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Extended Nuclear Deterrence for Europe Without Forward-based Weapons

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Technical Report

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Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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The United States can fulfill its longstanding commitment to extended nuclear deterrence without physically storing weapons on the European continent. However, more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, America still keeps an estimated 150-200 B-61 gravity bombs in host countries for potential delivery by dual-capable fighter strike aircraft. Faced with mounting budget constraints and increasing weapon sustainment costs, the Department of Defense should closely evaluate the tactics used to provide our European partners the nuclear assurances that bind NATO together. An alternative deployment scheme would enable NATO to safely and securely store the weapons within the continental United States and deliver the weapons to forward locations only when needed to ratchet up pressure to dissuade an adversary against further aggression. This efficient deterrence technique offers distinct advantages in terms of escalatory signaling, weapon system cost savings, nuclear security improvements, and advancements in non-proliferation objectives without jeopardizing extended deterrence promises to NATO allies. While there is ample public discourse calling for the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe and a considerable amount of institutional resistance to such a change in NATO nuclear posture few, if any, authors have suggested options satisfying the interests of both groups. This paper examines the rational for keeping these tactical nuclear weapons in place, the arguments for eliminating them from Europe, and then presents an alternative leveraging the benefits of extended nuclear deterrence without attendant costs and risks of forward-storage. The road to nuclear zero is a long journey replete with many difficult choices for world leaders to navigate. Adopting an extended nuclear deterrent concept for Europe without forward-based weapons is simply a small first step down the road in the right direction.

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