BASIC-BITS Research Report 98.5
ISBN: 1 874533 35 0

Nuclear Futures

Western European options for nuclear risk reduction

Martin Butscher, Otfried Nassauer & Stephen Young

This report is also available as a PDF-File


About the authors:
Martin Butcher is the Director of the Centre for European Security and Disarmament (CESD), a Brussels-based non-governmental organization. Currently, he is a Visiting Fellow at BASIC’s Washington office. Otfried Nassauer is the Director of the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS). Stephen Young is a Senior Analyst as BASIC. Previously, he worked for 20/20 Vision and for ACCESS: A Security Information Service. He has a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University, and a BA from Carleton College.

The authors would like to thank the many people who pro-vided help of various kinds during the writing of this report. They include: Nicola Butler, for her inestimable assistance; Ambassador James Leonard, for his helpful comments on the report’s recommendations; Professors Paul Rogers and Patricia Chilton, for their comments on early drafts; Daniel Plesch, for his comments on the entire report; and Camille Grand, for his guidance and support in compiling the section on France. Special thanks to Lucy Amis and Tanya Padberg for excellent proofing and copy-editing work, and to Christine Kucia and Kate Joseph for advice and assistance on the layout and design of the report.

This report was made possible by the generous support of W. Alton Jones Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New-Land Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.



          1.1.  Outline
          1.2.  Decision Points
          1.3.  Cracks in the Foundation?


          2.1.  Nuclear Posture

          2.2.  Nuclear Doctrine

          2.3.  Alert Status

          2.4.  Fissile Materials

          2.5.  New Labour in Goverment

          2.6.  Labour Party Policies and the strategic defence review

          2.7.  UK Stance on Disarment at the UN

          2.8.  Conclusion


          3.1. French Nuclear Weapons Doctrine

          3.2. Shifting Defence Priorities and Resources

          3.3. French Nuclear Forces

          3.4. A European Nuclear Deterrent?

          3.5. Concerted Deterrence

          3.6. Involving the Germans


          4.1 US-UK Nuclear Co-operation

          4.2 Ongoing US-UK Co-operation

          4.3 UK-French Nuclear Co-operation

          4.4 Ongoing UK-French Co-operation

          4.5 Co-operation Between UK and French Nuclear Weapons Laboratories

          4.6 US-French Co-operation

          4.7 Current Projects

          4.8 Conclusion


          5.1 US Nuclear Deployments in Europe

          5.2 NATO: Nuclear Weapons for Non-Nuclear-Weapon States
          5.3 The Effects of NATO Enlargement
          5.4 Current NATO Nuclear Doctrine
          5.5 NATO’s Future Nuclear Doctrine
          5.6 US Perspectives on NATO Nuclear Strategy
          5.7 European Perspectives on NATO Nuclear Weapons
          5.8 Perspectives on NATO’s Nuclear Posture

          5.9 Conclusion



6.1 Commit to and Take Programmatic Action Toward the Rapid Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
6.2 Reduce the Alert Status of Nuclear Weapons
6.3 End the Deployment of Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Give Up the Option of Wartime Nuclear Weapons Use by Non-Nuclear-Weapon States
6.4 Halt First-Use Policies by France, the UK, and NATO
6.5 Include Commitments by France and the UK on the Future of their Nuclear Arsenals in the START III Context
6.6 Initiate a European Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme



Executive Summary:
The recent German-US debate over NATO's policy allowing first-use of nuclear weapons highlights a growing split between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states in the Alliance. Despite this split, the political value attached to nuclear weapons in European security remains high. NATO still describes nuclear weapons as the "supreme guarantee" of Alliance security. While the number of nuclear weapons in Europe has declined, the nuclear actors in Western Europe - France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and NATO - have not yet changed their doctrines to reflect the new security environment. At the same time, there is
no military threat to the continent and NATO's conventional military capabilities far outweigh any potential enemy. Western Europe nations should pursue a risk reduction approach, decreasing the political and military value attached to nuclear weapons.

Upcoming decision points - updating NATO's strategic concept, due to be completed in 1999, and the 2000 Review Conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - are key in determining what path Western Europe will take. Germany and Canada have called for a renewed discussion on the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy. Germany announced that it will raise the issue in NATO Ministerial meetings.

Under the previous Conservative government, the UK reduced its arsenal to one nuclear system: the Trident missile deployed on Trident nuclear submarines. When it came to power, the Labour government undertook a Strategic Defence Review that made substantial but not dramatic changes in Britain's nuclear posture, including reducing the number of warheads on Trident missiles. However, Labour has abandoned its traditional support for unilateral disarmament, and seems unlikely to implement other positions it has recently endorsed, including no-first-use of nuclear weapons. To date, other than an increased transparency, Labour policies have shown little change from their Conservative predecessors. (See Chapter Two, p. 10.)

France is simultaneously reducing its nuclear arsenal and implementing major upgrades to its remaining systems. Strongly condemned for its 1995-1996 series of nuclear tests, France has endeavoured to improve its international standing. Its support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a positive sign; its proposal to create a European nuclear deterrent was less well received. (See Chapter Three, p. 17.)

Nuclear co-operation between France, the United States, and the United Kingdom is increasing. France and the UK initiated new bilateral working groups on nuclear issues, and France and the US recently signed an agreement increasing their co-operation. Without nuclear testing, stockpile stewardship will lead to even closer co-operation. (See Chapter Four, p. 24.)

NATO has sharply reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Western Europe. However, its doctrine is moving towards using nuclear weapons to counter the proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction. The US is pushing NATO to include out-of-area threats and "nonstate actors", such as terrorist groups, as targets for nuclear weapons. (See Chapter Five, p. 30.)

However, current policies are harmful to Western security in several ways. First, they are an incentive to proliferators to acquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. As demonstrated by the Gulf War, Western conventional superiority provides the capability to overcome any potential threat. Second, rather than serving as a hedge against a Russian resurgence, reliance on nuclear weapons increases the likelihood of a renewed threat. Third, the status conferred to nuclear-weapon states was a major factor in the Indian decision to develop its arsenal; Pakistan felt compelled to follow suit. Fourth, the refusal to pursue nuclear disarmament, as agreed in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is leading more and more nations to question the value of that regime.

Western European nations should undertake six steps to reduce the risks associated with nuclear weapons and to preserve the NPT. These are: 

1. Commit to and take programmatic action towards the rapid elimination of nuclear weapons;
2. Reduce the alert status of nuclear weapons;
3. End the deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons and give up the option of wartime nuclear weapons use by non-nuclear-weapon states;
4. Halt first-use policies by France, the UK, and NATO;
5. Include commitments by France and the UK on the future of their nuclear arsenals in the START III context;
6. Initiate a European Co-operative Threat Reduction Programme.

These steps outline a comprehensive nuclear risk reduction strategy for Western Europe. They are also important to safeguard and strengthen the NPT. The list begins with the most important and broadest steps, and proceeds to less far-reaching initiatives. Most importantly, the last five steps would all follow from a sincere undertaking of the first. (See Chapter Six, p. 38.)

The six steps closely correspond to many of the crucial provisions in the New Agenda Coalition's June 1998 declaration and 1998 UN First Committee resolution. That resolution (see Chapter1.3, p. 8, for a description) exposed a growing debate in NATO over the Alliance's nuclear doctrine. That debate, between the nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, may be exposed during the discussions over the Alliance's Strategic Concept (see Chapters 5.5-5.7, pp. 36-37).

Not included in the list are the traditional, yet important, items on the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. These include further progress on the bilateral START process, ratification and entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and agreement on a fissile material production cut-off treaty at the Conference on Disarmament. Russian ratification of START II, which may take place as this report goes to press, could end the current impasse in bilateral disarmament. For the CTBT and the fissile cut-off, although the vast majority of states endorse both goals, each requires substantial progress before it is fully realised. Although each of these three steps is significant, none fully address the implications of the end of the Cold War. To strengthen the international non-proliferation regime and to revitalise the disarmament process, new steps must be taken.

The six steps discussed here focus on options for Western Europe, rather than for all states or all nuclear-weapon states. Because of the general international focus on US-Russian disarmament, too little attention is paid to the contribution Western Europe can make. That contribution could be substantial; through direct disarmament and non-proliferation measures by European states, through consultations with and lobbying of the US, and through initiatives to create a more sustainable security policy. The six steps described in this report are critical to strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, advancing disarmament, and creating a new security environment that will allow further progress.

1. Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Policy in Western Europe

Western European nations and institutions should undertake a comprehensive review of how to reduce and eliminate the risks associated with nuclear weapons. Elements of this review have already begun, with the announcement by German officials that it would raise nuclear strategy issues in NATO. The review should both strengthen the non-proliferation regime and speed the disarmament process.

The May 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan returned nuclear weapons to the forefront of international security concerns. The full impact of the tests has not been realised by the international community. Even before India tested, the changes in Europe's security structure demanded a new look at nuclear weapons. The Cold War ended. The Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union dissolved. Russia now works with NATO in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty substantially reduced the level of heavy armaments spread across the continent, while NATO's Partnership
for Peace programme initiated military co-operation and transparency throughout and beyond Europe. The biggest exceptions to the generally improved security atmosphere have been the minimal changes in nuclear doctrine, in both NATO and Russia, and the continued Russian resentment over NATO expansion. This paper will focus on the former issue.

The size of the nuclear arsenal in Europe has decreased dramatically. On NATO's side, the deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons declined from about 7,000 to 180 or less. Within the Alliance, the US withdrew all its nuclear weapons from the army and from naval surface forces, leaving only gravity bombs in Europe. Following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, Russia withdrew thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from Central and Eastern Europe back to its own territory. Many of the weapons are now stored centrally and await dismantlement. The UK retired its air-based nuclear systems and relies only on nuclear missile submarines. France dismantled its land-based nuclear-armed missiles. These changes have substantially reduced the nuclear threat to Europe, making deliberate all-out nuclear war almost inconceivable.

However, nuclear doctrine has not changed to match the reduced arsenal. NATO, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States still rely on a policy allowing first-use of nuclear weapons. As part of its interim military doctrine, in 1993 Russia adopted the same policy. It later conducted the first exercise in which Russian forces relied on the first-use of nuclear weapons. Western policy changes have focused on increasing the flexibility of nuclear arsenals and employment doctrine. The US plans to use nuclear weapons to counter the perceived threat from chemical or biological weapons, and considers using the atom bomb against "non-state actors". (See Chapter 5.7 on p.36, below). It is also pushing NATO to agree a similar policy. (See Chapter 5.6 on p.35). In this context, NATO is discussing "out of area" nuclear use.

Western Europe must address the policy implications of the end of the Cold War and the nuclear tests in South Asia. Changes are needed in NATO policy, in the EU, and in individual governments, particularly France and the United Kingdom. Changes in doctrine should reflect or exceed the dramatic reductions in the size of Western Europe's nuclear arsenal.

The basis of the changes as Western Europe moves towards nuclear disarmament should be a strategy of risk reduction. As stated by a growing number of former military leaders, including General George Lee Butler, USAF (Ret), head of US strategic nuclear forces from 1991-1994, the risks of retaining nuclear weapons are greater than the risks of eliminating them.

A vital component of this risk reduction strategy must be a strategy for dealing with obvious danger scenarios. Iraq provides a classic example. It pursued nuclear weapons in a secret and massive program despite international inspections. Yet, in the Gulf War, facing the potential nuclear threat from Iraq, US General Colin Powell made clear that the use of nuclear weapons was rejected because no suitable role for them could be found.

Even further, scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons by the West to respond to threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) may exist, but they do not constitute "worst cases". The worst case scenario is one in which, for political, environmental, economic, or humanitarian reasons, nuclear weapons cannot be used to respond to a real threat. The West should consider how its
attachment to nuclear weapons hinders the development of other military and especially political mechanisms that can effectively limit the proliferation of WMD and reduce these threats.


1.1. Outline

This report has two sections. The first provides an in-depth description of the status of nuclear doctrine and arsenals in France, the United Kingdom, and NATO. A detailed summary of current nuclear co-operation between France, the United Kingdom, and the United States is also provided. Changes since the end of the Cold War, along with information on new governments' future policies and plans, are highlighted.

The second section focuses on recommendations for action. These recommendations outline a comprehensive strategy of nuclear risk reduction for Western Europe. Steps include committing to elimination, de-alerting nuclear forces, ending deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, undertaking no-first-use policies, British and French commitments linked to START III, and initiating a European Co-operative Threat Reduction programme.

1.2. Decision Points

For Western Europe, NATO and the NPT are the two critical forums for discussion and action on nuclear issues. Each arena is at a critical stage. Following a commitment made in the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1996 and a decision taken at the 1997 Madrid Summit, NATO is in the process of revising its Strategic Concept, the guiding political vision for the Alliance. NATO is expected to approve the new version at the Alliance's April 1999 Summit in Washington. The 1995 decision to make the NPT permanent was dependent on agreeing a new review process that is still developing. The 2000 Review Conference will substantially determine the success of the new process. Within these two processes, the future role of nuclear weapons in European security will be decided.


1.3. Cracks in the Foundation?

The traditional Western consensus on nuclear issues has held up well, even in the post-Cold War era. However, there are signs that this consensus could be evolving or breaking up. The previous Australian government mandated the prestigious Canberra Commission's report on the elimination of nuclear weapons, which recommended immediate steps towards elimination.1 The US National Academy of Sciences' Committee on International Security and Arms Control's report The Future of US Nuclear Weapons Policy also called for dramatic reductions in nuclear posture.2 On 8 July 1996, the International Court of Justice released an advisory opinion, which stated that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal.3 Partly because of that opinion, the Canadian parliament is undertaking an in-depth evaluation of the role of nuclear weapons in its security policy.

There are changes in Western Europe as well. After nearly two decades of Conservative rule, the Labour Party took power in the UK in 1997. Although the Labour Party abandoned its support for unilateral disarmament, once in government it implemented a Strategic Defence Review that recommended significant (but far from dramatic) changes in British nuclear posture and policy. France eliminated its small land-based nuclear arsenal, and together with the UK, deposited its instruments of ratification to the CTBT, the first nuclear-weapon states to do so.

Social Democrats and Greens won the Federal elections in Germany in 1998, and Social Democratic-led coalitions now govern the four biggest European NATO members. The new German government has stated that it would like to see a discussion of nuclear policy in NATO, including the Alliance's doctrine allowing first-use of nuclear weapons. (See Chapter 6.4 on p. 46 below.)

The EU recently circulated a memorandum at the UN General Assembly, recommending further nuclear disarmament steps. Within the EU, some states, in particular Ireland, Sweden, and Austria, have been more pro-active in calling for further steps to advance nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The New Agenda Coalition

In June 1998, Ireland led a group of eight states, comprised of Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zeland, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden, which issued a declaration calling for immediate progress on nuclear disarmament.

At the 1998 UN General Assembly's First Committee on disarmament, Ireland, Sweden, and 32 other states, introduced a resolution following on from the June 1998 eight-nation declaration. The resolution called on the nuclear-weapon states

to demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to the speedy and total elimination of their respective nuclear weapons and without delay to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to the elimination of these weapons, thereby fulfilling their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).4

It also called for the integration of all five nuclear-weapon states into the nuclear disarmament process, for 'de-alerting' nuclear forces and for a forum at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to "deal with nuclear disarmament". (See Chapter 6.2 on p.42 below on de-alerting, and Chapter 6.1 on p.39 on the CD.) Significantly, the June declaration's call for an end to nuclear first-use policies was replaced by a call for "measures to enhance strategic stability", including a review of strategic doctrines. This last point was a clear reference to NATO's review of its Strategic Concept. Dropping the no-first-use call was an effort to draw support from Alliance countries, as NATO policy still retains the option of first-use. (See Chapter 4 on p.24 below.)

That effort was successful. The three Western nuclear-weapon states lobbied heavily against the resolution, pushing NATO members in particular to vote "no". Despite this pressure, every non-nuclear-weapon state in NATO except Turkey abstained. Most of the 19 states that voted against the resolution were either nuclear-weapon states (except China, which abstained), new NATO members, or states applying to become NATO members. This vote clearly indicates a growing divide between the nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states within NATO on nuclear disarmament.

These developments, however, only begin to address the full implications of the end of the Cold War. This report outlines a variety of steps that Western European countries and institutions should take to reduce the risks associated with nuclear weapons. As the world approaches the new millennium, it is time to develop an international security regime that does not rely on weapons that can end the new era before it begins.


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