Nuclear Double Standards: Why the U.S. Needs to End its Risky ‘Sharing’ Habit

Recently, a heated debate over Russia’s transfer of tactical, short-range nuclear weapons to Belarus has set the global stage ablaze. President Biden has tagged the move as “absolutely irresponsible” – a stand that’s not off base. Given the current geopolitical climate and the ongoing war nearby, escalating nuclear tensions by dispersing weapons to other nations is indeed a dangerous gamble. But here’s the catch – the U.S. has been playing the same high-stakes game for decades.

In a twist that reeks of Cold War irony, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has cheekily called out the United States decades-long history of “sharing” its nuclear weapons with European allies. From the 1950s onwards, America has hosted around 8,000 nuclear warheads across numerous European nations, turning the continent into a proverbial powder keg.

Though the number has dwindled over time, countries like Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, and Turkey continue to harbor U.S. nuclear arsenals. Sadly, these so-called “defensive” weapons, as the late anti-war hero and anti-nuclear campaigner Daniel Ellsberg highlighted, are essentially first-use weapons that do little to promote safety. Instead, they heighten the probability of a nuclear war breaking out in Europe.

The question that arises then is, why should Russia hold back from replicating a strategy that the U.S. has practiced for so long? It’s time for the U.S. to recognize its double standard and initiate earnest discussions with Russia to bring an end to all nuclear-sharing arrangements.

Historical precedent exists for such dialogue. During the Cuban missile crisis, a promise from President John F. Kennedy to remove U.S. warheads from Turkey triggered the removal of Soviet nuclear warheads from Cuba. Presidents Biden and Putin should follow this blueprint to ensure a safer world for all.

The discontinuation of nuclear sharing would also address one of the major criticisms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which currently hangs in a precarious balance. This essential treaty, in effect since 1970, has been a cornerstone of maintaining international peace but its survival is at stake. The last two NPT review conferences, held in 2015 and 2022, failed to reach a unanimous agreement, placing the future of the treaty in jeopardy.

One contentious issue is the implication of non-nuclear-weapons states hosting the nuclear weapons of other countries under the NPT. Plus, the short-range weapons being transferred to Belarus aren’t covered by the New START treaty, which limits strategic nuclear arsenals. Even the discussion of nuclear-powered autonomous torpedoes like Poseidon remains untouched by any agreement. An end to nuclear hosting in Europe could be the stepping stone to broader conversations between the U.S. and Russia on these interconnected issues.

It’s time for America to concede that nuclear sharing is wrong and to open negotiations with Russia to conclude all such risky arrangements. The threat of nuclear war is chillingly high, making risk reduction a paramount concern. Presidents Biden and Putin must seize the moment to prevent a nuclear showdown – they shouldn’t wait for their own missile crisis to act responsibly.