A defense bill approved by a House panel on Tuesday contains language that seeks to spotlight the costs of nuclear burden-sharing within NATO.
A measure contained in the House Appropriations Committee’s annual military spending bill would require the Pentagon to issue a report outlining “the proportional contributions of NATO members to the cost of sustaining forward-deployed nuclear weapons” as well as the impact that proportional cost-sharing would have on the U.S. military’s budget.
The United States presently shoulders the vast majority of the expense — about $100 million annually — for the operational deployment of less than 200 B-61 gravity bombs in Europe. The nonstrategic weapons are broadly understood to be fielded in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Those five nations in turn are supposed to maintain the aircraft capability necessary to deliver the nuclear bombs in an attack. The host states additionally pay for facility and security costs at the military installations where the weapons are stored.
However, none of the other 22 member countries of NATO are understood to contribute directly to the tactical-arms mission, according to Hans Kristensen, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project.
Separate from the operational expense of keeping B-61s in Europe is the cost of modernizing the gravity bomb. The B-61 life-extension program is anticipated to cost as much as $11.5 billion — all of it currently to be borne by U.S. taxpayers, Kristensen told Global Security Newswire.
Some of the future costs of maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe include an estimated $1 billion to integrate the updated B-61 with European Tornado and F-16 aircraft and U.S. F-15E, F-16 and B-2 bombers; and about $154 million to enhance security at the European military bases that store the nuclear warheads, according to research compiled by Kristensen.
The House bill cites “the growing costs of this mission” as the reason for requiring a report on proportional cost-sharing with alliance members no later than six months after the legislation becomes law.
U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) inserted the language during the bill’s markup on Tuesday. He sees the requested report as a “first step” toward achieving a “more equitable cost-sharing among NATO allies,” according to a press release from his office. He expects the report also will be useful in enabling U.S. legislators to better evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the B-61 modernization program and a plan give a nuclear capability to a future variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The military value of maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe has been questioned on both sides of the Atlantic, although nations shied away from altering the status quo at the 2012 NATO summit. In 2010, then-Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright indicated that U.S. long-range nuclear weapons and conventional arms could handle all of the military missions currently associated with the B-61 in Europe.
In a Monday interview, Quigley said he believes the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee supported the inclusion of the reporting requirement “not because they are ‘anti-nukes,’ but because they want NATO to pay a proportional share of their own defense.”
An effort along similar lines last month by Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) to include an amendment in the House’s annual defense authorization legislation failed. Sanchez’s amendment would have required the Pentagon and Energy Department to certify that the cost of maintaining the B-61 mission in Europe would be proportionally shared by NATO countries.
The California Democrat told GSN on Monday that sustaining the forward-deployment of the B-61 “is incredibly expensive for us to do. I just think that we need to talk to our NATO allies and if this is an important thing for them, to have them … help us in the cost-sharing of it.”
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