Europe increasingly uneasy with U.S. nukes on its soil
BY TOD ROBBERSON
The Dallas Morning NewsLONDON
The Cold War may have ended 15 years ago, but some of its most destructive relics - hundreds of American nuclear bombs - are still deployed around Europe despite growing opposition by European lawmakers.
Conservative and liberal members of parliaments in Germany, Norway, Britain and Belgium are pressing their governments to explain the presence of nuclear weapons in Europe when, they argue, there is no apparent threat on the horizon to justify a nuclear attack.
Their calls for the removal of an estimated 480 American air-launched nuclear gravity bombs adds yet another element of division to the already fractured U.S.-European military alliance. Largely as a result of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Europeans have pressed their governments to adopt tougher positions to keep American military power in check.
Apart from the independent nuclear arsenals of France and Britain, the United States maintains nuclear stockpiles around Europe as part of its obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has said the weapons will remain in Europe until host governments request otherwise.
More and more, European legislators are saying that request is overdue.
The continent is at peace with Russia, legislatures have noted in resolutions opposing the continued U.S. nuclear presence.
Europe is too far away to be threatened by rogue states on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, such as North Korea or Iran. And even the United States recognizes that nuclear weapons are not a deterrent to terrorists, who pose the most immediate threat.
"The Cold War is over. There is no conceivable threat to us from the Soviet Union or the (post-Soviet) Commonwealth of Independent States. The need is gone," said Paul Flynn, a member of Parliament in British Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labor Party.
In a poll conducted in May by the German magazine Der Spiegel, an average of 77.5 percent of respondents from across the political spectrum favored a withdrawal of all remaining U.S. nuclear bombs based in Germany. According to the poll, 76 percent of respondents from the Christian Democratic Union - the party of Angela Merkel, the new chancellor who was sworn in Nov. 22 - supported the weapons' removal.
Merkel has not made any major pronouncements on the subject. The outgoing foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, stated shortly after the Spiegel poll was published: "There is a serious public debate on this issue, which calls for practical steps."
Lars Rise, a leading Norwegian member of Parliament from the ruling Christian Democratic Party, stated unequivocally in April, "We want the United States to remove its tactical nuclear weapons from the soil of other NATO countries."
In an opinion piece published in the Belgian daily Der Standaard in September, Diek van der Maelen, a senior member of Parliament from the Socialist Party, argued, "We do not want anything to do with" American nuclear weaponry. He suggested the continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons undercuts efforts by France, Britain and Germany to stop Iran from taking steps toward developing nuclear weapons.
"Europe must set the example and begin to remove nuclear weapons from the European continent," he wrote. "Only in this way can Europe argue for global nonproliferation with any credibility. Only in this way can Europe convince countries that want nuclear weapons to abandon such ideas."
In a statement, NATO noted that the United States has carried out huge reductions in its Europe-based nuclear arsenals since 1991 but sought to justify ongoing deployment at current levels.
"The fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces that remain is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion. They make the risks of aggression against NATO incalculable and unacceptable in a way that conventional forces alone cannot," the NATO statement said, making no mention of who that potential aggressor might be. "Together with an appropriate mix of conventional capabilities, they also create real uncertainty for any potential aggressor who might contemplate seeking political or military advantage through the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction against the alliance."
Earlier this year, the Belgian Senate overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the United States to withdraw all of its nuclear weapons from Europe. Last April, Norway's conservative Christian Democratic Party supported a call for all U.S. nuclear weapons to be withdrawn.
The German Parliament considered but deferred a similar resolution earlier this year.
France, Greece and Ukraine already have banned foreign nuclear deployments.
"It's one of those issues that'll reach a tipping point," said Ivan Oelrich, director of the security project at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. "It will seem as though it's not going anywhere ... but then it'll be a very rapid transition" to a full U.S. nuclear withdrawal.
He suggested that public pressure might have been greater in Europe if not for a misperception, shared by Americans, that U.S. nuclear forces were withdrawn when the Cold War ended.
"One of the big problems is that people simply don't realize that they (nuclear weapons) are there." He cited a University of Maryland poll two years ago that asked Americans how many nuclear weapons they believed the United States needed to guarantee its own security.
The average response was 100, Oelrich said.
"Then they asked (respondents) how many they thought the U.S. actually had. They answered 200. This was at a time when we were just shy of 7,000 nuclear weapons" in the U.S. arsenal, he added.
The exact quantities of U.S. nuclear weapons in any single location are secret. As of February, the U.S. was believed to keep around 480 nuclear bombs in Europe.
Oelrich said that in theory, the host nations have the right to deny the use of their territory for launching a nuclear strike, but in reality, it is unlikely the United States would seek permission if it faced a threat so imminent as to require a nuclear attack.
But it is exactly such a scenario - the unsanctioned use of European land for a U.S. nuclear attack on another country - that is causing legislators to oppose continued deployment.
At the same time, an ongoing yet unspoken fear of a Russian nuclear threat has helped to justify keeping the weapons in Europe, Oelrich explained.
"If you invited a military analyst down from Mars and had him look at our ... defense posture, our weapons deployment and our potential targets, there is absolutely nothing that comes close to justifying our force structure except a disarming first strike against Russia," he said.
Opponents say there also is a strong economic argument for scrapping the program, said Flynn, the British legislator.
Last month, he and two other Labor Party legislators confronted Blair over government plans to spend up to $55 billion redeveloping the submarine-launched Trident nuclear missile program jointly with the United States.
"It's the likelihood of going in reverse on what had been a very successful effort to get rid of nuclear weapons," Flynn said. "If we are going to convince other nations to de-nuclearize, then we lose our persuasive argument if we give the example of re-nuclearizing ourselves. It seems to be foolish, dangerous and a waste of money."
In Parliament, Flynn demanded assurances from Blair that legislators would have a chance to debate and vote on the expenditure before any decision is made.
"Sure, there will be a debate," Blair responded. "And I have no doubt at all that there will be a great deal of discussion on this issue as the months and years unfold."
But in a tacit acknowledgment that Parliament's mood is increasingly anti-nuclear, Blair refused to put the Trident decision to a parliamentary vote. Instead, he said, his Cabinet would probably make the decision unilaterally.http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/monterey...ld/13412787.htm