Nuclear sharing is the concept that allows NATO’s nuclear powers, especially the US, to store tactical nuclear weapons on the soil of NATO countries which are not nuclear powers themselves. The US currently has nuclear weapons stored in Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Turkey. At present, no other military alliance has a nuclear sharing doctrine, although Russia and Belarus (which are both members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO) have discussed the possibility of creating a joint missile system, possibly in response to plans to build a NATO missile defense shield in Poland.
Earlier this month, reports emerged that the US plans to upgrade its nuclear arsenal in Belgium. This news serves as an excellent opportunity for us to discuss what nuclear sharing is, as well as the grave risks it poses, though its supposed purpose is to increase security. “As long as there are nuclear weapons, NATO will be a nuclear alliance [and] in a nuclear alliance, you need to share risk and responsibility” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated. While nuclear sharing is part of what is known in political science as confidence building, namely, collective security measures meant to increase the sense of security in a region, nuclear sharing actually has the opposite effect.
“Risk”, as former Secretary Clinton highlights in her previous statement, could not describe nuclear sharing better. Nuclear sharing actually increases the risk of nuclear war dramatically. A case in point is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. US missiles were stationed in Turkey (which, at the time, bordered directly with the USSR thanks to a shared border with modern-day Armenia and the Republic of Georgia). As a direct reaction to this perceived American threat, the Soviet Union moved missiles into Cuba. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and a nuclear war was (barely) averted. The presence of nuclear weapons in the hands of a few nations is a bad enough threat as it is, but the ability to spread them to other allied states increases that risk manifold.
Thankfully, we have lived in the nuclear age long enough to see that there are in fact possibilities to roll back or downgrade the importance of nuclear weapons in a given area. Canada participated in a nuclear sharing agreement with the US until 1984; Greece also held US nuclear arms on its soil until 2001. In 2010, Russia’s Depurty Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov requested the US remove its nuclear weapons from Europe. The US refused, but then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a counter-offer to remove nuclear weapons from NATO’s borders. Perhaps ending the practice- or at least making it less threatening, as in the case of Clinton’s counter-offer- is a good start to overall disarmament, as it decreases the geographic spread and capabilities of nuclear arms