NATO's Sixty Year Legacy: Threat Of Nuclear War In Europe
Since its birth the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has envisioned the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations.
One of the fundamental purposes for the creation of NATO in 1949 was to introduce the permanent stationing of nuclear weapons in Europe.
In a Europe that, in 1949, had no nuclear nation and no atomic bombs of its own.
Whether the United States after the devastating display of its new weapon over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 deployed atomic bombs in Europe prior to 1949 will perhaps never be revealed, though reports claim that in 1948 Washington endorsed the deployment in Great Britain of B-29 strategic bombers capable of carrying bombs with nuclear warheads.
What is certain is that after the founding of NATO on April 4, 1949 US nuclear weapons were stationed in several member countries and that several hundred remain on the continent to this day.
The launching of the alliance in no way signalled the beginning of a post-World War II reality in Europe but a continuation of the war, with the former Axis powers Germany and Italy incorporated into NATO and the Soviet Union the new adversary.
On his way to the American White House in January of 1953 General Dwight D. Eisenhower, formerly Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, became NATO's first Supreme Commander in 1951. Even the title didn't change.
What had changed was that a military alliance had been formed in Europe by the only nuclear power at the time, the United States.
The official NATO handbook, reflecting on the nuclear doctrine of the bloc since its inception, says:
"During the Cold War, NATO’s nuclear forces played a central role in the Alliance’s strategy of flexible response....[N]uclear weapons were integrated into the whole of NATO’s force structure, and the Alliance maintained a variety of targeting plans which could be executed at short notice. This role entailed high readiness levels and quick-reaction alert postures for significant parts of NATO’s nuclear forces."
NATO was inaugurated on April 4, 1949. The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949.
In that almost five month hiatus NATO had a nuclear monopoly in Europe. With current US and NATO plans for integrated missile defense and with ongoing air patrols over the Baltic Sea, the Alliance is attempting to reassert its strategic, nuclear dominance over the continent, a topic to be addressed in more detail later.
From 1949 onward NATO's nuclear doctrine has been one described as "flexible response"; that is, the first use of nuclear weapons against a conventional, non-nuclear opponent or for what had been a conflict with conventional weapons.
Its Article 5 mutual military assistance obligation was enforced, as noted earlier, several months before the Soviet Union had even tested an atomic weapon.