83 Hiroshimas

American B61-12 nuclear bombs head to Europe


Since last December, the United States has begun to replace its nuclear weapons on European soil with more modern ones. It is replacing the B61-3, B61-4 and B61-7 thermonuclear bombs with the B61-12, which has become the main US and NATO air-launched nuclear weapon.

Boeing designed the bomb’s new guided-tailkit, giving it additional maneuverability and the appearance of more precision. But, it’s a nuclear weapon, and has different yields, from 0.3kt to 50kt. These bombs can detonate beneath the Earth’s surface, increasing their destructiveness against underground targets to the equivalent of a surface-burst weapon with a yield of 1,250 kilotons––the equivalent of 83 Hiroshima bombs. 

These nuclear weapons are coming to Europe in a time of heightened nuclear tension on the continent, and even as the majority of people in European host countries want to remove nuclear weapons and join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Combined with the lack of transparency around nuclear sharing, this moment raises questions about whether citizens in the host states would agree to be complicit if these weapons are ever used.  Even if the bombs are American and the US retains launch authority, they would most likely be dropped by Europeans. If the US decides to use its nuclear weapons located in Germany, the warheads are loaded onto German planes and a German pilot drops them. 

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And from: Tica Font, member of Centre Delàs and WILPF Spain, published by Pressenza

It is a free-fall bomb equipped with state-of-the-art navigation systems and a versatile warhead that can be configured in four strengths, 0.3 kiloton (kt), 1.5 kt, 10 kt and 50 kt depending on the target, making it a low to medium-yield weapon. This type of weapon is referred to as a ‘first-strike’ weapon. Having a tactical nuclear weapon with higher precision and lower yield could make politicians less reluctant to use them in conventional operations and puts us on an increasingly dangerous front line of confrontation between NATO and Russia.

These new nuclear weapons will replace existing ones on the soil of Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey. But Washington has announced that it will also deploy them on UK soil; this time it is not a replacement for more outdated ones, as it reported in 2008 that its nuclear weapons had been withdrawn from the RAF; now it appears that it wants to put new nuclear weapons in the empty bunkers at Lakenheath again.

American nuclear weapons could return to the empty bunkers at Lakenheath, a move strongly opposed in Britain. (Photo: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)

All this deployment of nuclear weapons represents a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT prohibits nuclear-weapon States Parties from transferring nuclear weapons to any other State and prohibits non-nuclear-weapon States Parties from receiving nuclear weapons or from manufacturing or acquiring them.

53 years after the entry into force of the NPT, we see that it has not served to achieve nuclear disarmament. Just two years ago, in January 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force. The TPNW outlaws nuclear weapons and makes it illegal for states that sign the TPNW to possess, develop, deploy, test, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

However, for the Spanish government the NPT remains the “cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime”, considering that this treaty is an adequate and sufficient instrument for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. They therefore consider that the TPNW is not necessary, as the NPT already exists.

But the facts do not support the Spanish government’s position. In addition to the deployment of new weapons in Europe, the new NATO Strategic Concept 2022, approved in Madrid last summer, states that “NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is based on an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence assets (…) and that it will take all necessary steps to ensure the credibility, effectiveness, integrity and security of the nuclear deterrence mission”.

In short, it seems that the NPT is only defended when it comes to imposing nuclear weapons restrictions on countries outside the NATO orbit (the “others”), that compliance with the NPT is not applicable to either the US or NATO, while both re-emphasise deterrence and the nuclear threat. On the contrary, the safest position, the position that would best reflect citizens’ aspirations to completely destroy nuclear weapons, is for Spain to decide to join the TPNW, and for the Spanish government to attend meetings of TPNW states parties, to show genuine support for denuclearisation.

Tica Font is a member of Centre Delàs and WILPF Spain.

Headline photo shows U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabriel Gonzales, 4th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, briefs Maj. Gen. Thad Bibb, 18th Air Force commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Chad Bickley, 18th AF command chief, on the Command Disablement System of a B-61 aboard a C-17 Globemaster III at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, April 8, 2021. Wikimedia Commons.

The opinions expressed in articles by outside contributors and published on the Beyond Nuclear International website, are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Beyond Nuclear. However, we try to offer a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives as part of our mission “to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future”.

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