US could unilaterally decide to use nukes from Volkel airbase

By Maaike Beenes

This article was first published on 30 May 2020 by PAX’s ‘No Nukes programme’. It is republished here with the kind permission of PAX. It is also pertinent to the current debate on Germany’s role in NATO nuclear sharing – see NATO Watch Observatory No.53.

A formerly ‘top secret’ document from 1961 that has been made public by the American National Security Archive, shows that the US could unilaterally decide to use its nuclear weapons stationed in the Netherlands.

The document is a checklist of steps the US was required to take before using nuclear weapons based in allied and friendly states. It shows there were significant differences between the arrangements. For bases in Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal, the US could unilaterally decide over the use of nuclear weapons hosted there. But the arrangement with the UK required speaking with the Prime Minister personally.

It is clear the opinion of the Netherlands was not considered particularly important. But the use of nuclear weapons hosted in Volkel airbase would have serious security consequences for the Dutch population, including the risk of accidents but also preventive strikes on the airbase. The US could drag the Netherlands into a nuclear war, without even asking for consent first.

The Dutch government still clings to the secrecy of agreements with the US/NATO and refuses to confirm or deny the presence of American nuclear weapons in Volkel, even though this has now been made clear repeatedly by the US and NATO itself (such as last year, when NATO accidentally made public a document listing the European air bases hosting American nuclear weapons). This secrecy also means that we will likely not get any answers to the question whether the US can still unilaterally decide to use the nuclear weapons in Volkel or how the Dutch government intends to protect its citizens from this significant threat to their security.