The Future of Nuclear Weapons in Europe

of the panel discussion
on Tuesday, 02 May 2017, 7.00 – 9.00 p.m.
at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna


Julien Pinaudeau


The Russian Federation and the USA are modernising their non-strategic nuclear arms for Europe. Both are blaming the counter part for violating the INF-Treaty – the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which came into force 30 years ago. Is there a new trend towards a larger role for nuclear weapons in European security? Is the Trump Administration receding from the vision of a nuclear-free world? Which challenges and risks arise for those who are putting efforts into the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons? Which consequences can be drawn for the recent negotiations about a nuclear-weapons-convention (NWC)?


Angela Kane Vice-President of the International Institute for Peace, IIP - Vienna

Former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, New York

Hans M. Kristensen Federation of American Scientists, Washington (via skype)

Otfried Nassauer Berliner Informationszentrum für Transatlantische Sicherheit, Berlin

Susi Snyder Pax Nederlande, Utrecht

Igor Sutyagin Royal United Services Institute, London

Angela Kane (Vice-President of the International Institute for Peace, IIP - Vienna

Former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, New York) will assume the moderation and participate to the panel discussion. The Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is holding its first session from 2nd to 12th of May 2017 in Vienna. The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), open to all States parties to the Treaty, is responsible for addressing substantive and procedural issues related to the Treaty and the forthcoming Review Conference. Such an event is a great opportunity to debate on the future role of nuclear weapons in Europe.

Hans M. Kristensen (Federation of American Scientists, Washington) describes the situation of nuclear weapons in Europe and the new role devoted to nuclear forces. Firstly, the following table shows the US nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe:

Source :

180 US Nuclear weapons are placed in six air bases located in five countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey). This arsenal is part of a broader American strategy which is currently discussed. One debate concerns the part of nuclear in the defence budget and the panellist insists on a military transition that relies more on advanced weapons and latest technology. In other words, quantity of nuclear warheads is less important than the flexibility of new weapons and their efficiency by hitting targets. As an example, Hans Christensen quotes the Joint Air-To-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), a low observable standoff air-launched cruise missile developed in the USA and used by allied countries such as Australia, Finland or Poland since 2014.

The question of arms control depends on the attitude of the Trump administration and its relationship with the Russian Federation. If both nuclear powers are inclined to do efforts in the right direction, then a new international statement remains possible. Nevertheless, military advisers and officers represent an important part of Trump cabinet and they will support interests of the military- industrial complex.

Otfried Nassauer (Berliner Informationszentrum für Transatlantische Sicherheit) begins his presentation by looking back to 1988 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty (INF) ratified by the United States and the Soviet Union. The two superpowers develop enough confidence to declare the elimination of all nuclear and conventional missiles, as well as their launchers, with a certain range. Thanks to this agreement, about 2,692 missiles were destroyed, followed by 10 years of on-site verification inspections. Unfortunately, these efforts could be reversed in the years to come, in a period of regain for nuclear weapons. Even a symbolic speech like the one Barack Obama did in Prague in 2009 about a nuclear free world should not conceal a strategic modernization of the US nuclear arsenal.

The tonight´s meeting is associated to several nuclear related-events such as the NPT PrepCom, negotations about proliferation, debates on a possible nuclear ban and the 30th anniversary of the INF Treaty. Last but not least, the administration of Donal Trump will define a new posture about nuclear weapons at the end of 2017.

The panellist would like to insist on three aspects which may be addressed during a further discussion: firstly, the current modernization of nuclear weapons by the USA and Russia; secondly, the 30th anniversary of the INF Treaty and finally, the future of non-proliferation in the light of the new geopolitical environment.

Susi Snyder (Pax Nederlande, Utrecht) has participated in negotiations in March 2017 at the United Nations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. This international event engaged 122 states in open and transparent debates and discussions as well as NGOs, thinks tanks and various representatives of civil society. Such negotiations aim at reaching an agreement about a comprehensive prohibition of nuclear weapons based on human law. Several aspects remain highly debated such as the international recognition of victims or the status of nuclear testing. In addition, the necessity to guarantee compliance with a possible treaty and the need to forge institutional mechanisms were mentioned as well.

The UN meeting brought together experts, officials and citizen in order to discuss on the benefits of a nuclear free world. Nevertheless, such an event has significant weaknesses: all nuclear states and their allies, with the exception of Japan and the Netherlands, refuse to participate; the US ambassador with the support of close allies decided to boycott negotiations.

Igor Sutyagin (Royal United Services Institute, London) insists on the weakness of the Russian military power in order to analyse the strategic role of nuclear weapons. Russian conventional military forces are clearly limited; therefore, Moscow has to compensate such a structural weakness with political willingness and nuclear weapons. Russia is a nuclear power since 1949 and is well-experienced with the psychological effect of possessing such a weapon. During the last years, political and military elites have decided to engage the country in a very aggressive nuclear modernization programme, which concerns ballistic missiles as well. Due to the fact that the Russian Federation cannot afford to be perceived as weak, nuclear weapons are playing a central role in the global strategy of the country.

Considering arms control, the Russian Federation seems to be interested in preservation. Though, the country is using voids in the treaty: for example, Igor Sutyagin evokes floating batteries of missile in order to circumvent the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) without violating it. Furthermore, Russia is complying with the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) because it is the only treaty which allows Russia to expand its nuclear arsenal.