Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Does The US Defense Secretary Know About Nuclear Sharing?

Does US Defense Defense Secretary Robert Gates know that the US has a programme of nuclear sharing in place with some European Allies? And that these programmes have existed since the 1960s? I ask because answering questions yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment in DC, he appeared not to. Gates was asked this question by Paul Ingram of BASIC:

Q: Paul Ingram from the British American Security Information Council. You said in your talk, you made reference to the nuclear umbrella. I wonder if you could tell us whether you feel that the nuclear umbrella depends upon the United States handing over the control of nuclear weapons to some European allies at time of war and for preparing for that when European allies are not spending sufficient on conventional military capability when it comes to Afghanistan.

Now, that is clearly a question about nuclear sharing, if phrased a little indirectly. And Gates replied:

SEC. GATES: Well, you have just given me an idea. We might sit down and say we are willing to talk about it after you get your GDP spending on defense up to two or 3 percent. And I think that would set the bar plenty high for most of them, that it would be a distant, future problem. I think that – I think that the Iran – I think the way I would leave it – it is obviously a sensitive subject – I think the way I would leave it is that my impression is that all of our allies in Europe are very comfortable with the arrangements that we have today.

Did Gates understand the premise of the question? It doesn't seem so. It seems that he is saying that nuclear sharing programmes could be a future option if the Allies started spending enough on defence? And that for the moment the US promise of a nuclear umbrella is all that Europeans want. If the nuclear sharing programmes are so unimportant that a US Defense Secretary is in ignorance of them, well then that's one programme and set of bombs that could be done away with very quickly. (The speech itself was a call for a new generation of nuclear weapons. The full transcript is on the Carnegie website.)

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