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US nuclear weapons and alliances in Europe and Asia

From the start of the Cold War to the presidency of Donald Trump, nuclear weapons have been central to the internal dynamics of US alliances in Europe and Asia. But cooperation on policy, strategy, posture and deployment of US nuclear weapons has varied significantly between US alliances and over time. Partners in Deterrence goes beyond traditional accounts that focus on deterrence and reassurance in US nuclear policy, and instead places the objectives and influence of US allies at the centre of analysis. Through a series of case studies informed by a rigorous analytical framework, it reveals that US allies have wielded significant influence in shaping nuclear weapons cooperation with the US in ways that reflect their own, often idiosyncratic, objectives. Combining in-depth empirical analysis with an accessible theoretical lens, Partners in Deterrence provides important lessons for contemporary policy makers and makes an essential contribution to existing scholarship on alliances and nuclear weapons.

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Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil
in Partners in deterrence
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

Chapter 1 outlines the book’s framework of analysis and commences by drawing key distinctions between the theories of realism and institutionalism. These theories provide the foundation for the two hypotheses to be tested in the book via empirical analysis of individual case studies filtered through six analytic frames, which capture the objectives of allies and the sources of influence between the US and its allies regarding nuclear weapons cooperation.

in Partners in deterrence
Germany and NATO nuclear weapons cooperation
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

Chapter 2 focuses on (West) Germany as the single most important non-nuclear ally for the US in NATO. During the Cold War, West Germany remained central to debates within NATO about nuclear sharing and played a crucial role in promoting institutional integration in NATO that fostered compromise on nuclear cooperation, while at the same time creating mutual dependence with the US. NATO allies were dependent on the US release of nuclear warheads, but the US was dependent on allies’ cooperation to alter nuclear strategy in Europe. For (West) Germany, this mutual dependence provided a degree of influence that widened options to achieve national policy objectives. For NATO as a whole, mutual dependence meant that nuclear cooperation became so central to the alliance’s identity that it survived as a ‘nuclear alliance’ in the post-Cold War era.

in Partners in deterrence
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Norway and nuclear weapons cooperation in NATO
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

As a founding NATO member, and acutely aware of its vulnerability to invasion, Norway has remained highly supportive of a close security relationship with the US bilaterally and through the NATO alliance. At the same time, Norway has sought to reassure Russia that it would not base NATO forces on its territory, including US nuclear weapons. This meant that Norway abstained from most aspects of nuclear weapons cooperation in the NATO alliance. While Washington was prepared to accommodate Norway’s policy preferences regarding the non-stationing of NATO forces, Oslo approved the construction of facilities on Norwegian territory capable of supporting US and NATO nuclear operations against Russia.

in Partners in deterrence
US–Japanese nuclear weapons cooperation
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

Successive Japanese governments since the 1950s have had to balance the country’s security alliance with the world’s most powerful nuclear weapons state with the deep-seated anti-nuclear sentiment in Japanese society. During the Cold War, US access to the Japanese islands was a key enabler of the US’s ability to conduct global nuclear operations. Tokyo’s agreement to the covert transit of US nuclear-armed platforms and its support for US intelligence facilities on Japanese territory was aimed at reinforcing extended nuclear deterrence in the security alliance. The nuclear umbrella remains a central thread of the alliance, and the more operationally focused bilateral dialogue on extended deterrence created in 2010 built on more than forty years of political and strategic cooperation between Washington and Tokyo.

in Partners in deterrence
Nuclear weapons in the US–South Korea alliance
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

Despite US nuclear weapons being deployed on its territory for most of the Cold War, and notwithstanding a close military relationship with the US, South Korea has frequently been anxious about the risk of alliance abandonment. Only with the advent of deeper institutional alliance networks at the political level over the past twenty years has Seoul become more reassured of US extended nuclear deterrence. Confronting a nuclear-armed North Korea with which it is still technically at war, South Korea places strong value on the US nuclear umbrella and has successfully negotiated a more structured dialogue on extended nuclear deterrence at the operational level.

in Partners in deterrence
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Nuclear weapons cooperation and the US–Australia alliance
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

Unlike other US allies, Australia has had a highly informal process of engagement with the US on nuclear weapons. Despite the close relationship with the US in managing the presence of intelligence and communication facilities on Australian territory that have embedded Australia in US nuclear strategy since the 1960s, Australia–US nuclear weapons cooperation has been characterised by an absence of structured interaction. While the US rebuffed Australian attempts at closer cooperation in the 1950s, Australia was comfortable with a lack of robust institutional cooperation after the Vietnam War, and continues to see the main benefit of US nuclear weapons as a basis for US regional influence rather than for deterrence of threats against Australia itself.

in Partners in deterrence
Stephan Frühling and Andrew O'Neil

This chapter concludes that institutionalism provides insights that realism does not in explaining nuclear weapons cooperation between the US and its allies. The book’s analysis yields four key findings. The first is that the US has frequently and deliberately used cooperation on US nuclear weapons to shore up general confidence about its commitment to allies’ security. Second, the enhancement of institutional depth in nuclear weapons cooperation has promoted reassurance among America’s non-nuclear allies and enabled closer and political and operational integration in general. Third, all US allies examined in the book have at times reduced, and in some cases declined, material cooperation that would have visibly linked US nuclear weapons to their own security. The final conclusion is that, contrary to realist arguments, US allies can exercise a significant degree of influence in cooperation regarding US nuclear weapons.

in Partners in deterrence