Germany walks fine line on nuclear weapons
    Analysis by Deutsche Welle

    WORLD  26 March 2023 - 01:05

    Germany is not a nuclear power, but it is part of the US nuclear strategy. In light of the war in Ukraine and the undoing of Cold War-era arms control, the country's balanced approach is coming under more pressure, William Noah Glucroft argues in his article for DW

    If the Cold War had gone nuclear, it would have likely begun on German soil. Geographically, Germany sat between the United States and its NATO allies on one side, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries on the other. Politically, the country was split between West and East. Strategically, that was where the US and Soviet militaries faced off — on either side of the Iron Curtain.

    Germany was therefore a nuclear tripwire between the enemy superpowers, and the country both benefits from the supposed safety of the US nuclear umbrella, and still faces the direct risk of nuclear escalation. Former West Germany has been home to a strong pacifist movement, while many in former East Germany hold a less hostile view of Russia.

    These factors help make the issue of arms control a particularly sensitive one in Germany.

    "Germany remains clearly committed to its engagement in arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, even given the changed conditions," an official from the German Federal Foreign Office told DW.

    That is a reference to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which some military analysts fear could lead President Vladimir Putin to break the "nuclear taboo," if his conventional forces continue to struggle on the battlefield.

    "The federal government, with its partners, unequivocally opposes any softening of the taboo," the German government official added, referring to an unwritten understanding not to use nuclear weapons ever since the US did twice against Japan, ending the Second World War in 1945.

    Nuclear balancing act

    Germany's opposition to nuclear weapons competes with the expectation that it supports the security status quo. NATO nuclear sharing — the US-led military alliance's long-standing policy that permits the stationing of US nuclear weapons on non-US territory — means German warplanes could carry them in the event of nuclear war.

    As many as 20 such warheads remain at the Büchel Air Base in western Germany, according to an estimate by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The think tank, based in Washington, DC, counted some 130 others at the Ramstein Air Base, until they were removed between 2001 and 2005.

    The nuclear balancing act adds tension both to German domestic politics as well as to the Euro-Atlantic alliance. Any disagreement, however, has taken a back seat after Russia's war in Ukraine.

    Some politicians in the Green Party, traditionally one of Germany's more fierce critics of nuclear weapons, have also been among the country's most vocal supporters of Ukraine. NATO officials, meanwhile, take every opportunity to show that Russia's efforts to divide the alliance have failed.

    "Clearly, we are at something of an inflection point," John Erath, Senior Policy Director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told DW. "One of the means Russia has chosen to accomplish its end is to make threats of the use of nuclear weapons."

    Nuclear brinkmanship, past and present

    That end — taking control of Ukraine, and breaking US and NATO support — has so far not come to pass. However, using nuclear weapons as a "diplomatic tool," Erath said, has been somewhat effective at moderating that support. The US has been careful to avoid escalation that could draw it into direct conflict with Russia, and German officials have often expressed their concern about crossing a line that would make Germany an official party to the war.

    "The real danger lies in if this conflict concludes with Russia perceived as succeeding, and this tool being perceived as being effective. Because that opens the floodgates," Erath said. Other nuclear-armed states, such as North Korea, could make bolder threats with their own arsenals.

    Such nuclear diplomacy has precedent. In the 1980s, new deployments of Soviet nuclear forces prompted NATO to respond in kind. Widespread protests, especially in then-West Germany, pressured the government to oppose the stationing of more US missiles on its soil.

    By NATO's own account, it was a "difficult period for West Germany as well as NATO." The alliance, however, held. A "double-track" compromise was reached, which saw more deployments, but also negotiations to reach a deal with the Soviet Union on arms control.

    "Differences in nuclear risk tolerance among NATO allies can be a pressure point for Russia to exploit," Jonas Schneider, an international security associate at the Berlin-based security think tank SWP, told DW. "Overall, Germany has staked out a more cautious positioning when it comes to nuclear risk."

    The other 10%

    Arms control in terms of treaties is at its nadir, now that Russia has suspended — but not withdrawn from — New START, the last major agreement limiting Russian and US nuclear systems. In the near term, at least, security analysts like Schneider are relatively sanguine.

    "In all, I don't see an increase in the nuclear risk as a result of what's happened to New START," he said.

    That is partly because treaties are just one element of arms control. Transparency, dialogue, and data collection through both public and clandestine means are others. Nuclear weapons are expensive and conspicuous, making changes in numbers or deployment fairly easy to spot.

    The treaties have also only covered Russian and US forces. While they control about 90% of the world's nuclear weapons, including first-strike capability, the absence of China from these treaties is a bigger worry.

    There are several small and midsize nuclear-armed states, but Erath said it is China "where things are changing in the nuclear world." Moreover, the US lacks the awareness and lines of communication of the kind built up with Russia over decades.

    "If there were to be a crisis over Taiwan, it's a little bit harder to get that direct line to Beijing," he said.

    Most countries do not possess nuclear weapons, and 92 of them have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Without any of the world's nuclear powers on board, however, the agreement is largely symbolic.

    Germany, which supports the abolition movement but is beholden to US nuclear doctrine, finds itself trying to do two things at once. Germany attended a treaty meeting in 2022 in Vienna as an observer — a reflection of anti-nuclear aspirations competing with real-world nuclear commitments.



    Subscribe to our Telegram channel

Read also

WP: US knew about Ukrainian plot to bomb Nord Stream pipeline

06 June 2023 - 20:47

French march in new pension protests, but are they final stand?

06 June 2023 - 20:40

US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran's missile, military programs

06 June 2023 - 20:16

Ukraine denounces Russia as "terrorist state" at World Court hearing

06 June 2023 - 20:32

Bulgarian parliament approves Nikolay Denkov as new prime minister

06 June 2023 - 19:36

ASEAN, Japan ink economic cooperation deals

06 June 2023 - 19:27
Latest news

    FP: 6 swing states to decide future of geopolitics

    07 June 2023 - 03:00

    Cure for nuclear radiation may be available soon

    07 June 2023 - 02:03

    Poland not friend West thinks it is

    Opinion by The New York Times

    07 June 2023 - 01:02

    Netanyahu must focus on lowering Israel's cost of living

    Analysis by The Jerusalem Post

    07 June 2023 - 00:00

    Türkiye inches toward ratifying Sweden's NATO bid

    06 June 2023 - 23:01

    Politico: This is Ukraine’s D-Day

    06 June 2023 - 22:00

    Azerbaijani, Italian naval commanders discuss issues of mutual interest

    06 June 2023 - 21:10

    WB announces forecasts of economic growth in Azerbaijan until 2025

    06 June 2023 - 21:01

    Azerbaijani army continues to hold training sessions with reservists

    06 June 2023 - 20:54

    WP: US knew about Ukrainian plot to bomb Nord Stream pipeline

    06 June 2023 - 20:47

    French march in new pension protests, but are they final stand?

    06 June 2023 - 20:40

    Ukraine denounces Russia as "terrorist state" at World Court hearing

    06 June 2023 - 20:32

    ICAO European, North Atlantic Bureau Director visits Baku

    06 June 2023 - 20:25

    US slaps sanctions on Iranian, Chinese targets in action over Tehran's missile, military programs

    06 June 2023 - 20:16

    Armenia shells Azerbaijani positions

    06 June 2023 - 20:06

    Azerbaijani presidential aide holds meeting with Israeli Knesset Committee delegation

    06 June 2023 - 20:00

    Azerbaijan, Morocco mull development of relations


    06 June 2023 - 19:52

    Azerbaijani judoka tops world rating

    06 June 2023 - 19:43

    Bulgarian parliament approves Nikolay Denkov as new prime minister

    06 June 2023 - 19:36

    ASEAN, Japan ink economic cooperation deals

    06 June 2023 - 19:27

    Azerbaijan, ICMP discuss cooperation on missing persons

    06 June 2023 - 19:18

    Azerbaijani Separate Combined Arms Army holds command-staff exercises


    06 June 2023 - 19:09

    Azerbaijan, Poland eye bilateral ties, economic coop


    06 June 2023 - 18:57

    Azerbaijani FM addresses OSCE Permanent Council special meeting


    06 June 2023 - 18:48

    Türkiye joins Australia in race to host Cop31 climate talks

    06 June 2023 - 18:41

    Dissident Iranian-Azerbaijani TV chief speaks out after beating in US

    06 June 2023 - 18:34

    Forbes: Ukraine aims to cut off Russian troops in Crimea

    06 June 2023 - 18:27

    Uzbekistan, Qatar ink 15 accords

    06 June 2023 - 18:20

    Azerbaijan's gas production up by over 58% in 10 years

    06 June 2023 - 18:13

    Georgia's PM calls destruction of Kakhovka dam as result of Russian-unleased war

    06 June 2023 - 18:06

    Kazakhstan presses ahead with $16.5 billion claim against oil majors

    06 June 2023 - 17:59

    Yerevan still speculating about rights of ethnic Armenians in Karabakh

    Western Azerbaijan Community’s statement

    06 June 2023 - 17:52

    Japan earmarks $107 billion for developing hydrogen energy to cut emissions

    06 June 2023 - 17:45

    Armenian, EU officials discuss Yerevan-Baku dialogue

    06 June 2023 - 17:38

    Azerbaijan, OSCE discuss Baku-Yerevan post-conflict issues


    06 June 2023 - 17:31

    Bloomberg: BRICS raging against dollar is exercise in futility

    06 June 2023 - 17:24

    Karabakh Armenians freely use Azerbaijan's Lachin checkpoint

    Video by Caliber.Az

    06 June 2023 - 17:17

    Russian FM says dialogue with Taliban necessary

    06 June 2023 - 17:10

    Moscow propaganist's speech, Kakhovka HPP blast - links in same chain

    Russia trying to freeze Ukraine war

    06 June 2023 - 17:03

    China edging out Russia as sanctions redraw Kazakhstan trade

    06 June 2023 - 16:58

    Armenian parliament speaker off to London

    06 June 2023 - 16:52

    Azerbaijani health minister congratulates Turkish counterpart on reappointment

    06 June 2023 - 16:45

    Azerbaijan approves procedure for payment of financial aid to entrepreneurs in liberated lands

    06 June 2023 - 16:35

    EU says dam blast shows "barbaric" nature of Russian aggression

    06 June 2023 - 16:28

    Members of FETO terrorist organization try to infiltrate Türkiye from Greece

    06 June 2023 - 16:21

All news