Europe’s daily gamble: Rising odds of US B61 nuclear warheads

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has mentioned that the alliance is in discussions about the potential deployment of additional nuclear weapons. He emphasized the necessity for NATO to visibly showcase its nuclear arsenal to send a clear message to its adversaries. 

Photo credit: Reddit

“I won’t discuss the operational specifics such as the exact number of nuclear warheads to be deployed or stored, but these are essential consultations we’re undertaking,” he indicated, pointing out that China, Russia, and North Korea are the main challenges the alliance is currently addressing. 

Stoltenberg has previously made unusual references, especially for his position, to a NATO mission aimed at countering China. This is noteworthy considering NATO’s traditional Euro-Atlantic focus. He highlighted Beijing’s lack of support for Western economic efforts against Russia as a contributing factor to this stance.

Photo credit: Reddit

He pointed out the considerable expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal, predicting it will reach about 80 percent of the size of Russia’s and the United States’ arsenals by the 2030s. 

On the modernization of NATO’s nuclear capabilities, Stoltenberg explained, “The U.S. is updating their gravity bombs for nuclear warheads in Europe, and European allies are upgrading the aircraft designated for NATO’s nuclear mission.” 

In addition to the three NATO nuclear powers—the United States, Britain, and France—five other NATO countries will gain access to nuclear weapons from the U.S. in wartime: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

Photo credit: USAF

This arrangement has sparked controversy due to its practical creation of new nuclear-armed states. Western analysts frequently point out that it breaches Articles I and II of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. 

The nuclear strike capabilities of these states are set for upgrades with the introduction of new fighter aircraft. For instance, Turkey signed a letter of acceptance in mid-June to acquire advanced F-16 Block 70/72 fighters, while the four Western European nations will deploy F-35 stealth fighters. 

As of June 1, the Royal Netherlands Air Force 313 Squadron’s F-35s have fully taken over the country’s nuclear attack role from its aging F-16s. This marks the first European stealth fighter unit equipped for nuclear missions. 

Photo credit: USAF

With European nations placing increasing orders for more F-35s, there’s a possibility that additional B61-12 nuclear warheads will become available for nuclear sharing. This could enable more fighter units across the continent to become de-facto nuclear-armed.

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