BASIC-BITS Research Note 97.2
February 1997

 Extending the Nuclear Umbrella:
Undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Nicola Butler, analyst at BASIC,
Otfried Nassauer, Director of BITS, and
Daniel Plesch, Director of BASIC


Since the end of the Cold War, considerable progress has been made in reducing the number of countries which retain a nuclear option. Key countries, including Argentina, South Africa, and Ukraine, have renounced nuclear weapons altogether, joining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon states.

In addition, progress has been made on nuclear-weapon-free zones. The US, France and the United Kingdom signed the protocols to the Treaty of Rarotonga, which established a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific. The Treaty of Pelindaba, signed in 1996, establishes a similar zone in Africa.

However, two proposals currently under discussion would buck this trend if implemented: NATO enlargement and France’s proposal for a Europeanised Nuclear Deterrent. NATO’s current nuclear posture and the French "Eurobomb" proposal also raise the question of whether these types of nuclear co-operation are compatible with Articles I & II of the NPT.

NPT Article I states:

"Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly..."

Article II states:

"Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nucear explosive devices directly, or indirectly..."

The "Eurobomb"

The French proposal for a Europeanised nuclear force regained prominence in 1995 as France tried to justify its last series of nuclear tests. President Jacques Chirac stated: "As it builds its defence, the European Union might wish the French deterrent to play a role in its security... When the time is right, France will take an initiative on this subject with its main partners".1

At their bilateral summit in Nuremberg, in December 1996, France and Germany agreed to initiate a "dialogue on the future role of nuclear deterrence in the context of a European Defense Policy".

The latest French proposal for a Europeanised nuclear force is described by the French as "Dissuasion Concertée" (Concerted Deterrence). According to French Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, Concerted Deterrence is based on "the necessity for dialogue between two equal partners, on a subject which concerns their common future. Germany has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. She formally reiterated that position after reunification, when she confirmed the new State’s accession to the NPT... that commitment makes it even more important for Germany’s security to be guaranteed against that threat".3

In recent years, nuclear co-operation between France and the UK has reached an unprecedented level. At the 1995 Anglo-French summit, a joint statement was issued, noting, "the considerable convergence between our two countries on nuclear doctrine and policy. We do not see situations arising in which the vital interests of either France or the United Kingdom could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened".4

UK Ministry of Defence spokespeople state that they are "talking very actively with the Americans, and the French for that matter" on above ground experiments and computer simulation and that "recently there have been a number of technical discussions between Britain and France on a number of aspects including: hydrodynamics experiments; laser plasma physics; computer simulation; possible arrangements for peer review".5

However, the UK is vehemently opposed to the establishment of a European nuclear force which it says would "entail a breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (Article I)" unless the nuclear-weapon states concerned were to cease to exist.6 This view is reflected in the original US interpretation of the NPT. In response to questions from allies on the effects of the NPT on a federated European state, the US view was that "while not dealing with succession by such a federated state, the treaty would bar transfer of nuclear weapons (including ownership) or control over them to any recipient, including a multilateral entity".7 In contrast the Federal Republic of Germany, stated that it was prepared to accede to the NPT only on condition that "no regulation of the Treaty be interpreted in such a way that it would hamper the further development of European integration, especially in the establishing of a European Union with its corresponding areas of competency".8


NATO’s Strategic Concept of 1991 states:

A credible Alliance nuclear posture and the demonstration of Alliance 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 ofnuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements.

A NATO nuclear posture which requires participation in "command, control and consultation arrangements" would seem to conflict with NPT Articles I and II. Whether NATO nuclear co-operation arrangements breach NPT Articles I and II depends on the definition of "control" and what is considered an "indirect" transfer.

The US argues that the NPT "does not deal with arrangements for deployment of nuclear weapons within allied [NATO] territory as these do not involve any transfer of nuclear weapons or control over them unless and until a decision were made to go to war, at which time the treaty would no longer be controlling".9 The implication is that in peacetime NATO allies are allowed to train for the employment of nuclear weapons, almost as if the Treaty did not exist.

The US interpretation that the NPT "would no longer be controlling" raises unresolved issues. Indeed, questions concerning the legality of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements were raised during the 1995 NPT Conference by non-nuclear-weapon states including Mexico, Nigeria, Sudan, the Philippines and Tanzania. In the debate which followed, one non-nuclear-weapon state representative pointed out that "he wondered whether the representative of the Netherlands had spoken as a nuclear- weapon or a non-nuclear-weapon state".10

The NATO summit in Madrid on 8-9 July 1997 is expected to decide which former Warsaw Pact country or countries will be invited to begin negotiations on accession to NATO.

According to the UK Government, if NATO is enlarged "the same security guarantees should be extended to new members as have been enjoyed by NATO’s original members throughout the organisation’s existence".11 Whilst countries such as Ukraine have been persuaded to relinquish nuclear weapons altogether, NATO enlargement could extend security guarantees, incorporating nuclear deterrence, to nearby states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

New members should also "contribute to the development and implementation of NATO’s strategy, including its nuclear components; new members should be eligible to join the Nuclear Planning Group and its subordinate bodies and to participate in nuclear consultation during exercises and crisis".12 New NATO members will therefore play a role in NATO’s nuclear policy.

However, on 10 December 1996, the North Atlantic Council announced that "enlarging the Alliance will not require a change in NATO’s current nuclear posture, and therefore, NATO countries have no intention, no plan, and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members nor any need to change any aspect of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy -- and we do not foresee any future need to do so".

It remains to be seen whether once new NATO members have been agreed, infrastructure for deploying nuclear weapons, such as weapons storage vaults, would be built in these countries. The current programme for building WS3 storage vaults was initiated prior to discussions on NATO enlargement and therefore does not include any of the potential new members.13


The US and the UK take a clear position that short of the establishment of a federated European state, any European nuclear deterrent would be in breach of NPT Article I. However the US argues that its extensive nuclear co-operation with NATO allies does not breach Article I, since it would not fully transfer control over its nuclear weapons "unless and until a decision were made to go to war". The US view that NATO nuclear co-operation arrangements are legal, appears inconsistent with US and British opposition to the Eurobomb.

In fact both arrangements undermine NPT Article I and II. In addition, both NATO enlargement and the proposed Eurobomb would increase the number of non-nuclear-weapon states which participate in nuclear planning, training and decision making and which have an element of nuclear deterrence in their defence policies.

A more positive course in 1997 would be for the Eurobomb proposals to be dropped and for all non-nuclear-weapon states in NATO to become truly non-nuclear. The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons proposed "ending deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons" as an immediate step: such a move would clearly strengthen the non-proliferation regime. The 1997 NPT PrepCom provides an ideal opportunity for this possibility to be discussed.

With political developments moving rapidly in NATO and the European Union, Cold War nuclear co-operation arrangements are an anachronism which must be questioned. If NATO does not need to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, then does it really have any need to deploy nuclear weapons in Europe at all?


1 Jacques Chirac, quoted in a report from Reuters, Paris, 1 September 1995.

2 Joint Franco-German Security and Defense Concept, Nuremberg, 9 December 1996, p.6.

3 Speech to the Institut des Hautes Études de Défense Nationale, 7 September 1995.

4 British-French Joint Statement on Nuclear Co-operation, 30 October 1995.

5 House of Commons Defence Committee, HC 350 of 1994-95, 13 July 1995.

6 Letter from Michael Ryder, UK Permanent Representation to the European Union to Martin Butcher, CESD, 26 January 1996.

7 US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Non-Proliferation Treaty, 90th Congress, 10, 11, 12 and 17 July 1968.

8 Matthias Küntzel, Bonn and the Bomb: German Politics and the Nuclear Option, Pluto Press, 1995, p.146.

9 US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Non-Proliferation Treaty, 90th Congress, July 10, 11, 12 and 17, 1968.

10 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document, Part III, Summary and Verbatim Records, NPT/CONF.1995/32, 1996.

11 House of Lords, Official Report, 30 October 1996, WA21.

12 Study on NATO Enlargement, September 1995.

13 For further details, see Otfried Nassauer, Oliver Meier, Nicola Butler, and Stephen Young, US Nuclear NATO Arsenals 1996, BASIC-BITS Research Note, December 1996.


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