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POGO Asks Panetta to Stop Funding B61 Nuclear Bombs in Europe

This is a photograph of a B61 thermonuclear bomb underneath an airplane.

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled his plan to achieve $487 billion in budget cuts over the next ten years, he hinted that a smart strategy would mean cutting the number of nuclear weapons. Today, POGO sent him a very timely letter: the U.S. should cease funding the B61 nuclear bombs stationed in Europe, or pass the costs on to the countries where they’re stationed. This would save taxpayers more than $2 billion dollars.

The U.S. has approximately 200 B61 nuclear bombs deployed and stored in Turkey, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) defense. They were stationed there during the Cold War as a bastion against the Soviet Union. If the U.S. decides to go through with extending the life of these bombs, the projected cost is about $2.1 billion—a number that recently jumped from $1.6 billion, according to sources.

Serious questions have been raised about the military efficacy of the European B61 bombs. At present, the distances to potential targets outside NATO-friendly countries are such that in-flight refueling would be required multiple times. There is concern that current and proposed dual-capability aircrafts would run out of gas before they even reach their targets—not to mention, they couldn’t make it home. In short, we would be funding kamikaze missions.

“Given the magnitude of U.S. fiscal concerns, continuing to spend billions of dollars on weapons whose military efficacy is questionable at best and whose security is not assured is not justifiable,” wrote POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian in the letter.

The letter points to the B61 situation in Incirlik, Turkey, as a particularly problematic example. Most of the bombs there are for delivery by U.S. aircraft. But the U.S. does not actually have a fighter wing based at Incirlik, and the Turkish aircrafts are not certified to carry out a nuclear mission. It appears this is largely just halfhearted posturing.

Most importantly, we should remember that the NATO Alliance was built with the intention of cost-sharing among its members. Right now, the U.S. is footing most of the bill, without good justification. According to POGO’s Spending Less Spending Smarter Report, if the U.S. removes these bombs or has NATO members fund the Life Extension Program (LEP), it will save taxpayers more than $2.1 billion.

“If U.S. and European leaders really believe these nuclear weapons can be useful as a deterrent…European members must agree to bear an increased share of the costs,” wrote Brian.

Photo of B61 thermonuclear bomb via the Air Force.