3 MIN READ - The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Left Coast Affairs and Other Inexplicable Phenomena would like to provide an updated count of nuclear missiles and warheads in Europe.
The Correspondent has seen a great deal of “Putin invaded Ukraine because he doesn’t want nuclear missiles on his doorstep" commentary on TV and online the last two weeks. "How would America feel if Russia placed nuclear missiles on the Mexican border?” they ask.
The Correspondent generally believes it’s a good thing to take an occasional breath and make sure American foreign policy is not hypocritical or about to drag us all into a direct shooting war between two nuclear superpowers. To both ends he thinks such NATO and U.S. critics mean well and can make a good contribution to political dialogue.
But a word of caution: If you’re going to lay blame for Putin's order to invade and bomb a peaceful country (that his country previously committed formal genocide against during the Soviet era) at the feet of NATO then please check the premises are based in real equivalency.
According to multiple sources including the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Arms Control Center, Federation of American Scientists, Washington Post, etc... there are no ground-based nuclear missiles anywhere in Europe.
None in any European NATO member countries. Haven’t been for years.
And certainly not in new Eastern European NATO member states. Never have been. In fact there have never been any nuclear assets at all in Eastern Europe under NATO.
And these sources, many being anti-nuclear proliferation, have every incentive to inflate the count of nuclear weapons in Europe and the world. But they have all consistently reported the same inventories for years (some source links below).
No nuclear missile launch sites in Europe might come as a surprise to people, especially those who lived through the Cold War, but the perception that the continent plays host to countless launching pads with missiles aimed at Russia is a relic leftover from Cold War thinking.
The only nuclear assets in Europe are:
-“Approximately 150 U.S. non-strategic gravity B-61 warheads” locked in underground vaults in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Turkey.
None of those countries borders Russia. B-61’s are tactical weapons, not the strategic kind meant for population centers, and they are gravity weapons meaning they must be dropped from aircraft.
-French nuclear assets are today all submarine launched or placed on aircraft-launched cruise missiles.
-UK nuclear assets are today all sea-based.
And to repeat, there are no nuclear warheads anywhere in Eastern Europe and haven’t been since they were freed from the Soviet Union.
This arrangement is perfectly consistent with NATO’s defensive alliance posture.
Were a very large unidentified country to actually consider a nuclear first strike on Europe, they would first be deterred by submarine-launched ballistic nuclear missiles, an air-based counterstrike from carriers, ship or air-launched cruise missiles, nuclear-capable fighters or scrambled strategic bombers, or a host of highly capable American ICBM’s based in the continental United States.
It's also consistent with former Soviet bloc countries wanting NATO membership for protection, but not wanting to single themselves out as targets by permitting NATO nuclear assets on their territory.
This is all a testament to the nuclear treaty drawdowns signed by successive Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations with their Gorbachev and Yeltsin counterparts. Since the signing of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the two sides have destroyed literally thousands of nuclear missiles previously based in Europe and Russia.
Meanwhile Vladimir Putin is more aware than anyone of the absence of ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe, and he knows there is no “threat,” current or potential, of nuclear missiles in Ukraine. And any conventional invasion of Russia would be suicidal as Russia has a large nuclear deterrent of its own.
Yet many who are in a rush to blame NATO and the United States for Putin’s war in Ukraine by claiming nuclear missiles on his doorstep have failed to realize what Moscow has long-since known.
Perhaps they feel there's too big a rush of patriotism clouding people's heads. Perhaps they want the West to treat Russia the way we'd like to be treated, or both.
Those are laudable goals. But like those who marched for unilateral disarmament in the 1980’s their good intentions, absent sufficient facts, risk unwittingly carrying water for dictators.
Selected inventories of European nuclear weapons dated 2015 to 2021: