The recent NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania concluded with discussions on NATO expansion and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine dominating the headlines. However, amidst these topics, Poland’s request to enter a nuclear-arms-sharing arrangement with the US went unnoticed. The Polish government, led by Prime Minister Mateus Morawiecki, requested that US B61 nuclear bombs be deployed on Polish soil and controlled by Polish air-force crews in the event of a NATO conflict with Russia. This request raises concerns about the possibility of a general nuclear exchange between the US and Russia, which would have catastrophic consequences for humanity.
The Polish request was motivated by Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, where they will be operated by specially trained Belarusian crews. This sharing arrangement between Russia and Belarus mirrors a similar agreement between the US and NATO, where B61 nuclear bombs are stationed on the soil of four NATO nations (Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany) and shared with the air forces of five NATO nations in times of war. The close relationship between Russia and Belarus has been strengthened following domestic unrest in Belarus after the 2020 Presidential election.
The issue of US nuclear weapons on Polish soil first arose in 2020 when Richard Grenell, then-US ambassador to Germany, and Georgette Mosbacher, then-US ambassador to Poland, engaged in a Twitter exchange regarding Germany’s participation in the NATO nuclear sharing arrangement. Germany ultimately agreed to purchase new US-manufactured fighters to replace its aging fleet of Tornado fighter bombers. The issue resurfaced in October 2022 when Polish President Andrzej Duda publicly appealed for the US to station B61 nuclear bombs on Polish soil due to concerns about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, this request did not gain traction in the US or NATO.
In April 2022, the director of the NATO nuclear policy directorate, Jessica Cox, announced plans to update NATO’s nuclear sharing program to integrate F-35A aircraft into the mission. This led to the possibility of a compromise where US nuclear bombs would remain on German soil but be controlled by Polish aircrews in times of war. Poland recently signed a deal with the US to purchase 32 F-35A fighters, scheduled for delivery in 2024.
Although the Polish request was not publicly addressed at the Vilnius Summit, the NATO communique issued at its conclusion hinted at the future possibilities for Poland and the NATO nuclear deterrent. The communique emphasized the importance of ensuring the credibility, effectiveness, safety, and security of the nuclear deterrent mission. It also mentioned the need for broad participation by all Allies concerned in NATO’s nuclear burden-sharing arrangements.
While it is unlikely that the US or NATO will agree to station US B61 bombs on Polish soil, the communique suggests that Poland’s F-35A fleet could be integrated into the pool of aircraft available to NATO for nuclear delivery. However, this could escalate tensions with Russia, as every F-35A in the NATO arsenal would be perceived as a potential nuclear threat, increasing the possibility of a nuclear conflict.
In conclusion, while the ambitions of individual NATO members, such as Poland, may seek to strengthen the alliance’s nuclear deterrent, it ultimately brings the world closer to a nuclear catastrophe. The focus should be on maintaining peace and security in Europe, rather than escalating tensions with Russia and risking the destruction of humanity.