The many projects circulating in Italy, as well as in the other NATO and EU countries, for the “new EU Army” lack a nuclear and chemical-bacteriological perspective, without which any Joint Armed Force in Europe – after the withdrawal of a nuclear power such as Great Britain from the EU – would be little more than a group of scouts or amateurs.
Moreover, the probable reduced US interest in European defense, combined with a possible series of tensions with the Russian Federation, make it necessary to rethink the European nuclear arsenal (as well as the chemical-bacteriological one) and the whole Eurasian peninsula’s defense doctrine.
We are all still living in the Cold War spell. Of course, Russia is no longer the arch-enemy it was at that time, but it is definitely a EU global competitor with which strategic and economic agreements can and must be reached, which – however – has different views about Eurasia, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Different views not only from the American ones, but also alien to a properly understood European interest.
Therefore, after Brexit, France remains the only European nuclear power.
Thanks to its national strategic nuclear structure, France wants to “prevent war”, be it nuclear or conventional.
Also in the case of France, the doctrine has not changed much from the one in force during the Cold War, even though currently the misplaced theme of “terrorism”, which is rather strictly jihad, sees France using its nuclear triad against terrorist organizations or the “Heads of State using weapon of mass destruction against France’s territory and interests”.
Too little. And what would happen if China launched a missile attack on France?
The nuclear theory must analyze all scenarios, not just those who are thought to be the most likely.
Moreover, in his speech of January 19, 2006, President Chirac pointed again to the legitimate use of the force de frappe (the military strike force) “against the leaders of the countries using terrorist methods” and “against those who want to use weapons of mass destruction” – and this applied both to the French territory and to the “neighbouring States.”
A nuclear strategic launch against the “leaders” of a country?
It is also true that the French nuclear system is extremely refined and sophisticated with regard to the accuracy of the weapons used, which – however – are not individual weapons used against a criminal.
Therefore, in essence, this is the question to be posed: is France interested in pooling its strategic nuclear arsenal with other countries, after Brexit?
Certainly a role as holder of the nuclear response would make France become the true dominus of the EU Army and of Europe, but it is equally true that France would never accept to defend intra-European targets in which it is not interested or which divert technologies and means from the already planned defense points.
Hence it would be a defense halfway, without even putting into question the issue of the chemical and bacteriological weapons of the future EU Army.
Not to mention nuclear-powered carriers, which are as important as the technology they use as weapon.
Moreover Germany – which has always been suspicious of nuclear weapons which, during the Cold War, were designed to hit targets inside the German territory – wants a strategic nuclear response organized on the basis of the existing French and British arsenals.
Germany does not want to be alone to manage a French-only nuclear arsenal – hence bound to “sacrifice” German areas, where needed, to defend positions and populations inside the French border.
Neither Germany nor Italy, however, cannot believe that strategic competition or nuclear compensation between Great Britain and France can be chosen or directed by the States which are protected almost for free.
Currently the six NATO bases hosting nuclear weapons are Kleine Brogel, Belgium; Buchel, Germany; Aviano and Ghedi, Italy; Volkel, Netherlands and Incirlik, Turkey.
They host 180 nuclear devices.
Other US nuclear weapons in Europe are currently hosted in Lakenheath, UK; Nörvenich and Ramstein, Germany, in addition to the other above mentioned German bases; Araxos, Greece and Akinci and Bolkesir, Turkey, in addition to the above stated Incirlik Turkish base.
During Barack Obama’s Presidency, the United States drew up the EPAA (European Phased Adaptive Approach) program, which is expected to progressively protect the whole of Europe, although with targets and timing obviously chosen by the United States.
Furthermore we do not believe that currently the extension of the EPAA program from 2011 to 2020 would not be financially supported by the individual European countries accepting it.
In the first phase, US ships with AEGIS interceptors (with Arleigh-Burke ships) and RIM 161 SM3 missiles operating against short- and medium-range enemy missiles will come. This has already happened in the base of Rota, Spain.
Obviously, this means – at first – to protect the US forces already present in the South-Mediterranean region.
At a later stage, the United States will add a ground component to the SM-3 missiles to the North and South of Europe, always targeted against short- and medium-range nuclear intrusions.
Finally, in 2018, the whole of Europe should be covered by a network of SM-3 missiles having only a limited ability to hit the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).
Hence we are back to square one.
Without adequate coverage and ability to retaliate against an ICBM attack, the European defense – with or without the US support – is a wet fuse.
Moreover, currently France uses ballistic missiles only in the maritime component of the nuclear triad (land-sea-air), while the land-based missiles have been “decommissioned” since 1996.
France, however, still has nuclear cruise missiles that can be carried on aircraft used – according to the current French nuclear doctrine – as “tactical weapon” preceding the phase of the real nuclear attack.
The “ultimate deterrence” before a counterforce nuclear salvo.
It is not enough and, in any case, the French doctrine is not sufficient to autonomously defend the European territory – and probably nor its nuclear warheads are enough.
Moreover, Phase 4 of the US EPAA program envisages the presence of missiles in Europe, including the long-range ones, only from 2020 onwards, but obviously only with a US “key”.
It is worth recalling here the old question a great strategist – and hence great politician – Charles de Gaulle, put to the North American ambassador to Paris in 1965: “What would you do if a Soviet missile hit Lyon?” That is to say: in terms of nuclear strategy, does Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty really apply? Just for the record, the US diplomat remained silent.
As we have already seen, currently the nuclear bombs hosted in Europe are over 180 and are B-61 weapons, model 3-4-7-10.
The aforementioned weapon can also be carried by the new F-35 fighter jets, as well as by the old Tornado or F-16 ones.
Within 2018, all B-61 nuclear weapons will be converted into the Mod-12 version.
A weapon that will be available in the 0.3 kiloton explosive yield, which is 50 times less powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, up to a maximum of 50 kiloton explosive yield.
The Mod-12 version has a strong “bunker-buster” characterization, namely designed to penetrate hardened targets or targets buried deep underground, such as military bunkers.
The over 180 nuclear bombs present in the EU would anyway be credible deterrence, considering that – as to number and power – they would not be enough to destroy the enemy command line, but could be useful against countries that can make or want to make nuclear bombs “at home” and with a low potential.
This means that Russia has no deterrence, while countries which currently have other things to think about than nuclear strategy might be blocked in the nuclear ”rise to extremes”. Or it is possibly thought that this nuclear posture may deter the makers of some “dirty bomb”.
Rather weak strategic thinking – if we may say so.
However, which would be these countries subjected to European deterrence? Certainly neither Iran nor the Russian Federation, nor some Maghreb countries such as Morocco and Egypt – considering their small nuclear capacity.
Therefore it is just a mere political guarantee in the US hands and under its direct command.
In this context, some German analysts have suggested that the entire French nuclear system may be extended to the EU, with almost exclusively German funding and in parallel with – and not as an alternative to – the US deterrence already present in Europe.
We have seen, however, that, apart from the maritime component, the French arsenal has no true potential against the ICBMs and probably against intermediate-range nuclear carriers, if they are many and launched from sites near EU borders.
Finally, France wants to maintain absolute discretionary power on the targets and the use of its nuclear deterrent which, in the event of an extension of the French umbrella to the whole EU, should protect the Baltic States from an attack of the Russian Forces – also a conventional one.
No one wants to wake up the Russian bear, but rather to make it understand that the first Russian nuclear salvo could lead to such a counter-salvo as to cause sufficiently severe counterforce damage, but not enough to block a second salvo, which would become the basis for a political negotiation.
Moreover, in the event of a nuclear attack on Russia, it would still launch nuclear carriers directly against North America. Currently this is no longer tolerable for the United States, which has no intention of protecting a geoeconomic competitor, namely the European Union, at almost zero cost for the Europeans themselves.
However, how is the Russian Federation organized in the field of nuclear war?
According to the latest data exchanged with the West, according to the START Treaty, Russia has 1,643 nuclear warheads carried on 528 strategic delivery systems.
France has 300 nuclear warheads. They are placed on four submarines and the air component is supplied to four air squadrons.
Britain has 215 nuclear warheads. In this case, too, the carrier is mainly maritime.
China owns 260 nuclear bombs; India has 120 nuclear warheads and Pakistan 130.
Russia keeps on producing the RS 24 YARS missile (NATO reporting name: SS-29), which is a land-transportable ICBM, while it has just manufactured a new land-transportable ICBM, namely the RS-26 RUBEZH, which is specifically targeted against the enemy missile defenses.
The RS 24 is a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), which can accommodate multiple warheads and has an 11,000 kilometer range, while the RUBEZH can reach up to 12,600 kilometers.
There is also a new Russian ICBM in an advanced manufacturing stage, which will be completed in 2018 and will be operational in 2019, which is placed in silos and will be liquid fuel-propelled.
As to the maritime component of the nuclear threat, in 2013 Russia already developed and deployed the R-30 BULAVA (NATO reporting name: SS-NX-30 MACE), which will be launched by the new Borei class submarines which became operational in 2013.
The BULAVA has a range of 8,000 to 10,000 kilometers.
The air component of the Russian nuclear triad is composed mainly by the Kh-55 missiles (NATO reporting name: AS-15 KENT), having a range of up to 2,500 kilometers, which are usually launched by Tupolev 95 MS (NATO reporting name: BEAR H) and Tupolev 160 (NATO reporting name: BLACKJACK) strategic bombers.
The latter is a supersonic variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber, with a possible load of 40 nuclear and conventional tons.
Russia has also developed another air-to-surface long-range nuclear cruise missile, namely the KH 101.
Furthermore, the Russian Federation is still making Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) such as the R500, operational.
Alias ”Iskander”, the above stated GLCM is wire-guided and has a 500 kilometer range.
For Russia, nuclear weapons and their use are needed to implement the new Russian national security doctrine, which consists in reaffirming its role as independent leading power in the world, in a global security scenario which is fluid, dangerous and uncertain, with fierce competition for economic and intangible resources.
Russia also believes that the world is heading for a polycentric composition of the new powers. Finally Russia thinks it must be surrounded by buffer zones protecting it against any kind of external threat.
Hence, if we consider also the French stand-alone nuclear force, and its doctrine of immediate “anti-terror” use, as well as the US network of medium-to-short range missiles, for the protection of Forces more than of the territory, we are faced with an unreasonable strategic equation.
It is not useful for deterrence vis-à-vis Russia and it is not needed for defense against the so-called “dirty bombs”. It is not even useful to protect us from a possible nuclear salvo launched by a terrorist group.
Therefore the Russian Federation can hit the EU territory at a long range, while the possible European and NATO response is based on medium-to-short range nuclear weapons just hitting the first frontline of the enemy’s attack.
Probably within the European borders.
However, for the Russian Federation, to what extent the nuclear set-up which is emerging in Europe (not considering the chemical and bacteriological component) may act as a deterrent?
This is a question which can be answered only by the Russian political and military decision-makers, who have every interest in keeping the strategic pressure on Europe high so as to create political and economic equilibriums they could not reach without the nuclear asymmetry in their favour.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France