Nuclear weapons for the EU? At the moment, Europe is almost empty

Does the EU need its own nuclear weapons to deter Russia? The discussion about nuclear weapons is heating up again because no one knows whether the USA will still ensure Europe’s security after a possible Trump election victory.

The SPD’s leading candidate for the European elections, Katarina Barley, brought Europe’s nuclear armament into play in the debate about the EU’s defense capacity. “This can also become an issue on the way to a European army,” Barley told the “Tagesspiegel”. The background is recent statements by former and perhaps soon-to-be US President Donald Trump, according to which the United States would no longer support certain NATO members in the event of an attack. The group leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, also recently talked about the creation of a “European nuclear protection umbrella”.

The West is still under the USA’s nuclear protective umbrella

But NATO without the (including nuclear) protection of the USA is hardly imaginable, because the other member states hardly have their own nuclear weapons, and the EU states even less.

After Russia, the USA is the largest nuclear power in the world. NATO member Great Britain follows in third place, but has no longer been part of the EU since 2020. France is the only nuclear power remaining in the alliance, but it only has a fraction of Russia’s nuclear warheads.

The other NATO and EU states benefit significantly from the deterrent effect of US nuclear warheads – just as they did in the decades of the Cold War. The NATO concept of nuclear sharing stipulates that participating states can decide on the use of US nuclear weapons and can even use them with their own delivery systems. However, the weapons always remain under US control. The USA’s nuclear weapons are also stored in Germany for this purpose, and the Bundeswehr tornadoes are equipped accordingly. In addition to the Federal Republic, Turkey, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy are partners in nuclear sharing. Great Britain and France do not provide their own nuclear weapons for the concept. Nevertheless, the obligation to provide assistance within NATO and the EU also applies to them. Indirectly, their nuclear weapons are also an instrument of deterrence and common defense.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz continues to rely primarily on the USA. We have a functioning NATO, a very good transatlantic partnership. This also includes what we have developed in terms of nuclear cooperation,” said the SPD politician on Monday. Scholz had already clearly rejected the discussion about Europe’s own nuclear deterrent in January. “I don’t know what this discussion is about today », he recently told “Zeit”. He considers nuclear sharing with the USA “to be the more realistic path”. But one thing is clear: the time for nuclear disarmament is over.

Sources: “Tagesspiegel”, “Zeit”, Federal Ministry of Defense, Sipri, DPA news agency