Monday, 26 October 2009

Germany Will Press for Nuclear Withdrawal - Will Not Act Unilaterally

There are a couple of updates on the German coalition decision to seek the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.

Agence France Presse notes that the withdrawal of the nuclear weapons may become an issue when Merkel addresses a joint session of Congress next month:

But he has said Berlin should start by demanding the removal of the estimated 10 to 20 US nuclear missiles on German soil -- a stance that could raise a few questions when Merkel travels to Washington next month to deliver an address before both houses of Congress.

Deutsche Welle reports that FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said that he will personally take up the challenge, while Chancellor Merkel said there will be no unilateral action:

Speaking at a meeting of his business-friendly FDP party in Berlin on Sunday, Westerwelle said the new German government would support the vision of US President Barack Obama for a world free of nuclear weapons.

"We will take President Obama at his word and enter talks with our allies so that the last of the nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany, relics of the Cold War, can finally be removed," Westerwelle said.

"Germany must be free of nuclear weapons," he said, adding that he would personally make efforts towards that purpose.

No unilateral move to remove nuclear arms

His comments came a day after his FDP party reached agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives for a new center-right government scheduled to take office on October 28.

The coalition agreement reached by the two sides calls specifically for talks with NATO and the US to remove the weapons.

Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this goal, but emphasized no unilateral action would be taken to remove the nuclear warheads. "We do not want any independent action here," Merkel said on Saturday in Berlin.

The website notes (in French) that while the sentiment for withdrawal has regularly welled up in Germany, this initiative is more important than past ones as it is written into the government programme. That programme has been endorsed by the members of both parties, giving it extra political force.

This insistence on agreement within NATO before any withdrawal can take place reflects the general pro-atlanticist tone of the coalition. It also mirrors wider opinion in Europe that President Obama’s commitment to disarmament means that negotiations are the best way to achieve progress on reductions at present, and that a move such as this by the coalition will be better received in Washington DC than was the case under Presidents Clinton or Bush.

Time Magazine reports that the coalition document endorses the German presence in Afghanistan as in the ‘German national interest’. This removes one potential area of major disagreement with the White House, and removes a shadow that has hung over US German relations, smoothing the path for discussions on nuclear weapons.

Overall the level of coverage is still low, but more and more news organisations are beginning to report the coalition policy on nuclear weapons. However, economic policy reporting far outweighs that on foreign policy. Some examples of coverage include: Bloomberg; Associated Press; Iranian government English language Press TV; and the Irish Times.

There will be other obstacles. It is far from clear that Turkey will be ready to accept US extended deterrence without the physical presence of nuclear weapons on Turkish soil. Turkey’s region makes it much more nervous on this issue than other NATO nations, although Turkey has given up its participation in nuclear sharing programmes.

Secondly, some nations in central and eastern Europe, notably Poland and the Czech Republic have been agitating for a greater role in NATO nuclear strategy – with Poland privately requesting the right to participate in nuclear sharing.

Given the lack of coverage in the press, it would seem that when Chancellor Merkel visits Washington DC there will be an opportunity to make the new coalitions withdrawal policy better known, and also a need to offer strong support to prevent the DoD suffocating this initiative at birth, as has done in the past – notably in 1998 when all Germany was calling for was debate inside NATO on the continued need to deploy these weapons to Europe.

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