NATO to upgrade nuclear warheads in UK as per infrastructure bill
Is NATO treading carefully enough?
After 14 years of emptiness, military bunkers in the United Kingdom are being upgraded to store US nuclear weapons again.
As part of the Biden administration's 2023 defense budget request, the UK was added to the list of countries for infrastructure investments for "special weapons" storage sites. Other countries include Belgium, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and the Netherlands. The US stores an estimated 100 B61 nuclear bombs in the aforementioned countries.
The US airbase in the UK, at RAF Lakenheath, is being upgraded, according to Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists.
In 2008, the US withdrew its B61 munitions from Lakenheath, which put an end to the more-than-half-a-century maintenance of US nuclear weapons in the UK.
In Biden's new nuclear adventures, the B61 has been revived with a new guidance system - the B61-12 variant. It will go into full production in May 2022.
The budget request for 2023 says that NATO is going through with a $384 million infrastructure investment program sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, and Turkey to "upgrade security measures, communication systems, and facilities."
RAF Lakenheath, in the 1990s, had 33 underground storage vaults which stored 110 B61 bombs, according to the FAS.
The Biden administration, in parallel, has been trying not to make any moves that might appear too brazen or escalatory, especially against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and nuclear tensions. For instance, Washington canceled testing its intercontinental ballistic missiles. Furthermore, Kristensen doubts that Biden is planning to increase the US nuclear stockpile in Europe.
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“One of the things they have talked about is protecting the deterrent against Russia’s improved cruise missiles capabilities,” Kristensen said. “So they could be trying to beef up the readiness of more sites without them necessarily receiving nukes, so that they have the options to move things around in a contingency if they need to.”
The executive director of the Arms Control Association, Daryl Kimball, said the UK's upgrade in storage facilities is “an early sign that the US and Nato are preparing to engage in a protracted and maybe heightened standoff with Putin’s Russia."
“The administration should provide some clarity about the military necessity and goals of possibly bringing nuclear weapons back to the UK,” Kimball added.