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Sunday, 25 October 2009

It's Official - German Coalition Wants US Nukes Out

Confirmation from Oliver Meier of the Arms Control Association that the the new German government is committed to working for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany. Oliver’s translation of part of the arms control section of the new government’s agreed programme reads:

"We emphatically support President Obama’s proposals for new far-reaching disarmament initiatives – including the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.

....

We observe with concern the erosion of the international disarmament and arms control architecture. We are convinced that follow-agreements to those treaties that expire have to be negotiated and that the missing ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the adapted CFE-Treaty have to be completed.

We will support the conclusion of new disarmament and arms control agreements. We want to use the 2010 NPT review conference to initiate a new dynamic for treaty-based accords.

….

Against this background, and in the context of the talks on a new Strategic Concept for NATO we will advocate within NATO and towards our U.S. allies a withdrawal of remaining nuclear weapons from Germany. With a view towards preserving the agreements within the CFE-regime, we are ready on our part to ratify the adapted CFE-treaty."

(You can read the german version at the Der Spiegel website.)

This represents a major development in Christian Democrat policy – as Chancellor Merkel’s party has steadfastly defended the small remaining deployment of US nuclear weapons in Germany. (It is worth remembering that the CDU will likely control the defence ministry in the new government.)

The question of these deployments will now have to be raised in the context of the NATO Strategic Concept Review – currently in a research phase as a series of seminars are held exploring the issues that the review must address. Germany is likely to seek withdrawal in the context of an Allied policy, rather than as a unilateral action.

A series of questions are also raised by this new policy. If US nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Germany, will the storage facilities for the bombs remain, so they could return? Will Germany end its participation in NATO nuclear sharing, under which German pilots are trained and equipped to deliver nuclear weapons in the vent of ‘general war’, despite Germany’s nominal status as a non-nuclear weapon state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

It is clear that many NATO states still have security concerns that lead them to continue to rely on a US policy of extended deterrence. However, in the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, the ways in which that extended deterrence are provided are being considered, and it is by no means certain that the US will wish to maintain a small number of Cold War weapons in Europe indefinitely. Concerns over extended deterrence can be met in the short term, while the Obama goal of a nuclear weapon free world is pursued, by US and UK Trident forces allocated to the Alliance. The relevance of free fall nuclear bombs intended for use in a central European bloc-to-bloc conflict, for attacks on large Soviet tank armies, and rear base areas like then Leningrad, is not at all clear today.

While the small number of residual free-fall bombs are in no way sufficient to be part of a negotiation with Russia over tactical nuclear weapons, their withdrawal would help open the way for the inclusion of those weapons in future US-Russia arms control talks to which those parties are committed, and which the US wishes to use to involve other nuclear weapons states.

To NATO’s south, there is no nuclear threat. The countries of Africa have brought the Pelindaba Treat into force. This creates a nuclear weapon free zone in Africa, and there is no reason to doubt, with the end of Libya’s abortive nuclear weapons programme, that any nation is developing nuclear weapons in Africa.

NATO nations, as many others, have concerns about Iran. And, bearing in mind the African example, that is precisely why a commensurate effort should be placed in achieving successful negotiations with Iran individually, and in the Middle East WMD Free Zone in general.

There is still a long way to go. Until recently, the nuclear planning staff at NATO were advocating a widening of the role for nuclear weapons in NATO strategy, mirroring the policies of the Bush administration. That gained no traction with European allies. The German coalitions new policy document is an excellent contribution to the Strategic Concept debate on deterrence and the future of US nuclear weapons in Europe.

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