A recent article in Foreign Affairs argued for the elimination of all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) currently stationed Europe.
Throughout the article, Barry Blechman and Russell Rumbaugh claim that TNWs are costly, do not adequately reassure friends and allies (whom the authors allege do not want TNWs in Europe), and have no strategic military value. “If tactical nuclear weapons had little value during the Cold War,” Blechman and Russell Rumbaugh claim, “they have even less today.”
But TNWs, which have been based in Europe since the end of World War II, are arguably the most visible demonstration of the U.S. commitment to European security.
This is an increasingly important role as Russia maintains an adversarial relationship with NATO. Russia continues to bully and intimidate its neighbors, including repeated nuclear threats against NATO ally Poland and territorial dissections of Ukraine.
Likewise, Russia has committed itself to expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal despite its treaty obligations. In TNWs alone, Russia maintains a 10–1 advantage over the United States.
And, despite the authors’ claim to the contrary, allies in the Middle East and Asia are indeed likely to observe developments in Europe intently.
The removal of TNWs from Europe would only further heighten fears that the U.S. is uninterested or unable to fulfill its extended security commitments. As China, North Korea, and potentially Iran work to refine their nuclear arsenals, allies such as Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia may decide that only an independent nuclear deterrent is sufficient to guarantee their security.
In order to retain a credible and flexible response, the U.S. should not remove but refurbish, modernize, and increase our TNW forces in Europe. Only a position of strength, not self-imposed weakness, will effectively deter our adversaries and reassure our allies.
Harrison Menke is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, pleaseclick here.