PENN Research Note 97.4
BASIC-BITS-CESD-ASPR Research Note 97.4
June 1997

PENN Project on European Nuclear Non-proliferation
Nuclear Weapons and the European Union

Martin Butcher, Director of the Center for European Security and Disarmament,
Nicola Butler, Analyst, British American Security Information Council,
Oliver Meier, Senior Analyst, Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security,
Otfried Nassauer, Director, Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security,
Dan Plesch, Director, British American Security Information Council,
Georg Schöfbänker, Researcher, Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Research (ASPR) and
Stephen Young, Senior Analyst, British American Security Information Council


"The debate on the European nuclear deterrent will be the moment of truth in the construction of a European political union."

"We would, however, like to place on the record our concern about the non-proliferation implications of the plans for the expansion of NATO and the proposals which have been made for a dialogue in Europe on the future role of nuclear deterrence in the context of the European Defence Policy."

Executive Summary

Article J.4 the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), states that "the common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence." Independently from the progress to be made at the Amsterdam EU- summit in integrating EU Foreign, Security and Defense policies, one difficult subject is likely to remain on the hidden agenda of European integration: the future of French and British nuclear weapons in Europe.

The issue must be dealt with if the European Union (EU) is going to establish a common defense policy and a common defense. There can be no unified EU-defense if France and the UK continue to fully maintain national control over their nuclear weapons. Thus, these countries either have to give up their nuclear arsenals or agree to "Europeanize" them. The political elites in major European countries have recognized this problem for a long time, as several initiatives to start a bilateral or multilateral dialogue on the issue of a nuclear dimension to European defense clearly show. They have also realized that major political obstacles need to be overcome to develop a European nuclear force. Public opinion is widely critical. EU-member countries with a history of neutrality and non-alignment still oppose the creation of collective defense arrangements. Last but not least the EU-member states need to be aware of their far-ranging obligations under Art. I and II of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

This Research Note intends to:

  • raise awareness for the fact that a public debate about the role of nuclear weapons in a future European defense can not be avoided. It needs to begin as soon as possible. There is no good reason why such a debate should be avoided by similar tactics as used in case of NATO enlargement: First there is no need for a discussion because no decisions have yet been made; then there is no need for it since the decision has already been taken;

  • discuss the EU-member states' approaches to a common defense and a possible nuclear component to such a defense

  • raise necessary questions as to whether integrating British and French nuclear forces into a future independent European nuclear force will violate the European Union member states' obligations under the NPT.

This Research Note concludes:

A European-wide public debate about the future of the British and French nuclear forces and their role in the European integration process is an urgent necessity. The European nations will have to take a decision whether the European Union will be nuclear or non-nuclear.

The EU-member states need to be extraordinarily careful to adhere closely, at all times, to their obligations under Art. I and II of the NPT when discussing and preparing the development of a common European Defense.

NATO nuclear sharing has already come under sharp criticism as (possibly) violating Art. I and II of the NPT. Any attempt by the EU member nations to step by step "Europeanize" the British and French nuclear forces modeled after NATO would face even sharper criticism. While the US and its NATO allies argue that they presented unilateral interpretations of the NPT declaring NATO nuclear sharing legal under the NPT, neither the EU and its predecessors nor the WEU-members can make the same argument.

This Research Note recommends:

Discussions about the future of the British and French nuclear deterrents must be public, frank, open and transparent. Current bilateral and future bilateral as well as multilateral nuclear consultations need to meet this condition. The secrecy still prevailing in nuclear matters is a relict of the Cold War.

The EU member nations should actively help to develop a joint understanding by all parties to the NPT on what steps of nuclear sharing violate the obligations under Art I and II of the NPT. Such an understanding should include an agreement free of any loopholes including that the NPT remains in force during wartime. It should be discussed during the upcoming 1998 NPT PrepCom meeting and be reached at the NPT Review Conference in the year 2000.

Britain and France should be prepared to commit themselves to participate in negotiations with the other nuclear powers on the principles of future reductions to all nuclear stockpiles as soon as possible.

Background: Steps towards a Nuclear European Union

"Concerted Deterrence aims to lay the foundation for a system in which each nation accepts real responsibility for the security of all - not a system in which a nuclear power or powers might exploit other nations in exchange for protection."

During the Cold War, creating an independent European defense was prevented by the political dominance of NATO. Since 1989 some states have revived attempts to give the European Union a defence dimension, including talks about the role of nuclear weapons in this context. France is the driving force behind these attempts, trying to bring other players, especially Germany and the United Kingdom, on board.

French politicians have repeatedly talked about the possibility of putting the "Force de Frappe" in a European context. In 1992, then French President Francois Mitterand reopened the debate about the future of French nuclear forces by asking in his New Year Address the question: "Only two of the twelve have nuclear forces. For their national policies they have a clear doctrine. Is it possible to conceive a European one?"

The subject was put to rest for a while, then raised again by then French Prime Minister Alain Juppé in September 1995. Juppé went one step further, suggesting to talk about a concept that he called "concerted deterrence". What exactly this would entail remained unclear. Juppé insisted that he wanted to put nuclear weapons on the European political agenda, based on "a dialogue between equal partners, on a subject which concerns their common future. (...) In a world where nuclear weapons will continue to play a necessary role, even if only because of already existing arsenals, this engagement [that Germany will remain non-nuclear] makes the need to guarantee German security even more important." Juppé was supported by French President Chirac, who in August 1995 had said: "As it builds its defence, the European Union might wish the French deterrent to play a role in its security."

These attempts to move ahead with the integration of nuclear weapons into the European context are not only rhetorical. Since 1992, the two European nuclear weapon states, France and the United Kingdom, have been cooperating on nuclear weapons matters in the "Anglo-French Joint Commission on Nuclear Policy". The purpose of Anglo-French nuclear cooperation is to "mutually strengthen deterrence, while retaining independence of our nuclear forces." The basis for expanding this cooperation is clear: "We do not see situations arising in which the vital interests of either France or the United Kingdom could be threatened without the vital interest of the other also being threatened." Harmonizing their nuclear doctrines clearly is within the scope of the nuclear consultations underway between France and Great Britain.

Cooperation between the British Atomic Weapons Establishments and their French counterparts has become quite intense. From November 1992 to October 1996 French officials from the Delegation Generale pour L'Armament have visited British nuclear weapons research facilities on 28 occasions. British representatives of the MoD and the Atomic Weapons Establishment have visited France 59 times from 1991-96.

Without Germany it will be impossible to create a European Defense Policy. Thus, Germany as a non-nuclear weapon state has to be brought into talks on the future of nuclear weapons in European security. Germany has participated for a long time in NATO nuclear sharing arrangements but has thus far has been reluctant to seize the initiative in promoting parallel European arrangements. At the same time it has been very careful to not foreclose any option. Officially Germany has not yet started an independent dialogue with its European partners on the role of nuclear weapons in European defense. This is bound to change. In December 1996, the German and French governments announced that they are "ready to engage in a dialogue on the role of nuclear deterrence in the context of the European Defense Policy". By March 1997 the nature and scope as well as the practical arrangements for this dialogue still had to be worked out.

Since both the ongoing British-Franco talks as well as the upcoming Franco-German consultations seem to intentionally have a very low public profile, they can be easily used to early explore the ground for a consensus among the major European nations on the future role of nuclear weapons in European security.

In March 1997 France and Germany - with the support of Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain - made another attempt to speed up the process of creating a European Security and Defense Policy. The governments proposed in the IGC-process to step by step integrate the WEU into the EU, including in the final step of integrating Art. V of the WEU-treaty ("collective defense") into the Treaty on the European Union. Such a step would clearly raise questions about nuclear guarantees of France and Britain for the other EU-states.

2. The political debate within the EU

Before a nuclear dimension for the EU will be discussed, further progress in developing the CFSP into a common defense has to be made. Such progress is unlikely during the current IGC summit because the political divisions on the future of European defense cooperation are too deep. The Scandinavian countries, Austria and Ireland have been at the forefront of limiting the CFSP to "civilian" means. At the most, they want to include the "Petersburg tasks" (i.e. peace-keeping, humanitarian missions, and crisis management) into the foreign and security policy of the EU. A common defense (policy), including nuclear weapons from their perspective is out of the scope. Sweden states: "The issue of a nuclear component of the CFSP is not being discussed at the IGC. Such a step would not be compatible with the Swedish policy of non-participation in military alliances, which precludes participation in a common territorial defence or military security guarantees." Denmark's Foreign Minister, Neils Helveg Petersen, therefore notes: "I don't think it's healthy for Europe to be part of a nuclear military dimension." While thus the Amsterdam EU-summit is not expected to develop consensus based on the Franco-German proposal, both countries might find it satisfactory, if language supporting their common goal of strengthening the EU members' commitment to finally develop a common defense will be introduced into the new TEU.

Opposition, however, does not prevent the nuclear weapon states from exploring the ground for deeper cooperation among EU-countries in nuclear weapon matters. These attempts are met with interest by parts of the elite of other European countries. The political elite in Germany, for instance, is divided over the issue of a European nuclear dimension. Some politicians saw the French offers of fall 1995 as an opportunity to speed up the process of European defense integration. Karl Lamers, one of the leading foreign policy experts of the ruling Christian Democrats, said in parliamentary debate: "We can say: We don't want the nuclear. Or we say: We want to participate in nuclear arrangements. The former (...) would certainly have no prospects for success. If it has no prospects for success than it is logical and imperative to say: We have to talk to each other about the role of the nuclear. (...) The degree of say in French nuclear strategy could be modeled after the nuclear sharing that Germany and other NATO-countries have. I think, in a world such as the one we have today we cannot really (...) abandon the nuclear. About everything else we are talking with the French first behind closed doors and only then publicly."

With the new Labour government the British position on European integration might change. Labour has been more pro-European than the conservative administration. This could result in a higher affinity towards a European defence dimension, which finally might even include a nuclear dimension. These intra-European political hurdles will not be overcome any time soon, but they will also not prohibit the proponents of the creation a European defense from taking further steps towards the final goal of integrating French and British nuclear weapons into a European context. Would such a step be legal?

European Nuclear Weapons and the Nonproliferation Treaty

The legal constraints on "Europeanizing" French and British nuclear forces are closely linked to the specific degree of cooperation in nuclear weapons policies. The main reason for this is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which all EU-states are members. The main purpose of the treaty is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five declared nuclear weapon states. Under Art. I the NWS are obliged "not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive or control over such weapons or devices directly, or indirectly". The NNWS are obliged under Art. II "not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly."

At a first glance, sharing control between nuclear and non-nuclear European states seems to be illegal under the NPT. In 1968, at the time of the signing of the NPT, the possibility of Europe eventually becoming one state was already considered. The assumption was, that it would be legal for a truly federated European state to inherit the French and British nuclear weapons. Then US-Secretary of State Dean Rusk formulated this unilateral interpretation of the NPT in a letter, which was made public on July 9, 1968:

"It [the NPT] does not deal with the problem of European unity, and would not bar succession by a newly federated European state to the nuclear status of one its former components. A new federated European state would have to control all of its external security functions including defense and all foreign policy matters relating to external security, but would not have to be so centralized as to assume all governmental functions. While not dealing with succession by such a federated state, the treaty would bar transfer of nuclear weapons (including ownership) or control over them to any recipient, including a multilateral entity."

Some European countries went even further by depositing reservations or declarations more general and far-reaching in wording. The Italian government stated that it signed the NPT,

"in the firm believe that nothing in it is an obstacle to the unification of the Countries of Western Europe and to the justified expectations that the peoples of this area have in the developments and progress towards unity with a view to the creation of a European entity."

Germany upon ratification stated

"that no provision of the Treaty may be interpreted in such a way as to hamper the further development of European unification, especially the creation of a European Union with appropriate competence."

Even if the European Union might legally inherit French and British nuclear weapons once the nuclear weapons states in Europe cease to exist, a much more practical question remains in the midterm: How could the European Union states reach this goal without violating the NPT? Obviously, the possibility of nuclear weapons control being switched from one day to the other from national control to a European Integrated Command is rather remote. Intermediate steps are necessary, including different shared command and control arrangements. The evolution of a European nuclear sharing arrangement, for instance, could happen in several steps, including de facto deterrence, concerted deterrence, extended and shared deterrence, and common deterrence. Any such steps clearly could violate the NPT, however, since they would include some form of nuclear sharing arrangement. This fact has been recognized by the then-conservative British government. "Our view, therefore is that the NPT bars the transfer of nuclear weapons or control over them to any other sort of recipient, including a multilateral entity." The "establishment of a European nuclear force would therefore entail a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty" (...) "unless the nuclear weapons states were cease to exist".

Proponents of European nuclear weapons argue that nuclear sharing arrangements modeled after NATO could be used. This would not violate the NPT. The argument is wrong for two reasons. First, the conformity of the NATO-arrangements with the NPT was and still is a controversial topic. During the negotiations leading up to the Treaty, definitions of "transfer of weapons or control over them" were among the most contested subjects. During negotiations about the NPT several states expressed their concerns that handing over nuclear weapons to multilateral institutions could be a loophole that could undermine the whole non-proliferation regime. Consequently, NNWS that are members to the NPT have repeatedly raised the question how these arrangements can be justified under the existing treaty. The problem was never settled. Second, nuclear sharing in the European Union context would even more easily contradict the NPT, since neither all EU nor all WEU-member states have deposited reservations or publicly made unilateral interpretations to the effect of the contents of the Rusk-letter. Thus they could not argue, that a system of European nuclear sharing might be allowed under the NPT.

More important than this ongoing discussion about a violation of the letter of the NPT are the political effects that such a development would have on the regime. "Europeanizing" nuclear weapons - and even substantive discussions about such a possibility - would undermine the NPT. Creating a nuclear-armed EU contradicts the spirit of treaty, which after all was designed to constrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Increasing the number of countries having some kind of (shared) command and control over nuclear weapons during the transitional phases to a European Union being the successor state to the current European nations thus would risk to destroy the non-proliferation regime. NNWS would (understandably) argue that this is extending nuclear "privileges".

Some nations are already voicing concerns. For instance during the 1997 NPT PrepCom meeting, the South African representative stated his country's concern "about the non-proliferation implications of the plans for the expansion of NATO and the proposals which have been made for a dialogue in Europe on the future role of nuclear deterrence in the context of the European Defence Policy."

What needs to be done

Following the indefinite extension of the NPT in May 1995 pressure on the NWS have risen. In July 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that the use and threat or use of nuclear weapons is "contrary to the rules of international law", except "in an extreme circumstance self-defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake." It unanimously stated: "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international controls." Just one month later, the Canberra Commission, a high-level international advisory committee came to the conclusion that total elimination of nuclear weapons would improve international security. In December 1996 a group of more than 60 retired generals from 17 countries publicly argued along the same lines and called for immediate large cuts in existing nuclear stockpiles. Conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in September 1996 was another positive sign in that direction.

Any serious consideration about the possibility of integrating French and British nuclear weapons is likely to re-legitimate nuclear weapons. This would clearly be perceived as a wrong signal. Instead the members of the European Union while discussing the development of a common defense policy could consider sending a very different message: European Unification could be described as a chance to jointly demonstrate that nuclear weapons are no prerequisite for an emerging global player.


1 Assembly of Western European Union: "The role and future of nuclear weapons", Fortieth ordinary session (First part), Document 1420 (Submitted on behalf of the Defence Committee by Mr. De Decker, Rapporteur), 19th May 1994, p. 35.

2 Statement by the Permanent Representative of South Africa, Ambassador K.J. Jele to the First Preparatory Committee Meeting for the Year 2000 Review Conference of The Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons, 08 April 1997, New York, pp 2-3

3 Fricaud-Chagnaud, Gen. G.C. (ret.): "Eurobomb? Non. Eurodeterrence? Oui", in: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 1996, pp. 3, 60, p. 60.

4 Quoted in Martin Butcher: "Nuclear Weapons in the European Union", Center for European Security and Disarmament: Issues in European Security No. 5, May 1996, p. 7.

5 Quoted in Martin Butcher: "Nuclear Weapons in the European Union", Centre for European Security and Disarmament: Issues in European Security No. 5, May 1996, p. 6.

6 "British-French Joint Statement on Nuclear Cooperation", UK-French Summit, 29-30 October 1995.

7 House of Commons, Thursday 23, January 1997.

8 "Franco-German Defense and Security Concept", Nuremberg, December 9, 1996.

9 cf. Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, Der Parlamentarische Staatssekretär, Kleine Anfrage der Abg. Beer u.a. und der Fraktion Bündnis 90/Die Grünen "Die Zukunft der britischen und französischen Nuklearstreitkräfte und ihre Rolle im Kontext der Europäischen Verteidigungspolitik, Bonn, 14.3.97

10 "Document on Article J.4 to the Treaty on European Union", submitted by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain to the IGC, March 1997.

11 Letter of the Swedish Embassy, Bonn to Dr. Harald Bauer, BITS, November 17, 1996.

12 Christopher Lockwood: "EC spurs France's nuclear arms offer", Sunday Telegraph, 10 September 1996.

13 Cited in Deutscher Bundestag, 59. Sitzung, 29. September 1995, Plenarprotokoll 13/59, S. 4985, translation by the authors.

14 Quoted in "Nonproliferation Treaty", Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, Executive H, 90-2, July 10, 11, 12 and 17, 1968, pp. 262-3.

15 Database on Treaties, UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs Homepage

16 For an elaboration of these terms see European Parliament, Directorate-General for Research: "Nuclear Weapons and European Defence Identity", (Author: André Dumoulin, GRIP). Brussels: Working Document, Political Series W-22, March 1996, pp. 99-100.

17 Letter of the British Embassy, Bonn to Dr. Harald Bauer, BITS, 25 November 1996, emphasis in the original.

18 Letter of the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union to Martin Butcher, CESD, Brussels 26.1.1996

19 For a more detailed description of the argument: ASPR-BASIC-BITS-CESD: "NATO Nuclear Sharing and the NPT - Questions to be Answered", Schlaining/ London/ Washington/ Berlin/ Brussels: PENN Reserach Note 97.3, June 1997.

20 For example the representative of one non-nuclear weapon state representative pointed out that "he wondered whether the representative of the Netherlands had spoken as a nuclear weapon or as a non-nuclear-weapon state." Quoted in "Extending the Nuclear Umbrella: Undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty", BASIC-BITS Research Note 97.2, February 1997, p. 3.

21 Statement by the Permanent Representative of South Africa, Ambassador K.J. Jele to the First Preparatory Committee Meeting for the Year 2000 Review Conference of The Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons, 08 April 1997, New York. See also BASIC, Press Release, 8 April 1997.

22 International Court of Justice, Communiqué No. 96/23, 8 July 1996, p. 2.

23 International Court of Justice, Press Release 96/23, 8.7.1996

24 Canberra Commission: "Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons", August 1996.

25 "Statement on Nuclear Weapons by International Generals and Admirals", Washington, D.C., October 6, 1996.

This research note was written by:

Martin Butcher, Director of the Center for European Security and Disarmament,

Nicola Butler, Analyst, British American Security Information Council,

Oliver Meier, Senior Analyst, Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security,

Otfried Nassauer, Director, Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security,

Dan Plesch, Director, British American Security Information Council,

Georg Schöfbänker, Researcher, Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Research (ASPR) and

Stephen Young, Senior Analyst, British American Security Information Council

Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Research (ASPR),

Burg Schlaining, A-7461 Stadtschlaining, ph +43 33552498, fax 33 55 2662

Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS),

Rykestr. 13, D-10405 Berlin, ph +49 30 442-6042, fax +49 30 4410-221

British American Security Information Council (BASIC)

Carrara House, 20 Embankment Pl., London, WC2N 6NN, ph +44 171 925-0862, fax 44 171 925-0861

1900 L-Street N.W. Suite 401, Washington DC 20036, ph +1 202 7851266, fax +1 202 3876298

Centre for European Security and Disarmament (CESD),

Rue Stévin 115, B-1000 Brussels, ph +322 230 0732, fax +322 230 2467

BITS is co-ordinating the "Project on European Nuclear Non-Proliferation" (PENN),
an international network of organisations and individuals working on European nuclear weapons. PENN is supported by the W. Alton Jones Foundation. PENN has been set up:

  • to monitor official discussions about the future of nuclear weapons in Europe and to help making them more transparent
  • to publish analysis of and political commentaries on these developments
  • to create political hurdles against developments, which might lead to a nuclear armed European Union
  • to raise important political questions and to point out problems such as the NPT compatibility of creating an Independent European Nuclear Force and to highlight risks associated
  • to promote further steps of nuclear disarmament in Europe and the European Union finally becoming a non-nuclear member to the NPT.


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