Nuclear weapons
Nuclear power
Contact us


NATO was formed in 1949 and both of the Supreme Allied Commanders (Europe and Atlantic) have to be from the USA. 23 of the 26 member states of NATO are classed as non-nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. At the same time they belong to an Alliance which relies on nuclear deterrence. The NATO Summit in Washington in April 1999 adopted a Strategic Concept which stated:-

“The supreme guarantee of the Security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance….A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of solidarity and common commitment to war prevention continue to require widespread participation by European allies involved in collective defence planning in nuclear roles, in peacetime basing of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements…The Alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe”.

NATO not only underwrites a nuclear strategy, it also has access to the missiles to implement it. The French, US and UK nuclear submarines are assigned to NATO . In addition, the 480 American nuclear bombs stored at 15 airfields in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey and the UK can be used by all of the NATO members including those that declare themselves to be non-nuclear weapon states under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty . . [Under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty 185 States have agreed not to develop nuclear weapons on the understanding that the five declared nuclear states (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) gave an unequivocal undertaking to give up their nuclear arsenals. However, the nuclear states are not keen to keep their promises.]

As the late Professor John Erickson made clear, at a SNP - CND Seminar in Stirling in November 2001:-

“Membership of NATO is inconsistent with opposition to nuclear weapons as NATO is a nuclear alliance”.

By the end of the 1970s, NATO had developed a flexible-response strategy that involved detailed planning for the selective first use of nuclear weapons in the belief that a limited nuclear war could be won. By the early 1980s, with highly accurate fast ballistic missiles such as the Pershing 2 being deployed by the United States, there were indications that NATO was even moving to a policy of early first use of nuclear weapons. One indication of this came in a remarkably candid interview given by the NATO Supreme Commander , General Bernard W Rogers. He said that his orders were:

“Before you lose the cohesiveness of the alliance – that is, before you are subject to (conventional Soviet military) penetration on a fairly broad scale – you will request, not you may, but you will request the use of nuclear weapons“.

The long-standing NATO policy of the first use of nuclear weapons was not promoted widely in public, where all the emphasis was placed on nuclear weapons as an ultimate deterrent. Even so, the policy was made clear on relatively rare occasions. One example is evidence from the UK's Ministry of Defence to a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1988:

"The fundamental objective of maintaining the capability for selective sub-strategic use of theatre weapons is political – to demonstrate in advance that NATO has the capability and will to use nuclear weapons in a deliberate, politically-controlled way with the objective of restoring deterrence by inducing the aggressor to terminate his aggression and withdraw."

With the ending of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91, there was some easing of NATO nuclear policy. This included the withdrawal of a substantial proportion of NATO nuclear weapons from western Europe as the Soviet Union withdrew from its former satellites in east-central Europe. The possibility of first use was considered increasingly unlikely, but not abandoned as a facet of NATO policy.