05/30/2013 - 16:17

How Europeans view tactical nuclear weapons on their continent

Mark Fitzpatrick

Mark Fitzpatrick is the director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Before joining IISS in 2005, he was a US...

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With the debate among NATO member states over the stationing of US nuclear weapons in Europe likely to continue, it is useful to examine why some European NATO members wish to see an end to the US nuclear presence and why others stick to the status quo. In assessing the different positions of key European NATO countries on nuclear disarmament, the author notes that the positions depend on whether the states possess nuclear weapons, how their history and geography affect threat perceptions, and how the nations variously perceive their role in international and regional affairs. Geography-driven history produces one dividing line, which largely runs along the former border between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Less obvious are the reasons for a north–south division on this issue within “old Europe.” The northern nations are more vocally pro-disarmament than are the Mediterranean nations. Domestic politics, of course, also play a determining factor in all counties. Interest in removing the weapons is strongest in countries where senior statesmen spanning the political spectrum have sought to lead public opinion in the direction of disarmament.