Drills in Europe
The airbase in Büchel still houses up to 20 American nuclear bombs and is the only facility in Germany where nuclear weapons are deployed. Currently, Bundeswehr pilots and personnel from other NATO countries are practicing nuclear weapons handling procedures.
"This exercise is nicknamed 'Steadfast Noon' within the alliance and is held annually at military bases across Europe," Otfried Nassauer, a researcher with the Berlin Information Center for Security (BITS), told Sputnik Germany.
He explained that during the drills which are supervised by the US military personnel, practice safety regulations while mounting a nuclear bomb on an aircraft and they are observed until the plane takes off. However, no real nuclear weapons are used in the drills.
Since the 1960s, NATO’s nuclear participation has provided for the possible use of American nuclear weapons by four non-nuclear European nations in the event of war. According to NATO officials, nuclear participation complies with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is often disputed by critics.
"Their argument is that as a result of this situation a new group of countries emerges in between the nuclear and non-nuclear parties of the treaty. This is a group of pseudo-nuclear states, which are not mentioned by the treaty," Nassauer pointed out.
German forces are not allowed to use nuclear weapons, in accordance with international law. However, during the current drills German personnel receive orders not from the defense ministry, but from NATO’s command.
"This creates an embarrassing situation. The law prohibits the use of nuclear weapons by German troops, but they receive such orders from NATO. They may try to disobey such orders at their own risk, because according to German laws a soldier must not obey an illegal order," the analyst said.
Signal to Russia
Retired Bundeswehr colonel Ulrich Scholz, who was involved in NATO’s air force planning, described the drills a "questionable affair" and said they are likely to be a political argument against Russia.
Scholz expressed serious concerns about Germany’s national security.
"If we’re abandoning nuclear energy due to safety concerns but stockpiling nukes on our soil and taking part in these drills, I’ve got one question: is anybody out there concerned about Germany’s security?" he said.
According to Nassauer, the US is interested in keep all of its allies bound together. For the first time, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic have been involved in the exercise this year. Moreover, the exercise has been held at different military facilities.
"In light of the continuing tensions between Russia and the West, all of the above looks like a political signal from NATO to Moscow," he said.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe.
"We gradually stand for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe and their return to the US," Lavrov said a nuclear weapons non-proliferation conference in Moscow.
The minister called on NATO to stop nuclear weapons drills in its non-nuclear members.