- Russia is not situated “in the midst of US bases equipped with nuclear weapons”, as maintained in an image circulating on Facebook.
- The spots marked with the NATO symbol do not correspond to actual military presence by the alliance. NATO presence is not equivalent to “US bases”, nor does it presuppose the location of nuclear weapons.
- Only 5 NATO countries – Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Turkey – host American nuclear warheads under NATO’s “nuclear sharing” arrangements.
A fabricated world map is being circulated on social media. On it the globe is strewn with the NATO symbol accompanied by the ironic text: “Look how Putin has most audaciously situated his country right in the middle among all the American nuclear weapons bases!!!” In the middle of the image is Russia, coloured yellow and surrounded by symbols of the Alliance.
The same image has been appearing on Twitter and websites in various languages since 2018. Over the last few months its Bulgarian version has been shared on Facebook hundreds of times.
The shared information conflates several concepts which are not identical or equivalent. The image uses the NATO emblem, while at the same time the text speaks of “American nuclear weapons bases”. It is incorrect to equate NATO with US bases and even less correct to claim that all of them host nuclear weapons.
Does the maps show NATO “bases”
The fabricated map and the accompanying claims have already been refuted by the Portuguese fact-checking organisation Poligrafo and the Agence France-Presse. The NATO symbols on the map do not indicate actual “NATO bases” and the global presence of the Alliance is greatly exaggerated.
NATO is a collective defence alliance of 30 countries in Europe and North America. It has no armed forces of its own but relies on the military capacity and bases of its 30 member states instead. As an international organisation, NATO has a network of local structures, some of which are military in nature, while others are civilian.
The map below is from the Alliance’s official website and shows the sites that are part of its network – command points, surveillance stations, training centres, multinational teams. Not all featured local units are military in nature – for example, the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, is the organisation’s administrative and political centre.
All other locations where NATO operates, such as military or counter-terrorism missions, can also be found on the Alliance’s website. Those locations also do not correspond to the ones on the map circulating on Facebook.
Outside NATO’s network, there are also military bases in different parts of the world that are linked to the United States on the basis of bilateral agreements for defence cooperation. Those bases are meant to be used jointly by American and local armed forces in the respective countries and are not part of NATO’s structure, nor do they host nuclear weapons. US nuclear weapons are mostly located in the United States and a to a small part in Europe.
Where are there nuclear weapons in Europe
According to the text that accompanies the NATO symbol map, the marked “bases” are sites where US nuclear weapons are located. In reality, only five NATO member states have such nuclear weapons on their territory. Those are Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Turkey. Two other NATO countries – France and the UK – have their own nuclear arsenal. Most members of the Alliance, including those that border Russia or are in its immediate proximity, do not have nuclear weapons on their territory.
All those five NATO member countries received their American nuclear warheads under “nuclear sharing” agreements between the United States and the other members of the Alliance. Those agreements guarantee a shared security responsibility within NATO, as a larger number of countries have a role in nuclear policy decision making in situations of crisis.
In the five countries taking part in the nuclear sharing there are around 100 nuclear warheads in total. They are stored on air bases controlled by the ministries of defence and the air force headquarters of the respective countries. According to the agreements, activating the weapons would require simultaneous authorisation from the United States and the host country, i.e. the decision to use nuclear weapons can not be taken unilaterally.
The amount of nuclear weapons in those seven NATO member countries is many times smaller than that owned by the two nuclear superpowers Russia and USA.
Russia is the biggest nuclear power in the world
Russia and the US have been the dominant nuclear powers in the world since the time of the Cold War. As of 2022, Moscow has about 6000 warheads and Washingon – over 5400. The estimates for their nuclear capabilities are approximate because, due to security considerations, not all data is public.
Nine countries in the world have a proven nuclear capability of their own. The smaller nuclear powers include China, France, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea.
The map below shows the locations of American (in blue) and Russian (in red) nuclear weapons. A distinction must be made between owned nuclear weapons (total number in store) and deployed nuclear weapons – those installed on rockets or located on bases staffed with operational forces. American nuclear weapons are deployed in the United States and its five NATO allies.
Most of the countries in the Alliance, including those nearest to Russia, do not store any nuclear warheads. At the same time a substantial part of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is concentrated in the western part of the country, close to the borders with NATO.
The map circulating on Facebook is fabricated and does not correspond to reality. The NATO symbols on it do not indicate actual presence by the Alliance. The claim that Russia is surrounded by “US nuclear weapons bases” is also not true. NATO bases is not the same as US bases, nor does it presuppose the presence of nuclear weapons. Only five NATO countries – Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium Germany and Turkey – host American nuclear warheads under NATO’s “nuclear sharing” agreements