Friday, 23 October 2009

Will Germany Call for Removal of US Nuclear Weapons?

Just as NATO Ministers began to meet in Bratislava, the German press was full of stories yesterday about the new coalition and it's likely policy on the remaining US nuclear weapons stored in Germany.

A Reuters report, picked up at said that the foreign policy section of a draft coalition agreement that is expected to be approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Free Democrats (FDP) later this week, states:



"... we will strive within (NATO) and with our American allies for a withdrawal of the last U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany."

The head of the Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, is likely to become Foreign Minister in the new government. During the election campaign, he had committed his party to negotiating the withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons on German soil. In recent years, as numbers of nukes deployed to Europe has fallen, they have already been removed from the UK and Greece. Turkey has ended its participation in NATO nuclear sharing programmes, and the presence of the weapons has become more and more controversial.

If this coalition agreement does contain this commitment, it will mark a change in policy by Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrat party which had, up to now, remained supportive of the nuclear deployment. Such a move would also be very interesting in the context of the US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech on non-proliferation this week in which she talked of the need to provide assurance to allies while meeting non-proliferation goals:

.. the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review will be a key milestone. It will more accurately calibrate the role, size, and composition of our nuclear stockpile to the current and future international threat environments. And it will provide a fundamental reassessment of U.S. nuclear force posture, levels, and doctrine. Carried out in consultation with our allies, it will examine the role of nuclear weapons in deterring today’s threats and review our declaratory policies with respect to the circumstances in which the United States would consider using nuclear weapons.

As part of the NPR, the Nuclear Posture Review, we are grappling with key questions: What is the fundamental purpose of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal? Will our deterrence posture help the United States encourage others to reduce their arsenals and advance our nonproliferation agenda? How can we provide reassurance to our allies in a manner that reinforces our nonproliferation objectives?

Behind the scenes it is clear that the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe is on the agenda, and the question is how to provide extended deterrence without keeping the symbols of that policy on the continent?

This German statement is most interesting. The new Norwegian government has committed itself to a similar debate within NATO. With major figures like former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers (who championed the unpopular arrival of nuclear armed Cruise missiles in the Netherlands in the 1980s) stating that the US nuclear deployments to Europe should be ended, the debate on deterrence in the NATO Strategic Concept review should prove extremely interesting.

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