by Kingston Reif
Published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Online on July 14, 2011
Article summary below; read the full text online
By Kingston Reif and Emma Lecavalier
In a recent speech in Brussels, departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized European members of NATO for allowing defense obligations to fall increasingly upon the United States, continuing a funding imbalance that could lead Americans to question whether the costs of NATO are justified.
This is not the first time that Gates has expressed his exasperation with NATO allies for not spending more on defense, nor is he the first defense secretary to articulate such sentiments. But never has a secretary of defense been more blunt or direct in his criticism — and by addressing the NATO funding issue so prominently, Gates also raised questions about US nuclear policy in Europe.
Though it was likely not their intent, Gates’s remarks beg a reconsideration of the logic and feasibility of the continued deployment of nearly 200 US “tactical” nuclear bombs — low-yield warheads intended for short-range applications or even battlefield use — in five NATO member states: Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Germany, and the Netherlands. If NATO burden-sharing is out of whack generally, it no longer makes sense in regard to these aging weapons, which US military officials increasingly believe serve no vital military purpose.