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What to Do About Europe's Secret Nukes
Is Italy capable of delivering a thermonuclear strike? Could the Belgians and the Dutch drop hydrogen bombs on enemy targets? And what about Germany — a country where fear of atomkraft is so great that the last government opposed all civilian nuclear power? Germany's air force couldn't possibly be training to deliver bombs 13 times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, could it?
It is Europe's dirty secret that the list of nuclear-capable countries extends beyond those — Britain and France — who have built their own weapons. Nuclear bombs are stored on air-force bases in Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands — and planes from each of those countries are capable of delivering them. The Federation of American Scientists believes that there are some 200 B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs scattered across these four countries. Under a NATO agreement struck during the Cold War, the bombs, which are technically owned by the U.S., can be transferred to the control of a host nation's air force in times of conflict. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dutch, Belgian, Italian and German pilots remain ready to engage in nuclear war.
These weapons are more than an anachronism or historical oddity. They are a violation of the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — the 1968 agreement governing nuclear weapons that acts as one of the linchpins of global security by providing a legal restraint on the nuclear ambitions of rogue states. Because "nuclear burden-sharing," as the dispersion of B61s in Europe is called, was set up before the NPT came into force, it is technically legal. But as signatories to the NPT, the four European countries and the U.S. have pledged "not to receive the transfer ... of nuclear weapons or control over such weapons directly, or indirectly." That, of course, is precisely what the long-standing NATO arrangement entails. Read more.