European Union Nuclear Weapons Program

Bradley Knox
April 19, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: European Union Map (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Amongst NATO countries, the United States, Great Britain, and France are the only ones with current nuclear weapons. The United States currently has nuclear warheads in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy both as a form of protection and as a symbol of a commitment to NATO and post-WWII peace. [1] However, with the United Kingdom recently voting to leave the European Union, and the United States threatening to withdraw support for NATO, European nuclear defense seems to be lacking. [1]

EU Proposal

In response to a series of tweets from President Trump which expressed a desire to restructure NATO, some European leaders are proposing the development of a European Union nuclear weapons program to serve as a deterrent to the looming power of Russia to the east. The plan would involve building on the current nuclear programs in France and the UK (if the UK chooses to participate), and repurpose them to be put under EU control and funding. In order to make this work, former German colonel, lawmaker, and foreign policy spokesman Roderich Kiesewetter claims that four things must happen: a French pledge to commit its weapons to a common European defense, the relocation of French warheads to other European Union countries (shown in Fig. 1), German financial support, and joint command of the program. [1] This plan would only come in to action if the U.S. chose to withdraw its support for Europe and would serve as a replacement for that program.


If the United States and the UK withdraw support for the EU, the only remaining country with existing nuclear weapons will be France. France is well known for its support for nuclear deterrents, and support for its weapons program is deeply rooted in its society and people. [2] For this reason, any proposal that would take nuclear weaponry out of the hands of the of the French is unlikely and would likely not be received well by the French people.


Ultimately, this is not a likely outcome for Europe, as it would first require the United States to withdraw support for Europe, which is a role that it has held ever since World War II and since the creation of NATO. Then it would require a very proud French society to surrender control of its nuclear weapons in order to protect the continent as a whole during a time when French nationalism is on the rise. Nuclear deterrents may be necessary provide a counterweight to Russia, but it seems unlike that the EU will play a part in any future nuclear weapons program..

© Bradley Knox. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Fisher, "Fearing U.S. Withdrawal, Europe Considers Its Own Nuclear Deterrent," New York Times, 6 Mar 17.

[2] J. Marcus, "France's Enduring Nuclear Deterrent," BBC News, 28 Mar 12.