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Former Warsaw Pact States Value U.S. Nuclear Arms as Deterrent to Russia

Some NATO member states find increasing value in U.S. nuclear arms deployed in Europe, amid continued worries about Russian actions in Ukraine.

Current and former officials from Poland and the Czech Republic spoke of the importance of maintaining the role that nuclear weapons play in NATO in a Tuesday Newsweek article.

"Nuclear deterrence is a very important factor that NATO has at its disposal, and it's becoming increasingly important," Polish National Security Bureau chief Stanislaw Koziej said in an interview.

Jiri Schneider, who served as the Czech Republic's first deputy foreign minister until two months ago, said it was important for NATO to "show some muscle" in the face of Russia's ongoing destabilizing actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Sources close to Schneider said that means continuing to deploy U.S. B-61 nuclear warheads in Europe and maintaining the air capability to deliver the gravity bombs in an attack. Less than 200 of the weapons are broadly understood to be fielded in five NATO countries -- Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Before the recent tensions with Russia, there was a strong movement among some Western NATO members to send the tactical weapons back to the United States, based primarily on the argument that their deployment did not provide much military value to the alliance. Proponents of that view now acknowledge there is little chance of a tactical nuclear withdrawal happening in the near future.

A March paper by the Center for European Policy Analysis recommended that NATO weigh ending its voluntary prohibition against the deployment of U.S. nonstrategic weapons in Central and Eastern Europe.

"Nuclear deterrence in Europe should have some kind of European participation, simply for reasons of burden sharing," Schneider said.

Currently, the five NATO states that host U.S. gravity bombs each maintain nuclear-capable aircraft that can deliver the weapons in an attack. But many of those planes are scheduled to be retired in the next decade and not all five of the countries are planning to buy dual-role planes to replace them.

Schneider suggested the Czech Republic could be willing to participate in a potential new NATO basing arrangement for the U.S. weapons.

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