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Intensive Trans-Atlantic Debate Over U.S. Tactical Nukes in Europe

Feb. 26, 2015 (EIRNS)—In line with Lyndon LaRouche’s past 48 hours’ discussion about the danger of limited nuclear war targeted against Russia and China, and contained within the Eurasian region, a fierce debate has been underway among nuclear weapon and disarmament specialists on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the aftermath of an Obama Administration decision in mid-2013 to allocate significant defense funds to modernization of America’s nuclear triad, including the modernization of its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, increasing calls have been issued for the U.S. to withdraw all of its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, because they represent a dangerous and counter-productive use of limited defense dollars.

The U.S. is upgrading the existing B-12 tactical nuclear weapons in a way that increases their range and their accuracy, blurring the lines between nuclear and conventional weapons, and violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, which bars the deployment of such weapons in Europe. By adding “tail kits” to the existing B-12 tactical nuclear weapons, the accuracy of the weapons is greatly enhanced, making it possible to reduce the mega-tonnage of the nuclear explosives. The plans to deploy the new B-61-12 tactical nukes on the F-35 stealth fighters, due to be deployed to Europe in the coming years, means that the smaller-scale nuclear warheads can be launched against targets deep inside Russia.

All of this, critics have been warning, increases the possibility of a limited nuclear war being launched, which, they argue, will lead inevitably to an escalation to full-scale nuclear confrontation at the level of annihilation.

In the July/August 2014 issue of the CFR’s Foreign Affairs journal, Barry Blechman and Russell Rumbaugh wrote “Bombs Away—The Case for Phasing Out U.S. Tactical Nukes in Europe.” A similar argument, detailing the modernization of the B-61s, was presented Nov. 6, 2013 in Spiegel Online by Markus Becker, who recently wrote of the increased dangers of nuclear war coming from the Ukraine crisis. Becker’s piece was headlined “Nuclear Arsenal: U.S. to Turn Old Bombs into All-Purpose Weapons.”

Hans Kristensen, of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), has been writing warnings about the tendency to push for limited nuclear war in the European and Eurasian theater for the past several years, most recently in a Sept. 3, 2014 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists under the title “Why NATO should eliminate its tactical nukes, despite Russian belligerence.” He was the author of a comprehensive review of the U.S. and NATO tactical and short-range nuclear weapons arsenals around the globe for the FAS in May 2012, titled “Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons.” In the study, he warned that such new weapons systems create a greater danger of the outbreak of nuclear war.

Germany, among other European nations, has been calling for the U.S. to withdraw all tactical nukes from Europe. There are currently 180 U.S. tactical nuclear bombs in NATO countries—Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Turkey. All of these are older versions of the B-61, which will replaced in the next years with the new versions, which effectively convert them into intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

While there have been few unclassified papers explicitly arguing for the viability of limited nuclear war against Russia and/or China in the Eurasian theater, the decision to go ahead with the “modernization fix” of the B-61 and the Obama decision to allocate $335 billion over the next decade for modernization of the U.S. thermonuclear arsenal, sufficiently makes the point.