Nuclear umbrella

Nuclear umbrella

Nuclear umbrella refers to a guarantee by a nuclear weapons state to defend a non-nuclear allied state. It is usually used for the security alliances of the United States with Japan[1], South Korea[2], the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (much of Europe, Turkey, Canada), and Australia, originating with the Cold War with the Soviet Union. For some countries it was an alternative to acquiring nuclear weapons themselves; other alternatives include regional Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones.



NATO was formed early in the Cold War and, from the beginning, assumed American nuclear power as a major component of defense of Western Europe from possible Soviet invasion. Most non-Communist European states joined the alliance, although some (Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Finland) instead maintained a policy of neutrality. Sweden and Switzerland considered developing their own nuclear weapons but abandoned the idea.

NATO involved others of the five official nuclear weapons states. The United Kingdom and Canada participated in the initial American development of the atomic bomb (Manhattan Project) during World War II, but were afterwards excluded from nuclear weapons secrets by act of the US Congress. Britain launched an independent nuclear weapons program; after Britain successfully developed thermonuclear weapons, the US signed a treaty sharing American weapons designs, eliminating the need for independent development.

France developed a nuclear force de frappe and left the NATO command structure while continuing to be allied with the other Western countries.

After the end of the Cold War, many Central and Eastern European countries joined NATO, although the original purpose of defense against the Soviet Union was by then obsolete. Some commentators opposed this NATO enlargement as unnecessarily provocative to Russia.[3]


As late as 1970, Australia considered embarking on nuclear weapons development[4] but finally agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since then Australia has been a proponent of nuclear disarmament.

The ANZUS alliance originally included Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., but after New Zealand's nuclear-free zone was proclaimed, the U.S. no longer considered the country to be under its nuclear umbrella.

US umbrella over others

"American nuclear umbrella" usually refers to the formal alliances above, but is occasionally used in other contexts.

In April 2008, Hillary Clinton made headlines by proposing extension of the US nuclear umbrella over Israel and other American allies in the Middle East.

One article seems to consider Saudi Arabia to be already under the US nuclear umbrella[5] and one book states that India was given protection under the US nuclear umbrella after the Sino-Indian War of 1962. [6]

Russian nuclear umbrella

The term is far less used for Russian nuclear guarantees, but is seen occasionally.

Missile defense

Missile defense would provide an "umbrella" of another kind against nuclear attack. This is not the conventional usage of "nuclear umbrella", but a rhetorical device promoting active defense over the nuclear deterrence the conventional "nuclear umbrella" depends upon. [7] [8]

See also


  1. ^ Hans M. Kristensen (1999-07-21). "Japan Under the US Nuclear Umbrella". Nautilus Institute. Archived from the original on 2008-04-22. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  2. ^ "The US Nuclear Umbrella Over South Korea". the Nuclear Information Project. 2006-10-23. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  3. ^ Nicola Butler, Otfried Nassauer, and Daniel Plesch (1997-02). "Extending the Nuclear Umbrella:Undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty". Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  4. ^ The Age, When Australia had a bombshell for U.S.
  5. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (2003-09-18). "Saudis consider nuclear bomb". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ William A. Cohn (2006-10-12). "Nuclear Umbrella? The Peril of Missile Defense". Information Clearing House. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  8. ^ Baker Spring (2004-10-03). "Finally, U.S. Gets a Nuclear Umbrella". Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 

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