Defending Nukes

Walter Pincus writes for the Washington Post today:

Most overseas storage sites for U.S. nuclear weapons, particularly in Europe, need substantial improvements in physical security measures and the personnel who guard the weapons, according to a newly available Air Force report.

I bet many Post readers saw that and wondered why in the world the United States still has nuclear weapons in Europe. The answer is no good reason. In the Cold War, some US war planners worried about being overrun by numerically superior Soviet forces and wanted to use tactical nuclear weapons to slow a Soviet invasion or deter it from occurring. The sense of this at the time was questionable, given the difficulty of limiting the exchange. Now there is no strategic justification for placing these forces in Europe – unless it’s to trade to Russia for reductions in their own tactical nuclear weapons arsenal, where security is more worrisome. But tactical nuclear weapons were absent from the Moscow Treaty on nuclear arsenals that the US and Russia negotiated in 2002, and no agreements have occurred since then.

The nukes in question are reportedly all relatively small B-61 bombs designed for delivery by F-16s. The disposition of our tactical nukes in Europe is secret, but according to this report from the Federation of American Scientists, we recently removed all nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom, leaving 150-240 nuclear bombs scattered at six bases, some European run, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey.

All this gets to the absurdity of US nuclear weapons force posture – the maintenance of the famous Triad, which was always more a logroll among military communities in the Air Force and Navy than a strategic imperative. The US gets all the survivable firepower it needs, and then some, from our 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines. Today, the need for land-based nuclear missiles is questionable. The case for nuclear bombs delivered by aircraft is hard to articulate, let alone believe, especially when they are deployed to defend rich nations capable of defending themselves from a state, Russia, that is no longer our enemy.