The London-based Centre for European Reform released a brief last week by Franklin Miller, George Robertson, and Kori Schake criticizing the new German government for proposing the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany. The authors’ international standing makes their essay worthy of debate. A new paper by George Perkovich analyzes their main arguments.
 

Key Conclusions

  • U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe are often deemed critical for the defense of NATO’s territory, but the bombs are antiquated and operationally unnecessary. What really matters for U.S. and NATO security are reliable commitments to collective defense, the capability to deter today’s threats, and better relations between NATO and Russia
  • No state—including Germany and the United States—should unilaterally revise NATO’s deterrence strategies, but it will equally debilitate the alliance if states cling to an outmoded nuclear posture.
  • NATO should take special care to reassure Turkey and Eastern European states that it will deploy the capabilities best suited to deter Iranian and Russian coercion. This will likely involve political subversion, asymmetric low-intensity violence, cyber-harassment, and energy-supply blackmail, rather than nuclear weapons.
  • Redefining a secure, defensive balance of conventional forces between NATO and Russia is a complicated challenge and almost no high-level leadership has been devoted to the issue. There is no chance to reduce or eliminate tactical nuclear weapons in NATO and Russia without addressing the overall military-security relationship between them.

“Thinking in terms of nuclear deterrence, and especially in terms of bombs on German soil, obscures the broader challenge of reinvigorating NATO and extending deterrence against lower-scale threats,” writes Perkovich. “The moral hazard in Europe today is not in taking useless tactical nuclear weapons out, it is in pretending that they can protect allies from twenty-first century threats and doing too little in the meantime to develop capabilities and diplomatic strategies to deny those threats.”