From Micah Zenko, the Council on Foreign Relations: When NATO leaders gather in Lisbon this weekend to endorse the alliance’s new Strategic Concept, the most contentious component will be the role assigned to U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
The Obama administration (incorrectly) claims that America’s nuclear umbrella over NATO requires tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, and (justly) asserts that reductions in U.S. bombs in Europe must be matched by limitations of Russia’s vastly larger tactical nuclear arsenal.
In squaring these positions, the United States should bring home its two hundred nuclear weapons from Europe.
America’s tactical nuclear umbrella over NATO is no longer vital to European security. In fact, it is operationally irrelevant. And nuclear weapons are useless in defending NATO from plausible current threats–such as attacks on military or civilian infrastructure from terrorist groups, limited probes like the Russia-Georgia border clash in 2008, and cyberattacks such as those Estonia suffered in 2007.
Moreover, America’s commitment to protect its allies is already provided by long-range–or "strategic"–nuclear capabilities, conventional firepower, and missile defenses. Assuming the New START Treaty enters into force, the United States will retain a deterrent of 1,550 bombs on a nuclear triad of 420 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 60 long-range bombers, and 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Micah Zenko is a Fellow for Conflict Prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations. (photo: NATO)