Contrary to received ideas, France and the United Kingdom are not the only nuclear powers in Europe. Under NATO, the United States has stationed nuclear weapons in several European countries since 1954. Left over from the Cold War, these weapons were originally intended to counter the superior conventional Warsaw Pact troops. From more than 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons in dozen European countries in the middle of the 1970s, the arsenal has been shrinking since the collapse of the USSR, totalling 350 weapons in 2007. Since the start of the current decade, the question of what the weapons are for, and therefore indirectly the question of their removal, has been raised with increasing frequency.
Between 2005 and 2008, the United States very discreetly denuclearised their two biggest European bases, Ramstein in Germany and Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, which held a total of 180 nuclear bombs. This disarmament undeniably shed new light on NATO’s nuclear status. In this connection, the remaining 240 bombs have no doubt permanently lost their military purpose, being used as a political tool instead. The reasons for this withdrawal are not simply connected with security at the bases. Other issues, like changes in the Atlantic Alliance, shifts in the policy of each of the host countries, the renewal of dual-use fleets and strategic utility, not to mention the pressure of sustained public opinion from peace organisations, contributed and will continue to contribute to restricting the stationing of nuclear weapons. Today, only Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey have US nuclear weapons on their territory, but for how long? Will tomorrow’s Europe be a US nuclear weapon free zone?