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Rethinking security: Nuclear sharing in Europe in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic

Let us work for a Europe free of nuclear weapons!

06/29/2020 The global COVID-19 pandemic is making it clear that governments must rethink security. Our future challenges lie in establishing a good healthcare system in every country of our planet, in fighting climate change and in achieving the sustainable development goals defined by the United Nations.

In this time of new perspectives, the discussion of rethinking NATO nuclear sharing policy emerged in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Rolf Mützenich, the chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, expressed his opposition to extending technical nuclear sharing and replacing the US tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Büchel with new atomic warheads. He called for new initiatives and discussions on disarmament and arms control, such as those that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has already set in the context of the United Nations and with the Stockholm Initiative. He also called on a “debate about the future of nuclear sharing and the question of whether the US tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Germany and Europe (the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Turkey) increase the level of safety for Germany and Europe or whether they have perhaps become obsolete now from a military and security policy perspective”1.

In his call he was largely supported by party leaders. The context of this debate is the announcement by the German defense minister and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on the choice of the new combat aircraft for the Luftwaffe which would be able to carry modernized B-61 tactical nuclear bombs.  Such a significant military build-up in times of the coronavirus pandemic is perceived as a scandal by the German public - buying air fighters to ensure that NATO can kill hundreds of thousands of people at one blow while nurses and doctors are saving lives every day.

IPPNW Germany and ICAN Germany immediately launched a campaign addressing parliamentarians and cities that signed the ICAN appeal asking to spend the money for health care instead of nuclear weapons. Buying 45 nuclear F 18 - bombers means spending approximately 7,5 billion Euro. For this amount of money one could pay 25.000 doctors and 60.000 nurses a year, 100.000 intensive care beds and 30.000 ventilators.

Now, let us consider if Germany was to quit the nuclear sharing policy. This would have a strong impact on some of the other nuclear sharing NATO countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. The public opinion in the EU nuclear host states firmly opposes nuclear weapons2.

On the 16th of January, 2020, lawmakers in Belgium narrowly rejected a resolution asking for the removal of US nuclear weapons stationed in the country and joining the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 66 MPs voted in favour of the resolution while 74 rejected it. The controversy was sparked by a debate to replace the US-made F-16 fighter aircraft in the Belgian army with American F-35s, a more advanced plane capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Also in Italy and the Netherlands, public opinion strongly rejects the hosting of US nuclear weapons as well as the investment of banks in nuclear weapons work.

With the International Peace Conference for Nuclear Disarmament in the Peace Palace of The Hague, our Dutch IPPNW affiliate showed how the medical perspective can make a change in influencing its government to stop the new nuclear arms race.

From a European perspective, the collapse of the INF Treaty between the US and Russia that removed intermediate range nuclear missiles from Europe has opened the door to Europe becoming a nuclear battle ground. Europe is facing the modernization of all nuclear weapons. Let us remember that there exist three nuclear weapons states in Europe:   Russia, France and Great Britain and overall NATO’s nuclear deterrence threat where the abundance of US nuclear weapons play the most important role.

Under Donald Trump, the Pentagon in its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) changed the concept of nuclear deterrence rapidly and with great efficiency. The US is once again thinking about limited nuclear wars and introducing suitable weapons for this purpose. Nuclear weapons are gaining more military and less political importance. The recently introduced W76-2 low-power warhead for long-range submarine-based missiles massively increases the USA's nuclear options for action and decision-making, turning the US into a nation willing to wage a nuclear war.  These considerations are the underlying reasons for European countries as NATO members to rethink again the nuclear sharing policy. From the humanitarian perspective these new nuclear threats have to be prevented. The time is overdue to transform European public opinion against nuclear weapons into policy steps of nuclear disarmament of our governments.

We in civil society have already created a diverse number of different political steps, actions and dialogues: with parliamentarians, with banks and pension funds for divesting, with direct-action blockades at the European US military bases in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Germany. With a common strategy and with common actions of all our European affiliates we can achieve a turn to nuclear disarmament and a policy of détente - joining the Nuclear Ban Treaty and making concrete steps to nuclear disarmament. In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, rethinking security is overdue! The humanitarian perspective, the health perspective and the principle of prevention and dialogue must completely replace the principle of deterrence. Let us work for a Europe free of nuclear weapons!

1 https://www.ips-journal.eu/regions/europe/article/show/germany-and-nuclear-sharing-4362/
2 https://www.icanw.org/polls_public_opinion_in_eu_host_states_firmly_opposes_nuclear_weapons

Angelika Claussen




Learn about Nuclear Weapons

Learn About Nuclear Weapons is a web-based educational material from the Swedish Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons for those who want to learn more about nuclear weapons: