Nuclear Sharing
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Nuclear Sharing

     Nuclear-weapon-free zones      Nuclear-armed states      Nuclear sharing      Neither, but NPT

Nuclear sharing is a concept in NATO's policy of nuclear deterrence, which involves member countries without nuclear weapons of their own in the planning for the use of nuclear weapons by NATO. In particular, it provides for the armed forces of those countries to be involved in delivering nuclear weapons in the event of their use.

As part of nuclear sharing, the participating countries carry out consultations and make common decisions on nuclear weapons policy, maintain technical equipment (notably nuclear-capable airplanes) required for the use of nuclear weapons and store nuclear weapons on their territory. In case of war, the United States told NATO allies the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would no longer be controlling.[1]


Weapons provided for nuclear sharing (2019)[2]
Country Base Estimated
 Belgium Kleine Brogel 20
 Germany Büchel 20
 Italy Aviano 40
 Italy Ghedi
 Netherlands Volkel 20
 Turkey Incirlik 50

Of the three nuclear powers in NATO (France, the United Kingdom and the United States), only the United States is known to have provided weapons for nuclear sharing. As of November 2009, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are hosting U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO's nuclear sharing policy.[3][4]Canada hosted weapons under the control of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), rather than NATO, until 1984, having left the NATO program in 1972[5] and Greece until 2001.[3][6][7] The United Kingdom also received U.S. tactical nuclear weapons such as nuclear artillery and Lance missiles until 1992, even though the UK is a nuclear-weapon state in its own right; these were mainly deployed in Germany.

In peacetime, the nuclear weapons stored in non-nuclear countries are guarded by United States Air Force (USAF) personnel and previously, some nuclear artillery and missile systems were guarded by United States Army (USA) personnel; the Permissive Action Link codes required for arming them remain under American control. In case of war, the weapons are to be mounted on the participating countries' warplanes. The weapons are under custody and control of USAF Munitions Support Squadrons co-located on NATO main operating bases who work together with the host nation forces.[3]

A U.S. nuclear weapon storage system at Volkel Air Base to store weapons for delivery by Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s.

As of 2019, 150 tactical B61 nuclear bombs are believed to be deployed in Europe under the nuclear sharing arrangement.[2] The weapons are stored within a vault in hardened aircraft shelters, using the USAF WS3 Weapon Storage and Security System. The delivery warplanes used are F-16s and Panavia Tornados.[8]

Canadian CF-101B assigned to NORAD, firing an inert version of the AIR-2 Genie nuclear-armed air-to-air missile in 1982

Historically, the shared nuclear weapon delivery systems were not restricted to bombs. Greece used Nike-Hercules Missiles as well as A-7 Corsair II attack aircraft. Canada had Bomarc nuclear-armed anti-aircraft missiles, Honest John surface-to-surface missiles and the AIR-2 Genie nuclear-armed air-to-air rocket, as well as tactical nuclear bombs for the CF-104 fighter.[5]PGM-19 Jupiter medium-range ballistic missiles were shared with Italian air force units and Turkish units with U.S. dual key systems to enable the warheads.[9]PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missiles were forward deployed to the UK with RAF crews.[10][11] An extended version of nuclear sharing, the NATO Multilateral Force was a plan to equip NATO surface ships of the member states with UGM-27 Polaris missiles, but the UK ended up purchasing the Polaris missiles and using its own warheads, and the plan to equip NATO surface ships was abandoned.[12] After the Soviet Union collapsed, the nuclear weapon types shared within NATO were reduced to tactical nuclear bombs deployed by Dual-Capable Aircraft (DCA).[3] According to the press, Eastern European Member States of NATO have resisted the withdrawal of the shared nuclear bombs from Europe, fearing it would show a weakening of U.S. commitment to defend Europe against Russia.[13]

In Italy, B61 bombs are stored at the Ghedi Air Base and at the Aviano Air Base. According to the former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, Italy's plans of retaliation during the Cold War consisted of dropping nuclear weapons on Prague (Czechoslovakia) and Budapest (Hungary) in case of a first strike of the Soviets against NATO members.[14] He acknowledged the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Italy, and speculated about the possible presence of British and French nuclear weapons.[15]

The only German nuclear base is located in Büchel Air Base, near the border with Luxembourg. The base has 11 Protective Aircraft Shelters (PAS) equipped with WS3 Vaults for storage of nuclear weapons, each with a maximum capacity of 44 B61 nuclear bombs. There are 20 B61 bombs stored on the base for delivery by German PA-200 Tornado IDS bombers of the JaBoG 33 squadron. By 2024 Germany's Tornado IDS aircraft are due to be retired, and it is unclear what nuclear sharing role, if any, Germany will then retain.[3][16] On 10 June 2013, former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers confirmed the existence of 22 shared nuclear bombs at Volkel Air Base.[17] This was inadvertently confirmed again in June 2019 when a public draft report to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly was discovered to reference the existence of US nuclear weapons at Volkel, as well as locations in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Turkey. A new version of the report was released on 11 July 2019 without reference to the locations of the weapons[18]

In 2017 due to an increasingly unstable relationship between the United States and Turkey it was suggested that the United States consider removing 50 tactical nuclear weapons stored under American control at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25] The presence of US nuclear weapons in Turkey gained increased public attention in October 2019 with the deterioration of relations between the two nations after the Turkish military incursion into Syria.[26][27][28][29][30]

Weapon List

Saudi Arabian-Pakistani agreement

It is common belief among foreign officials that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have an understanding in which Pakistan would supply Saudi Arabia with warheads if security in the Persian Gulf was threatened. A Western official told The Times that Saudi Arabia could have the nuclear warheads in a matter of days of approaching Pakistan. Pakistan's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Naeem Khan, was quoted as saying, "Pakistan considers the security of Saudi Arabia not just as a diplomatic or an internal matter but as a personal matter." Naeem also said that the Saudi leadership considered Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to be one country and that any threat to Saudi Arabia is also a threat to Pakistan.[31] Other vendors were also likely to enter into a bidding war if Riyadh indicated that it was seeking nuclear warheads. Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have denied the existence of any such agreement.[32] Western intelligence sources have told The Guardian that "the Saudi monarchy paid for up to 60% of the Pakistani nuclear programme, and in return has the option to buy a small nuclear arsenal ('five to six warheads') off the shelf".[33] Saudi Arabia has potential dual-purpose delivery infrastructure, including Tornado IDS and F-15S fighter bombers and improved Chinese CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles with accuracy sufficient for nuclear warheads but delivered with high explosive warheads.[34][35]

In November 2013, a variety of sources told BBC Newsnight that Saudi Arabia was able to obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan at will. The new-report further stated, according to western experts, it was alleged that Pakistan's defense sector, including its missile and defense labs, had received plentiful financial assistance from Saudi Arabia.[36]Gary Samore, an adviser to Barack Obama, said, "I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan."[37] Amos Yadlin, formerly head of Israeli military intelligence, said "They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring."[37]


According to the US based think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the BBC report on possible nuclear sharing between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is partially incorrect. There is no indication of the validity or credibility of the BBC's sources, and the article fails to expand on what essentially constitutes an unverified lead. Furthermore, if Pakistan were to transfer nuclear warheads onto Saudi soil, it is highly unlikely that either nation would face any international repercussions if both nations were to follow strict nuclear sharing guidelines like those of NATO.[38] A research paper produced by the British House of Commons Defence Select Committee states that as long as current NATO nuclear sharing arrangements remain in place, the NATO states would have few valid grounds for complaint if such a transfer were to occur.[39]

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty considerations

Both the Non-Aligned Movement and critics within NATO believe that NATO's nuclear sharing violates Articles I and II of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibit the transfer and the acceptance of direct or indirect control, respectively, over nuclear weapons.[]

The United States insists that its forces control the weapons and that no transfer of the nuclear bombs or control over them is intended "unless and until a decision were made to go to war, at which the NPT would no longer be controlling", so there is no breach of the NPT.[40][41] However, the pilots and other staff of the "non-nuclear" NATO countries practice handling and delivering the US nuclear bombs, and non-US warplanes have been adapted to deliver US nuclear bombs which involved the transfer of some technical nuclear weapons information. Even if the US argument is considered legally correct, some argue such peacetime operations appear to contravene both the objective and the spirit of the NPT.[39] Essentially, all preparations for waging nuclear war have already been made by supposedly non-nuclear weapon states.

There are concerns that this arrangement undermines, and possibly contravenes, Articles I and II of the NPT. According to US lawyers, the transfer of control is legal because, on the outbreak of "general war", the NPT has failed in its purpose and can be regarded as no longer in controlling force. This arrangement was conceived in the early to mid-1960s to contain proliferation. It is arguable that several European nations including Germany were persuaded not to become nuclear states themselves because of the NATO nuclear umbrella. However, a nuclear sharing arrangement that may have had some logic in the pre-NPT and cold war world is now a source of weakening for the NPT, as it offers a rationale to other states to pursue a similar programme. NATO's nuclear sharing programme could now be used as an excuse by China, Pakistan or any other nuclear-armed nation to establish a similar arrangement. Imagine if China were to offer such an arrangement to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Or if Pakistan were to undertake nuclear sharing with Saudi Arabia or Iran. Such developments would be perceived as a threat to security in North Asia or the Middle East, and even as a direct threat to NATO. Yet, while the NATO arrangements remain in place, NATO members would have few valid grounds for complaint. The Committee should recommend the immediate termination of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements.[39]

-- House of Commons Defence Committee (UK Parliament), The future of NATO and European defence (4 March 2008) (p. Ev 80, paras. 50-51)

At the time the NPT was being negotiated, the NATO nuclear sharing agreements were secret. These agreements were disclosed to some of the states, including the Soviet Union, negotiating the treaty along with the NATO arguments for not treating them as proliferation. Most of the states that signed the NPT in 1968 would not have known about these agreements and interpretations at that time.[42]

See also


  1. ^ The Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Articles I, II and VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, archived from the original on 28 January 2015, retrieved 2015
  2. ^ a b Kristensen, Hans M.; Korda, Matt (4 May 2019). "United States nuclear forces, 2019". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 75 (3): 122-134. Bibcode:2019BuAtS..75c.122K. doi:10.1080/00963402.2019.1606503. ISSN 0096-3402.
  3. ^ a b c d e Malcolm Chalmers and Simon Lunn (March 2010), NATO's Tactical Nuclear Dilemma, Royal United Services Institute, retrieved 2010.
  4. ^ Der Spiegel: Foreign Minister Wants US Nukes out of Germany (2009-04-10)
  5. ^ a b John Clearwater (1998). Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal. Dundurn Press. pp. 91-116. ISBN 1-55002-299-7. Retrieved 2008.
  6. ^ Hans M. Kristensen (February 2005), U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe (PDF), Natural Resources Defense Council, p. 26, retrieved 2009
  7. ^ Micallef, Joseph (14 November 2019). "Is It Time to Withdraw US Nuclear Weapons from Incirlik?". Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ Hans M. Kristensen (5 October 2007). "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe After the Cold War" (PDF). Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 2013.
  9. ^ "History of the JUPITER Missile System". Archived from the original on 3 June 2004. Retrieved 2004.
  10. ^ "Missiles :: THOR IRBM",, 27 March 2005.
  11. ^ Sam Marsden (1 August 2013). "Locks on nuclear missiles changed after launch key blunder". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2013.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 May 2012. Retrieved 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Borger, Julian (21 April 2013). "Obama accused of nuclear U-turn as guided weapons plan emerges". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013.
  14. ^ Interview to Cossiga on Blu notte - Misteri italiani, episode "OSS, CIA, GLADIO, i Rapporti Segreti tra America e Italia" of 2005
  15. ^ "Cossiga: "In Italia ci sono bombe atomiche Usa"" (in Italian). Tiscali. Retrieved 2015.
  16. ^ "US nuclear bombs 'based in Netherlands' - ex-Dutch PM Lubbers". Carnegie Europe. 25 January 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  17. ^ "US nuclear bombs based in Netherlands - ex-Dutch PM Lubbers". BBC News. 10 June 2013. Retrieved 2019.
  18. ^ "Nato assembly document confirms US nuclear bombs are in NL". Dutch News. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  19. ^ "Let's get our nuclear weapons out of Turkey". Los Angeles Times. 11 August 2016. Retrieved 2017.
  20. ^ "Why the U.S. should move nukes out of Turkey". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2017.
  21. ^ "Should the U.S. Pull Its Nuclear Weapons From Turkey?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017.
  22. ^ "How safe are US nukes in Turkey?". CNN. Retrieved 2017.
  23. ^ "The U.S. stores nuclear weapons in Turkey. Is that such a good idea?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017.
  24. ^ Borger, Julian (17 July 2016). "Turkey coup attempt raises fears over safety of US nuclear stockpile". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017.
  25. ^ "Should the US remove its nuclear bombs from Turkey? | News | DW.COM | 16 August 2016". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2017.
  26. ^ Sanger, David (14 October 2019). "Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast". New York Times. Retrieved 2019.
  27. ^ "US nuclear bombs at Turkish airbase complicate rift over Syria invasion". The Guardian. 14 October 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  28. ^ "With Turkey's invasion of Syria, concerns mount over nukes at Incirlik". The Air Force Times. 14 October 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  29. ^ "Amid rising tensions, US said considering plan to remove nukes from Turkish base". The Times of Israel. 14 October 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  30. ^ "Turkey fired on U.S. special forces in Syria. It's absurd that it still has U.S. nukes". NBC News. 18 October 2019. Retrieved 2019.
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  32. ^ "Saudi Arabia threatens to go nuclear if Iran does". Fox News. 10 February 2012.
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  34. ^ de Borchgrave, Arnaud, "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia in secret nuke pact: Islamabad trades weapons technology for oil", The Washington Times, 22 October 2003.
  35. ^ "Saudi Arabia Special Weapons",
  36. ^ Urban, Mark (6 November 2013). "Saudi nuclear weapons 'on order' from Pakistan". BBC News. Retrieved 2018.
  37. ^ a b Mark Urban (6 November 2013). "Saudi nuclear weapons 'on order' from Pakistan". BBC. Retrieved 2013.
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External links

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