Nuclear Weapons

US Nuclear weapons available to NATO

The Strategic Concept of NATO 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 of nuclear forces on their territory and in command, control and consultation arrangements.” (§. 63)
In the NATO Strategic Concept, the US, UK and French nuclear arsenals are mentioned in general terms as support of the deterrence role.

Directly assigned to NATO are the following nuclear weapons:

  • US tactical B61 plane bombs (150-250 bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey)
  • nuclear missiles on the 4 UK Trident-submarines (each submarine has a maximum of 48 nuclear warheads on board)
  • TLAM-N nuclear missiles on 12 US Trident-submarines. TLAM-N (Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile-Nuclear) are nuclear cruise missiles. These 100 nuclear missiles are not deployed anymore on the submarines, but are since 1991 in storage on land while the submarines are assigned as their platform.

When will NATO nuclear weapons be used?

Under US pressure NATO has since 2000 allowed a new strategy which permits the use of nuclear weapons against states who do not posses nuclear weapons themselves. After the Cold War the US changed it nuclear strategy. Originally nuclear weapons were used to deter other nuclear weapon states. Countries that did not posses nuclear weapons were not threatened by them. Since the 90’s the US broadened the role of nuclear weapons. Also countries which the US supposes to posses weapons of mass destruction like chemical or biological weapons, are now threatened with nuclear weapons. Documents of US Stratcom, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that US nuclear weapons on European soil have a role in the US war planning for the Middle East. Because many more countries have the potential to posses chemical or biological weapons than nuclear weapons, many more countries are now the target of US nuclear weapons. NATO accepted a similar doctrine in June 2000 by adopting a revision of her military strategy in the secret document MC 400/2. The first use of nuclear weapons is now possible against an enemy that is supposed to possess any sort of weapon of mass destruction. This new nuclear strategy, combined with an active policy of military intervention and concepts like 'preventive defense', make nuclear weapons much more threatening to a whole new range of countries and pulls them in a new arms race.

NATO is now reviewing its Strategic Concept. A new version will be decided on the summit in Portugal on 19-21 November 2010.

The role of NATO headquarters in Brussels

Political decision making concerning NATO nuclear strategy is carried out at the NATO headquarters in Brussels by the North Atlantic Council and the Nuclear Planning Group. The military decision making of NATO happens at SHAPE, the ‘Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe’ in Mons. The North Atlantic Council takes all important decisions like the approval of the NATO Strategic Concept. This Council consists of a representative of each country, sometimes the head of state or a minister, but most of the time the permament representatives or NATO-ambassadors. Nuclear policy is decided by the Nuclear Planning Group, which functions in the same way. France does not take part in it since it does not belong to the military structure of NATO. Each of these decision making bodies is supported by a range of committees and working groups. The whole is supported by the International Staff under the leadership of the Secretary General. The connection between the civil authority and the military headquarter SHAPE is formed by the Military Committee, which consists of the national military supreme commanders. It advises the political bodies and gives directives to the NATO-commanders.

The role of SHAPE

The use of nuclear weapons is planned at SHAPE by means of the NATO Nuclear Planning System (NNPS) and the NATO Nuclear Command and Control Reporting System (NNCCRS). In peacetime all defense planning happens at SHAPE. NATO states its nuclear weapons are not targeted at a specific country but this does not mean it does not plan the actual use of nuclear weapons. A range of scenario's and target lists are prepared and available for use. This effectively forms a threat of use. In wartime all NATO troops, including the Belgian, Dutch, … pilots, are under command of SACEUR. The use of nuclear weapons will happen on his command.

More detailed information can be found in the report of Hans Kristensen: US Nuclear Weapons in Europe and on his website
Official US nuclear weapons related doctrine relevant for Europe can be found on


France has indicated it is reducing its nuclear weapons to less than 300 nuclear bombs. speech Sarkozy 21-3-2008
These are mostly put on submarines. France has 4 submarines, of which always one is in overhaul and 3 are active, equipped with each up to 16 missiles. Each of these missiles can carry up to 6 nuclear bombs. This gives a maximum capacity of 288 bombs, but it is estimated that in practice the total amount is lower. These submarines are based in l’Ile Longue.

Another component of the French nuclear forces are aircraft carrying nuclear missiles. Appr. 60 ASMP-missiles are assigned to 3 land-based aircraft units and one unit on the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle. The aircraft carrier, based in Toulon, does not carry these nuclear weapons permanently but they are stored on land (presumably in Istres). The 3 land-based aircraft units are based in base n°125 Istres, n° 116 Luxeuil and n°113 Saint-Dizier. The aircraft are getting replaced from Mirage 2000N to Rafale F3. The nuclear weapons are stored in DAMS (dépôts atelier et de munitions spéciales), which are not always co-located together with the aircraft units. The DAMS are located in base n°113 Saint-Dizier, n° 116 Luxeuil, n°125 Istres, n° 118 Mont de Marsan and n° 702 Avord.
A reduction of the land-based units by one-third was announced, reducing the aircraft from 60 to 40. Possibly this means that the base of Luxueil will lose its nuclear role, both for the aircraft and the DAMS. Possibly also the DAMS in Mont de Marsan will close as a consequence. source Libération


The UK has 180 nuclear warheads on a submarine-based nuclear weapons system called Trident. It consists of 4 submarines, of which 3 are always operational and one is always at sea. There are 42 missiles in total and each submarine can carry 16 missiles.

Home base of the submarines is Faslane in Scotland, while the nearby base Coulport stores the nuclear warheads. Production of the nuclear weapons happens in the Atomic Weapon Establishment in Aldermaston, assembly takes places in Burghfield. Production and maintenance of the submarines takes place in Devonport.

Missile defense