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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.
Of the three nuclear powers in NATO (France, the United Kingdom and United States) only the United States has provided weapons for nuclear sharing. As of 2009, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey are still hosting U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO's nuclear sharing policy. Canada hosted weapons until 1984,
and Greece until 2001. 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. soldiers; the codes required for detonating them are under U.S. 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.
of the 480 U.S. nuclear weapons believed to be deployed in Europe, 180 tactical B61 nuclear bombs fall under the nuclear sharing arrangement. 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.
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.
After the Soviet Union collapsed the nuclear weapon types shared within NATO were reduced to tactical nuclear bombs.
The only German nuclear base is located in Büchel, near the border to Luxembourg. The base has 11 Protective Aircraft Shelters (PAS) equipped with WS3 Vaults for storage of nuclear weapons (maximum capacity is 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.
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 U.S. insists 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.
However the pilots and other staff of the "non-nuclear" NATO countries practice handling and delivering the U.S. nuclear bombs, and non-U.S. warplanes have been adapted to deliver U.S. nuclear bombs which involved the transfer of some technical nuclear weapons information. Even if the U.S. 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. But most of the states that signed the NPT in 1968 would not have known about these agreements and interpretations at that time.