European Nuclear Disarmament
A Germany without nuclear weapons in the near future?
Presentation by Otfried Nassauer
Will Germany soon be free of nuclear weapons? I have a
short and a longer answer for you. I will share both. My short answer is:
No. It is pretty unlikely, that Germany will soon be free of nuclear weapons.
It has become less likely during the last two years.
This answer might come as a bit of a surprise to most of you, since all of
you probably know, that the only nuclear weapons deployed in Germany as a
leftover from the Cold War are 10-20 legacy US sub-strategic or tactical
nuclear bombs at Buechel, a small village in Rhineland Palantine. They are
designated for use by the German Air Force. Germany continues to provide up
to 46 dual capable Tornado aircraft for delivering them, more than twice as
many as there are weapons for them. They are Germany’s main practical
contribution to NATO’s controversial technical nuclear sharing arrangements.
Over the last two decades the U.S. and the UK have removed all other nuclear
weapons from Germany, including those for their own armed forces.
You will probably also know, that opinion polls show a huge majority of the
German population favours their removal. In 2010 a resolution was agreed by
vast majority in the German parliament, encouraging our government to work
for their withdrawal in the context of developing NATO’s new strategic
concept. Those few MPs who voted against the resolution did not oppose the
withdrawal but wanted the government to do even more in the field of nuclear
disarmament. Finally, the parties forming the current government signed a
coalition agreement in 2009 which calls for the removal of these weapons.
Thus my short answer provokes a question: How comes? Why is not going to
happen, what most of the Germans favour and what the government, the
parliament and the population want? Germany is a democracy. Again, there is
a short answer and a longer one. The short one is: Some German officials are
opposing the withdrawal, because they believe, that Germany should continue
to participate in NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, if it wants to have a
say in NATO nuclear decision-making. Participation in nuclear sharing
generates status, is the belief behind this argument. Some of these people
are holding influential functions in our government. They have so far
successfully torpedoed the majority’s political will. Here is one example:
Shortly after the 2009 election which brought the current
liberal-conservative government to power and shortly after the coalition
agreement was inked, our National Security Advisor, Christoph Heusgens, met
with US ambassador Murphy and Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon in
November 2009. A U.S. Department of State cable, published by Wikileaks,
reports about the meeting. It describes Heusgens reaction to the question,
how Germany would take forward the coalition decision to seek the removal of
nuclear weapons from Germany:
“HEUSGEN distanced the Chancellery from the proposal, claiming that this had
been forced upon them by FM Westerwelle. HEUSGEN said that from his
perspective, it made no sense to unilaterally withdraw "the 20" tactical
nuclear weapons still in Germany while Russia maintains "thousands" of them.
It would only be worth it if both sides drew down. (…)He noted that MFA
"loved this disarmament business," which was okay, but it had to be balanced
or the "Russians will sit there and laugh."
Heusgens sent a clear message to his visitors: The Chancellery opposes the
decision. Linking future reductions of NATO’s nuclear posture to reciprocal
Russian steps could be the best strategy to weaken German calls for and to
delay a withdrawal.
This is where my longer answer to both questions begins. Why is it still
unlikely that Germany will become a nuclear weapons free state any time soon
even though most Germans would favour such a step?
The answer has just four letters: NATO. To be a little more specific: It’s
NATO, a bit of Russia and a lot of claims, that it’s mostly Moscow’s
tactical nuclear weapons.
Since the end of the Cold War NATO members never reached consensus on how to
deal with Russia or on how to engage Russia. One camp of members prefers
working on European security issues in cooperation with the Russians, while
another camp wants NATO to continue to prepare NATO defenses against Russia.
NATO enlargement strengthened the second camp. Consensus was never reached,
but the camps’ diverging positions heavily influenced internal debates among
NATO’s members about many issues. Often, they prohibited consensus. To just
name a few issues: Georgia, future enlargement, conventional arms control,
missile defense and the future of non-strategic nuclear weapons.
Let us look at non-strategic nuclear weapons in more detail. What happened
to the German proposal? First, there was a lot of speculation about
Germany’s intentions, Berlin possibly acting unilateral and with a lack of
sensitivity for the necessity of intra-Alliance solidarity. No outright
accusations were spread, but speculations. Germany hurried to clarify, that
it always had intended to consult with the Allies before taking action. At
the April 2010 Tallinn meeting of Foreign Ministers Germany was taken by its
words. NATO agreed that any change, as proposed by Germany, would require
Alliance consensus. This killed the momentum of the German initiative. When
a single member of the Alliance could veto a withdrawal, even though a large
majority or all other members would agree to such as step, each NATO state
could take the idea hostage for strategic or tactical reasons, whether
related to the issue of nuclear weapons or entirely unrelated.
At Tallinn Hillary Clinton suggested five principles that should guide
NATO’s future debate’s about nuclear weapons: The acceptance that NATO would
remain a nuclear Alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist, sharing the
nuclear risks, roles and responsibilities, a willingness to discuss further
reductions of the role and numbers of NATO nuclear weapons, the integration
of missiles defense into NATO’s deterrent posture and a shared aim to
convince Russia to increase transparency and change her non-strategic
nuclear posture as well as to include non-strategic nuclear weapons in the
next round of bilateral talks about nuclear disarmament.
Most of her points made it into NATO’ s Lisbon new Strategic Concept. Most
prominently the general statement that NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance
as long as nuclear weapons exist, was used to balance President Obama’s
vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. The declaration that NATO is
willing to consider further reductions to the role and numbers of nuclear
weapons was linked to preparing such reductions on the condition of progress
being made with Russia on the issue of Russian non-strategic nuclear forces.
NATO’s Lisbon strategy did no longer contain a specific role attached to
non-strategic weapons. It simply avoided saying anything about these weapons
and thus avoided reflecting the differences among the Alliance members on
this issue as well. The Lisbon summit agreed to discuss this and other
controversial issues in the context of an Alliance Deterrence and Defense
Posture Review to be prepared for a future 2012 NATO Summit.
Where does NATO stand today? The Deterrence and Defense Posture Review has
been drafted and agreed by a jumbo-meeting of Alliance Foreign and Defense
Ministers on April 18th in Brussels. It’s a document of roughly seven pages,
coping with the role of nuclear weapons, missile defense, conventional
capabilities and arms control and non-proliferation. Does the document
answer the questions left open at Lisbon? Does it take the debate any
further, any nearer to a consensus on the future role and numbers of NATO’s
sub-strategic nuclear weapons? No, it does not. It features well-known
compromise language mostly known from either the 2010 NPR and NATO meetings
held since 2009 or earlier.
Let me sum it up for you: On nuclear forces, the document says that they are
“a core component of NATO’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defense
alongside conventional and missile defense forces”. “The review has shown
that the Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for
an effective deterrence and defense posture.” “The circumstances in which
any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely
remote.” “As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear
alliance.” Strategic weapons are the supreme guarantee, particularly those
of the U.S. “Independent” British and French forces have a deterrent role of
their own and contribute to NATO’s deterrent. This reflects the Lisbon
strategy language. Again, there’s no specific role attributed to
non-strategic nuclear weapons.
On missile defense it says it “will be an important addition to the
Alliance’s capabilities for deterrence and defense” and “will strengthen our
collective defense commitment against 21st century threats”. “Missile
defense can complement the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence, it cannot
substitute for them.”
The section on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation commits NATO
“to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance
with the goals of the Non-Proliferations Treaty”. “NATO is prepared to
consider further reducing its requirement for non-strategic weapons assigned
to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia, taking into
account the greater Russian stockpiles of non-strategic nuclear weapons
stationed in the Euro-Atlantic Area.” The North Atlantic Council will task
appropriate committees to develop ideas “what NATO would expect to see in
the way of reciprocal Russian actions to allow for significant reductions in
the forward based non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to NATO”.
NATO “is seeking to create the conditions and considering options for
further reductions of non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to NATO. The
“Allies concerned”, i.e. the NPG members, will ensure “that all components
of NATOs nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure and effective for as long as
NATO remains a nuclear alliance.” The NAC will take care of tasking
appropriate committees “to develop concepts for how to ensure the broadest
possible participation of Allies concerned in their nuclear sharing
arrangements, including in case NATO were to decide to reduce its reliance
on non-strategic nuclear weapons based in Europe.”
In a concluding section NATO cites a need for “an appropriate mix of
nuclear, conventional and missiles defense capabilities” and the commitment
to provide the resources “needed to ensure that NATO’s overall deterrence
and defense posture remains credible, flexible, resilient, and adaptable and
to implement the forward looking package of defense capabilities which will
also be agreed in Chicago.”
Let me share my main observations.
- There is little new. The debate on non-strategic nuclear weapons has not
been taken any further. There’s no consensus in sight on reducing either the
role or the number of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in NATO. The internal
splits among the Allies continue to exist and they block finding a new
- The German idea to argue that building up a NATO missile defense might
reduce the requirement for NATO’s nuclear posture has been rejected. NATO
argues the opposite: The requirement is for both, missile defense and
nuclear weapons. The Alliance can agree on building a new controversial
capability, but it can not agree on giving up an old one.
- Future reductions in the role or numbers of NATO’s non-strategic nuclear
weapons are declared to be possible in principle, but on the condition of
reciprocal Russian actions. Most interestingly, NATO still needs to discuss
which steps it would expect Moscow to make. This is “playing the ball into
Moscow’s half”, since the Alliance can’t find a consensus among it’s
- The Review does not mention the possibility to eliminate or withdraw all
non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.
The Review does not mention one most important issue: U.S. plans to
modernize the family of B61 nuclear bombs within the next few years. Two
members of this family, i.e. two versions of bomb, are deployed in Europe.
They constitute NATO’s non-strategic nuclear posture and they are among
those four modifications to be replaced by single new one: the B-61-12.
which will enter development this year. The B61-12 is the largest nuclear
weapons development program since more than 30 years, says the former head
of the program. It will result in a mostly new weapon, based on nuclear
components contained in the B61-4, one of the two family members deployed in
Europe. Since the lowest yield option of this bomb is 0,3 kilotons it will
allow the laboratories to restart work on what has been dubbed “mini-nukes”
in earlier years. Since modernizing these weapons includes adding a new
tailkit assembly turning the dumb nuclear freefall bomb into a much more
accurate precision guided bomb, it will become a weapon capable of
fulfilling additional and broader military missions and it is likely to
rather increase than reduce the possible role of these weapons.
I’d like to point you to three major problems resulting from this project:
- Does modernizing NATO’s non-strategic weapons in the same way require
consensus among the Alliance members as a withdrawal of these weapons? The
impression created is that modernization does not require consensus while a
- Is NATO heading towards a decision similar to the structure of the
controversial double-track decision of 1979? The current logic indicates
that the Alliance might argue in future that it needs to modernize its
non-strategic weapons if Russia fails to act on her own ones.
- President Obama’s 2010 states: „The United States will not develop new
nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will use only nuclear
components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new
military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” Is there any
reason, why the B61-12 could meet these requirements?
Let me add a final comment, since our discussion takes place at a
NPT-PrepCom meeting. There’s one more interesting new paragraph in NATO’s
review. It is devoted to “negative security assurances”, which play a
significant role in the NPT context, since they could help to discourage
proliferation. The Review mentions that the Negative Security Assurances of
NATO’s Nuclear Weapons States will be applicable to the nuclear weapons
assigned to NATO. They say “that nuclear weapons will not be used or
threatened to be used against Non-Nuclear Weapon States that are party to
the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations”.
The review mentions that each NATO nuclear weapons state has attached
“separate conditions” to these assurances, which will apply to their nuclear
weapons assigned to NATO.
This declaration is a double-edged sword: While it might help to calm down
concerns that NATO nuclear weapons states might use their nuclear weapons
assigned to NATO to circumvent their national Negative Security Assurances,
it also raises a serious question: Who is going to decide on whether a
non-nuclear state no longer is in compliance with its nuclear
non-proliferation obligations? The UN Security Council, NATO, the U.S.
President or who else? Honestly, having the 2003 Iraqi case in mind, I’m
Finally my conclusion: The momentum driving Germany’s initiative to create
the conditions for a withdrawal of the remaining nuclear weapons from Europe
is broken. NATO has proven a very heavy roadblock on the way to achieving a
nuclear weapons free world. Currently it seems the Alliance is more likely
to modernize its non-strategic weapons than to abolish these relics of the
Cold War. Not, because there were any serious threat, but simply because the
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