Germany Has No Nuclear Weapons, Just Shares Them


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Wolfgang Kerler
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis


BERLIN - Most Germans support nuclear abolition, but the country may still not give up its policy of nuclear sharing. JAPANESE

"The government is divided on the question of nuclear sharing," says Otfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information Centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS).. The centre researches foreign and security policy issues.


Based on the limited information that is publicly available, Nassauer estimates there are 10 to 20 U.S. nuclear bombs still located in Germany, out of thousands deployed during the Cold War.

Germany does not have its own nuclear weapons under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that it signed in 1975, but it is sharing U.S. bombs located in Germany. This dates back to the late 1950s when the first U.S. nukes were positioned in former West Germany - and is part of the policy of deterrence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), junior partner in the ruling 'grand coalition' headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is calling for withdrawal of the remaining bombs after U.S. President Barack Obama presented his vision of nuclear abolition in a speech in Prague Apr. 5.

Obama called the thousands of atomic weapons spread across the world "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War." He said: "To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. So after more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned."

"The new era we are fighting for is an era during which nuclear weapons have to vanish from the arsenals," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is also deputy chancellor in the coalition government and SPD's candidate for chancellor in the federal elections due September, said in a speech Jun. 14.

All opposition parties represented in the federal parliament, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Greens, and the socialist Left Party are also pushing for withdrawal of the atomic bombs. On May 15, Guido Westerwelle, leader of the largest opposition party FDP, stressed that "the time has come for a renaissance of disarmament.

"The withdrawal of the remaining strategic nuclear weapons from Germany would be an adequate reaction to this new dynamic," Westerwelle added.

Germany's largest political party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) headed by Merkel, and its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), which together are the larger partner in the coalition government with the SPD, have welcomed Obama's new efforts for nuclear abolition - but they are not willing to give up the policy of nuclear sharing in a unilateral move.

"We should exercise care in not mixing up the goals with the ways leading to them," Merkel had said earlier Mar. 26. "I stick to the complete abolition of all weapons of mass destruction. But the federal government has fixed the nuclear sharing policy in its White Paper to secure our influence within NATO in this highly sensitive area."

When the government adopted its White Paper on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr (the federal armed forces) back in 2006, Steinmeier's SPD agreed to hanging on to the policy of nuclear sharing.

Nassauer of BITS says the CDU and CSU policies are contradictory. "On the one hand, the federal government is banning its soldiers from using nuclear weapons because it would violate international law, and on the other, it is still training soldiers how to use U.S. atomic bombs with German fighter jets.

"And unless there is a secret agreement between the U.S. President and the German Chancellor on Germany's participation that we don't know of, I cannot see how the end of nuclear sharing would downsize Germany's position within NATO," Nassauer said. Other countries like Canada and Greece gave up their nuclear sharing years ago, "and they did not lose their influence within the alliance."

Henning Riecke, an expert on transatlantic security relations at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), a Berlin-based think tank, defends the Chancellor's position.

"Like Obama, the federal government wants to see stepwise disarmament," Riecke said. "Therefore, the nuclear side of NATO's strategy does not have to be put up for negotiation first. There have to be coordinated steps that do not disadvantage one side."

Nassauer argues that nuclear sharing is not necessary to keep up NATO's potential of deterrence. "There are enough submarines charged with atomic bombs that could keep the potential up."

However divided Germany's position on nuclear sharing might be, Nassauer and Riecke agree that the country has continuously proven its commitment to fighting nuclear proliferation.

In 2007, Germany and Norway began an initiative to strengthen NATO's measures to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The German foreign ministry has presented several proposals to that end. Besides, "Germany has been pushing the United States to put disarmament back on the agenda," Riecke said.

Steinmeier has urged nuclear powers to accelerate the process of nuclear demobilisation on many occasions this year - for instance at the Munich security conference in February, attended by high-ranking security experts, senior officials and government ministers.

In his speech Jun. 14 at a special convention of the SPD, Steinmeier announced that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had confirmed to him that Russia is willing to join an international effort for nuclear demobilisation.

Meanwhile, a change in Germany's official position on nuclear sharing seems unlikely - even after the upcoming federal elections in September. All polls show Angela Merkel's conservatives outperforming the social democrats by far.

Nevertheless, for technical reasons, Germany's army will probably lose its ability to use U.S. atomic bombs: by 2020, all Tornado jet fighters that are equipped to carry such weapons will be scrapped. Their successor, the Eurofighter, is not capable of carrying nuclear bombs. - 28.06.09
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