Original Contribution
20 May 2012

NATO: Nuclear (Non-) Sharing

von Otfried Nassauer

Conventional wisdom and NATO officials often emphasize the importance of sharing risks, roles and responsibilities among Alliance members. Nuclear sharing is the example named on a regular basis. However, a formerly secret instruction by the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff raises serious doubts about the political will of the United States to enable non-U.S. officers serving at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe or the UK Liaison Office at STRATCOM to share the responsibilities of nuclear planning.

The 2008 instruction (CJCSI 3231.04E), still valid at the time of writing, issues guidance for U.S. military authorities on information to be shared and not shared with non-U.S. military personnel, contributing to NATO nuclear planning. The document acknowledges the requirement of foreign nationals to have “access on an daily and continuing basis to selected OPLAN 8010 nuclear planning information” including “concepts, background and auxiliary information, briefings, policy discussion, documents and procedures” in order to increase “non-US participation in nuclear force planning to support NATO”. However it also contains restrictions and guidance on how to sanitize the information prior to any release to NATO officers.

Information not to be released includes data on “weapons systems reliability and Circular Error Probabilities for those weapon systems committed to the current OPLAN 8010 (…) and single system or weapon damage expectancies” as well as “other elements of planning information that, when aggregated, could compromise any of the above.” Since several secret passages on information not to be shared were subject to sanitization before publishing the document under the Freedom of Information Act, it is unclear how broad a catch all clause this is. In addition sanitizing these sections creates the impression that other NATO members should not know which information is withheld from their officers.

As a consequence of this U.S.-policy special sanitized NATO-versions of necessary planning documents have been produced, such as for example a NATO version of the “USSTRATCOM Sortie Manual”.

While the non-disclosure of this information might affect and hamper non-US-officer’s work while participating in NATO nuclear planning and especially in planning specific strike options, other information withheld or needing prior approval from the Chairman if the JCS before shared is easier to understand: For example information on the “specific selection criteria for facility inclusion in the National Target Base” of the United States must have the Chairman’s approval, since it could endanger intelligence sources in need of protection.

However, the document seems to contradict NATO’s public statements in the Alliance’s 2010 Strategic Concept and in the 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review that the “circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote.” It indicates nuclear (targeting) planning is still part of the Alliance’s usual and daily business.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Guidance for the Sanitization of Information Pertaining to Nuclear Command and Control to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE); United Kingdom (UK) Liaison Office; UK Strategic Weapon System Integrated Project Team; and UK Nuclear Operations and Targeting Centre in Support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Operations (U), CJCSI 3231.04E, 12 August 2008, formerly SECRET, released under FOIA


ist freier Journalist und leitet das Berliner Informationszentrum für Transatlantische Sicherheit - BITS