By Meier, Oliver
Arms Control Today , Vol. 37, No. 7
The United States may have quietly removed all 130 nuclear weapons from its air force base in Ramstein, Germany. Before the withdrawal, Ramstein had been the biggest U.S. nuclear base in Europe. If true, the withdrawal means that there are probably about 350 U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, down from thousands at the height of the cold war.
In a July 9 report, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists revealed that Ramstein is missing from ajan. 27, 2007, list of NATO nuclear bases that are scheduled to receive a Nuclear Surety Staff Assistance Visit, a precursor for an inspection by a Nuclear Surety Inspection. Such an inspection must be passed every 18 month if nuclear bases want to remain certified for nuclear deployments.
If the weapons have been withdrawn, the German air force base at Biichel would be the only remaining U.S. nuclear base in Germany. Presumably, 20 U.S. B61 gravity bombs are deployed there under NATO nuclear-sharing arrangements. Under these arrangements, 140 weapons would still be assigned for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, none of which have their own nuclear arms. These weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime but can be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.
Guy Roberts, NATO deputy assistant secretary-general for weapons of mass destruction policy and director for nuclear policy, told Arms Control Today Aug.l that NATO "currently deploys a few hundred nuclear weapons in Europe." In line with NATO custom, Roberts declined to provide any further information on NATO's nuclear weapons practice or deployments.
The timing of a possible withdrawal and the reasons for it remain unclear. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2005 that the weapons deployed in Ramstein may have been withdrawn for safety reasons during construction at the site. Kristensen now speculates that the bombs never returned.
NATO is currently conducting an internal debate on the future role of nuclear deterrence. A June 15 Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) communiqué welcomed discussions on "deterrence requirements for the twenty-first century." Roberts explained that the alliance is reviewing its nuclear posture "as NATO goes through the process of agreeing on a new Strategic Concept possibly by 2009 or 2010." Roberts expressed hope that a decision could be taken to report findings of those discussions during NATO's Bucharest summit in April 2008 or no later than the 2009 spring defense ministerial. …