German Nuclear Stance Stirs Debate

By Meier, Oliver | Arms Control Today, December 2009 | Go to article overview

German Nuclear Stance Stirs Debate


Meier, Oliver, Arms Control Today


The German government's explicit support for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany has triggered a debate within NATO and revealed differences among Germany's governing parties, official statements and comments during interviews suggest. NATO allies will now have to debate the German initiative and the future of U.S. nuclear deployments in Europe during the current review of NATO's Strategic Concept.

The new German coalition government supported the withdrawal in its Oct. 24 statement of its policy program. Against the background of the upcoming review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) "and in the context of the talks on a new Strategic Concept for NATO," Berlin "will advocate a withdrawal of remaining nuclear weapons from Germany, both within NATO and vis-à-vis our American allies," the statement said.

The document represents an agreement involving the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its partner the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Free Democratic Party (FDP). It marks the first time that the government of a NATO country has publicly promoted the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from its territory and, according to several sources, has already triggered discussions on the future of NATO's nuclear policies.

Previous German governments had raised the issue of the future of U.S. nuclear deployments but never so clearly called for a nuclear-weapon-free Germany. (See ACT, May 2009.) Canada and Greece are believed to have initiated a quiet withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from their countries.

According to an Oct. 29 analysis by Hans Kristensen posted on the Federation of American Scientists' Strategic Security Blog, the United States still deploys 10 to 20 B61 free-fall nuclear bombs at Biichel Air Force Base in western Germany. Kristensen concludes that the United States keeps a total of 150 to 240 nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Under NATO nuclear sharing arrangements, these countries would provide aircraft that could deliver U.S. nuclear weapons to their targets in times of war. (In his analysis, Kristensen says he believes that the strike mission of the Turkish air force has expired.) NATO does not provide details of nuclear deployments, but officials in the past have confirmed that "a few hundred" U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed in Europe. (See ACT, September 2007.)

NATO allies consult on these arrangements and other aspects of the alliance's nuclear policies in the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). NATO is currently reviewing its 1999 Strategic Concept, including its nuclear policies, and hopes to reach agreement on a new concept by the end of next year.

Domestic Discussions

FDP defense spokesperson Elke Hoff told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 13 e-mail that the members of the coalition were able to agree only after "a tough struggle" on the goal of creating a nuclear-weapon-free Germany. According to a knowledgeable source, the compromise formula in the government program in the end had to be agreed at the highest level, by party leaders Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU and incoming Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of the FDP. Hoff emphasized that the two parties now jointly support the initiative and that "the goal of withdrawal of the remaining nuclear weapons from Germany is thus a solid part of our government's program."

The new government places its initiative in the context of global nuclear disarmament by stating that it emphatically supports "President [Barack] Obama's proposals for new farreaching disarmament initiatives - including the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world." At a Nov. 5 press conference during his introductory visit to Washington, Westerwelle underlined Germany's support for the "peace policy and the disarmament policy pursued by the American administration" and stated that "we want to do whatever we can not only to accompany it with words but also with deeds. …

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