapons stored there were for use by the host nations (East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria)? I bring that last part up because so many sources claim only the US ever did nuclear sharing with allies. The Soviets did exactly he same thing. Why did they stop? They lost the Cold War and collapsed. Now Moscow says NATO nuclear sharing is wrong, but it must have been fine when Moscow still shared weapons.
So, if you are planning on negotiating for something you really want, please avoid these tactics that are guaranteed to fail. If you give the other side everything they want before negotiations start, you won’t get a deal. If you offer them something they already have or simply don’t care about, you won’t get a deal. None of this seems hard to grasp, but somehow there is a lot of poor logic on the anti-nuclear side.