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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, and in particular provides for the armed forces of these countries to be involved in delivering these weapons in the event of their use.

As part of nuclear sharing, the participating countries carry out consultations and take common decisions on nuclear weapons policy, maintain technical equipment required for the use of nuclear weapons (including warplanes capable of delivering them), and store nuclear weapons on their territory. In case of risk of war the NPT treaty would cease, the sharing would end and the management of the nukes would pass totally below the hosting states.[1]


Of the three nuclear powers in NATO (France, the United Kingdom and the United States), only the United States has provided weapons for nuclear sharing. As of November 2014, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are still hosting U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO's nuclear sharing policy.[2][3] Canada hosted weapons until 1984,[4] and Greece until 2001.[2][5] The United Kingdom also received U.S. tactical nuclear weapons such as nuclear artillery and Lance missiles until 1992, despite the UK being a nuclear weapons state in its own right; these were mainly deployed in Germany.

In peace time, the nuclear weapons stored in non-nuclear countries are guarded by U.S. airmen though previously some artillery and missile systems were guarded by US Army soldiers; the codes required for detonating them are 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.[2]

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 2015, 180 tactical B61 nuclear bombs of the 480 U.S. nuclear weapons believed to be deployed in Europe fall under the nuclear sharing arrangement.[6] 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.[7]

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.[4] PGM-19 Jupiter medium range ballistic missiles were shared with Italian air force units and Turkish units with US dual key systems to enable the warheads.[8] PGM-17 Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles were forward deployed to the UK with RAF crews.[9][10] 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.[11]

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the nuclear weapon types shared within NATO were reduced to tactical nuclear bombs deployed by Dual-Capable Aircraft (DCA).[2]

The only German nuclear base is located in Büchel, near the border with Luxembourg. The base has 11 Protective Aircraft Shelters (PAS) equipped with WS3 Vaults for storage of nuclear weapons (maximum capacity of 44). There are 20 B61 nuclear bombs stored on the base for delivery by German PA-200 Tornado IDS bombers of the JaBoG 33 squadron. By 2015 Germany's Tornado IDS aircraft are due to be retired, and it is unclear what nuclear sharing role, if any, Germany will then retain.[2]

In Italy around 40 B61 type 3,4 an 10 are stored in the Ghedi Torre Airport. They can be delivered by the Panavia Tornado IDS bombers of the 6th wing. The former Italian President Francesco Cossiga declared that Italian military system hosted or shared not only US nukes but nukes from other states too. In an interview he talked about French nukes.[12][13]

Saudi Arabian-Pakistani Agreement

According to, a well-connected defence internet site, found in a recent survey that while Saudi Arabia does not have weapons of mass destruction, they do have the infrastructure to exploit such nuclear exports very quickly. Especially considering the Saudi purchase of long-range CSS-2 ballistic missiles designed primarily for nuclear warheads from China in 1988. "While there is no direct evidence that Saudi Arabia has chosen a nuclear option, the Saudis have in place a foundation for building a nuclear deterrent". According to the researcher Arnaud de Borchgrave "Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have concluded a secret agreement on "nuclear cooperation" that will provide the Saudis with nuclear-weapons technology in exchange for cheap oil, according to a ranking Pakistani insider."[14][15]

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty considerations

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

The US 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 treaty would no longer be controlling", so there is no breach of the NPT.[16] 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. Essentially, all preparations for waging nuclear war have already been made by supposedly non-nuclear weapon states.

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.[17]

See also


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Malcolm Chalmers and Simon Lunn (March 2010). "NATO’s Tactical Nuclear Dilemma". Royal United Services Institute. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  3. Der Spiegel: Foreign Minister Wants US Nukes out of Germany (2009-04-10)
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Clearwater (1998). "Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal". Dundurn Press Ltd. ISBN 1-55002-299-7. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  5. Hans M. Kristensen (February 2005). "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe". Natural Resources Defense Council. p. 26. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  6. Hans M. Kristensen (February 2005). "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe". Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  7. Hans M. Kristensen (5 October 2007). "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe After the Cold War". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  10. Sam Marsden (1 August 2013). "Locks on nuclear missiles changed after launch key blunder". Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  12. http://sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDEQFjAA&,d.bGE
  13. http://sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&ved=0CDYQFjAB&,d.bGE
  16. Brian Donnelly, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "The Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Articles I, II and VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons". Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  17. Laura Spagnuolo (23 April 2009). "NATO nuclear burden sharing and NPT obligations". British American Security Information Council. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 

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