Why Europe’s Current Nuclear Deterrent May Not Be Sufficient to Face the Biggest Threats Since World War II

Although a new Donald Trump presidency is not foreseen in the United States, NATO members are already preparing to rethink their defense strategies, proving the system against the former US president. The Atlantic alliance’s concerns were compounded last February by the flippant comments that if some countries failed to meet financial targets, Russia would be encouraged to do whatever it wanted, in defiance of NATO’s policy of hit one, hit all.

According to the website ‘The Conversation’, Trump’s comments represent a seismic shift in US foreign policy – never before has the president made such threats about its commitment to NATO, which has forced Europe to deal with Russian aggression without US support – in an article signed by Natasha Lindstedt, professor of government at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. This is so worrying that the European People’s Party, one of the main parties in the European Parliament, called for Europe. Without the US developing its own nuclear umbrella.

Trump’s threats come at a time when the West is facing the biggest threat to its security since World War II, making discussions about NATO’s nuclear deterrence even more important.

While Russia is unlikely to use nuclear weapons in this conflict in Ukraine, some experts warn that it would be unwise to assume that NATO’s current nuclear deterrent is sufficient. Vladimir Putin has also made it clear that Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons if necessary. The Russian president may hope that the limited use of nuclear weapons will not escalate the war enough to involve the United States, so that Russia may draw on its nuclear arsenal to gain a greater advantage in its next conflict.

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Nuclear power results

The logic of nuclear deterrence is that all actors are rational, have complete information, and can use that information to predict what others will do.

Not so in the Kremlin: Putin has shown that he takes risks with poor military intelligence, which leads to major miscalculations, especially if NATO is complacent. A Russian president may assume that America under Trump is primarily concerned with domestic political adversaries, giving Russia room to move forward and do what it wants.

With Putin and (potentially) Trump at the helm of the world’s two major superpowers, NATO members are rethinking their nuclear strategy – both the UK and France have nuclear capabilities, providing an independent nuclear deterrent.

However, NATO’s deterrence depends mainly on US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe – about 100 non-strategic warships (compared to 7,500 in the 1980s) are stationed in five NATO countries – Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. By comparison, Russia has about 6,000 nuclear warheads — the world’s largest arsenal — and can launch them from land, sea and air.

Russian nuclear weapons are installed at dozens of military bases in Russia, with some tactical nuclear weapons recently transferred to Belarus.

Of particular concern is Russia’s confirmation in 2018 that it has nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. Although Russia’s nuclear modernization effort has not been largely successful, the Kremlin has used the threat of nuclear weapons to moderate the West’s response to Russian aggression.

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The conflict in Ukraine has made the issue of nuclear deterrence even more urgent, and it is not the first time European powers have raised concerns about their own vulnerabilities. In 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron raised the alarm about US commitment to NATO and offered to make the French nuclear deterrent central to European security strategy.

France and England are far behind Russia. France has about 290 nuclear weapons that can be mobilized at short notice by air and sea. The United Kingdom decided to increase the number of nuclear warheads to 225 by 2021, with the aim of reaching 260 warships by 2025.

Unlike Europe, the United States has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, second only to Russia – 5,244, which includes nuclear-armed submarines, long-range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. In a show of strength to the Russians, Finland also flew B-52 strategic bombers near the Russian border in the Gulf.

But Donald Trump’s visit to the White House may give Putin the impression that he is unlikely to face any consequences for US actions that are central to NATO’s current nuclear deterrence program. This will put more pressure on Europe to prove its resolve.

Poland, for example, has made it clear that it is ready to host nuclear weapons, while the Baltic states have increased their own military spending. .

Increasing nuclear weapons capabilities would make Russia more vulnerable and more likely to take risks. A related point is that the war in Ukraine proved the absence of a nuclear deterrent. The presence of tactical nuclear weapons (of which Russia has 2,000), which are smaller and more accurate, increases the possibility of their use.

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Whatever the course of action, it carries enormous risks and potential disaster. It is important to highlight that the nuclear weapon launched on Hiroshima in 1945 was a “small” nuclear weapon – it still had the power to kill 140,000 people, and later generations are still suffering from diseases. Modern nuclear weapons are 3,000 times more powerful, making the development of a coherent and effective nuclear strategy even more critical.

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