In the near future, a European nuclear "strategic triad" could possibly consist of French, American and UK assets in the air, land and sea, stabilizing the most likely flashpoint for a Russian challenge of NATO’s resolve.
A "Europeanization" of the nuclear "escalation ladder" would, therefore, prove beneficial for the continent as well as NATO as a whole, by essentially removing the "tripwire" mechanism from Washington’s hands. A tripwire, in the language of military strategy, is a small force deployed as a signal of the defending side’s commitment to an armed response in case of aggression. While in theory a small forward-deployed force would not trigger an escalation, the difficulty lies in balancing the potential of being perceived as an aggressor, while maintaining a credible deterrent. EU members in the Baltics and Eastern Europe would be reassured that deterrence would hold irrespective of the White House occupant and his/her willingness to place the American arsenal at the service of Europe’s integrity. A European nuclear umbrella would allow the Alliance’s eastern and southern flanks to no longer be the weakest links in crafting an effective deterrence posture.
It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the UK’s nuclear weapon stockpile will be increased from 225 to 260 warheads, according to the recent Integrated Review, which outlines the UK’s grand strategy for the coming years. This increase seems rather odd, at first glance, considering the country’s privileged position within NATO and its special relationship with the US. Nevertheless, the strategic logic behind this initiative is revealed when paying close attention to the country’s nuclear submarine capability, which is the only nuclear deterrent of the UK. The Integrated Review emphasizes the importance of reducing the UK’s vulnerability against "pre-emptive action by potential adversaries," indicating the need for more robust capabilities at times of technological change and geopolitical flux. Maintaining a robust second-strike capability in the European operational theatre, therefore, is not part of a competitive posture by Europe, but an ideal complement to the Alliance’s nuclear deterrence.
Under the aforementioned strategic logic, France’s nuclear forces, the only nuclear power within the EU, would "strengthen the security of Europe through their very existence," complementing Western European defense, which will remain anchored to the US nuclear deterrent. A majority of EU member states may find it difficult to discern French intentions within an oftentimes politicized rhetoric, and it is fair to say that for the foreseeable future, there will be no appetite to formally uphold a French nuclear guarantee in isolation from NATO. Yet, an open and honest dialogue "will naturally contribute to developing a true strategic culture among Europeans," an aspiration undoubtedly shared by the Greeks. At the end of the day, there is little disagreement among EU capitals that a more coherent European foreign and security policy is necessary in order to tackle existing and emerging challenges.
In light of a shifting strategic landscape in the nuclear domain, with developments ranging from the growing assertiveness of several nuclear-armed nations, to the forthcoming US Nuclear Posture Review, and the recent French proposal for a dialogue on the role of nuclear weapons in Europe, Greece would be forced, one way or another, to become involved in the debate. The country’s reflexes will probably depend on the intensity of the debate within Europe, as suggested above. The country’s potential contribution, in any case, is quite robust. Due to its geostrategic location, Greece could well play a significant role in the continent’s nuclear deterrence and function as a pillar of NATO nuclear burden sharing arrangements. The initiation of the debate would be accelerated should the US decide to withdraw their nuclear weapons from Turkey, as Greece constitutes a plausible alternative for the Alliance. There is no doubt that the issue is a politically sensitive one for the historically polarized Greek constituency and political elites. Nevertheless, successive Greek governments from the left to the right of the political spectrum have recently showcased that they are capable of transcending ideological stereotypes and engaging in long term strategic thinking. There is, thus, optimism that the country will play a bold and constructive role in the effort to enhance the continent’s security outlook amidst rising tensions in Europe and its periphery.
Copyright: POOL / AFP
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