Europe Seeks Collective Nuclear Strategy

More Europeans are accepting the idea that the Continent must develop a consolidated nuclear weapons command.

On Monday, the New York Timesreported on the growing conversation in Europe about the need to develop some sort of collective European nuclear weapons program.

European officials are discussing a plan, writes Max Fisher, in which,

France’s [nuclear] arsenal would be repurposed to protect the rest of Europe and would be put under a common European command, funding plan, defense doctrine, or some combination of the three. It would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection.

The fact that Europe is even discussing this subject is remarkable. Post-war Europe is famously pacifist and, at least until recently, has been at the vanguard of global nuclear disarmament. That this issue is now being openly and seriously discussed by European leaders, the mainstream media, and by a growing number of European citizens speaks to the anxieties pulsing through the Continent. Anxieties that include a resurgent, combative Russia to the east, a retreating U.S. presence in regions critical to European strategy, and a more independent Britain.

As informative as it was, the Times article didn’t get to the heart of this issue. While the notion of bringing France’s nukes under a “common European command” sounds rational, the fact is, when it comes to European integration on any issue, there is no “common European command.” Germany is Europe’s largest nation and the most powerful economically and politically. Germany’s mere presence in any collective European entity makes it the de facto leader. Granting nukes to a “common European command” means granting nukes to Germany.

This is the issue we really ought to think on: Is Europe—is the world—okay with Germany getting nuclear weapons?

We are still early in the conversation and, as Fisher explains, some significant hurdles have to be overcome before Europe forms any sort of common nuclear strategy. But the fact that this discussion is even underway—that it hasn’t been flatly dismissed, or that there hasn’t been a massive public outcry—is extremely revealing. That this conversation is even taking place shows that there is an growing appetite for some sort of overarching pan-European nuclear and military strategy. Consider too that the factors compelling Europe to think in this direction are not going away anytime soon. To the contrary, world conditions and conditions inside Europe will intensify the urge to develop some sort of nuclear security blanket.

This is a major development that needs to be closely watched. As Fisher wrote,

Though no new countries would join the nuclear club under this scheme, it would amount to an unprecedented escalation in Europe’s collective military power and a drastic break with American leadership.

Today nuclear weapons are seen primarily as a geopolitical issue. Whenever nuclear weapons are discussed, it’s generally in the context of strategy and leverage. Many will probably learn of Europe’s developing nuclear strategy and think, America has nukes, Britain has nukes, and Russia has nukes. Isn’t it fair that Europe also have nukes? The answer is simple: Europe’s history is fraught with competition and conflict. Germany, in particular, has been unable to exist peacefully with its neighbors for longer than a few decades. Today, multiple factors are converging over Europe that are resurrecting the historic tendencies that inevitably resulted in war.

The development of some sort of European nuclear strategy would mean that Europe’s next major conflict will be nuclear.

And that ought to arouse more than a little worry. To learn more, read Europe’s Nuclear Secret.