NATO and Nuclear Weapons Briefing

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a nuclear armed alliance. Its Deterrence and Defence Posture Review revealed at the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012 stated that “nuclear weapons are a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence alongside conventional missile defence forces.”

The nuclear weapons of the US, UK and France together make up NATO’s nuclear capability. The US alone has approximately 5,000 warheads. 1,737 are deployed strategic warheads, approximately 500 are tactical weapons and the rest are reserve warheads in storage. Some of these are more than 30 times the destructive force of the Hiroshima bomb. France has nearly 300 nuclear weapons, all strategic. The UK has 160 Trident warheads, which are also strategic. Strategic nuclear weapons are those that are delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles or long range bombers with a range of over 3500 miles. Tactical or Non-strategic weapons have a shorter range and can be delivered by aircraft or missiles deployed on land or at sea, as well as by artillery, torpedoes, or mines. During the Cold War thousands of tactical nuclear weapons were based in Europe and although they have been drastically reduced there are no plans to disarm the 180 that remain.

Even if there were no more nuclear weapons on Scottish soil being a member of NATO means accepting the doctrine that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.” Although NATO’s Deterrence and Defence Posture Review says “The Alliance is resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” all three nuclear powers are currently planning to replace elements of their nuclear weapons systems. The UK government is already placing multi-million pound contracts for a new class of submarine to replace Trident. There is no evidence that an independent Scotland would have any more influence on the disarmament intentions of these other countries from within NATO than it has through working within the UK.

    NATO and Trident

Staying a member of NATO will make it less likely that an independent Scotland could get rid of Trident from its soil.

An independent Scotland could demand that Trident be removed from Scotland and in the absence of anywhere that it could practically be relocated in the remainder of the UK that could lead to the UK disarming. However, it is obvious that huge pressure will be exerted on Scotland either to retain Trident on the Clyde in some kind of “Dirty deal” or to drag its heels long enough for the UK to find some other way to operate a nuclear weapons system.

To see how this pressure operates we can look at the way Tactical nuclear weapons belonging to the US are still based in European countries regardless of what their populations want.

NATO possesses 180 American B61 free-fall tactical nuclear bombs in Europe stored at bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey. The bombs, relics of the cold war, have no guidance systems and are regarded as having no real military purpose. The aircraft tasked with delivering them are now in need of replacement.
Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have acknowledged publicly that they would like to see these weapons of mass destruction removed from their territories. Aware that the issue is sensitive NATO has said from the start such a decision can only be made by consensus. Meaning: all 28 NATO allies have to agree that removing the US nuclear weapons from Europe is a good idea. If not, the default is that the weapons stay.
However there is no longer any existing consensual support for the current status quo. Norway, Slovenia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Iceland, Luxemburg, Greece, Spain and Poland are only some of the countries that have already, in one way or another, let it be known that as far as they are concerned, deployment of American weapons of mass destruction in Europe is no longer necessary, and neither is it a good idea. A majority of experts, policy makers and populations are convinced that the tactical nuclear weapons are not necessary to deter Russia or anyone else.
If the countries within NATO who simply host very old tactical nuclear weapons find it so impossible to be heard what chance does Scotland have as we try to get a Strategic system removed?
Rather than looking to non-nuclear NATO members New Zealand would be a much better role model.
In 1984, New Zealand barred nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from using New Zealand ports or entering New Zealand waters. Under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987, territorial sea, land and airspace of New Zealand became nuclear-free zones. This has since become a sacrosanct touchstone of New Zealand foreign policy.
The legislation was a milestone in New Zealand’s development as a nation and seen as an important act of sovereignty, self-determination and cultural identity. Although under pressure from the US to repeal this law New Zealand has stood firm. Scotland has deep cultural links with New Zealand and could count on them as allies if we too become nuclear free.

Further Reading:
SNP CND Briefing – NATO, Trident and Scottish Independence
Scottish CND Q & A – NATO and Nuclear Weapons
NATO: Deterrence and Defence Posture Review
Chicago Summit May 2012


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