House Bill Seeks Answers on Costs of NATO Nuclear Burden-Sharing

A demonstrator is arrested by police during a 2005 protest against nuclear weapons in front of NATO headquarters in Brussels. Language inserted into a House defense spending bill would require the Pentagon to report on how the alliance pays for keeping tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
June 11, 2014, 10:31 a.m.

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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