Side event NPT-PrepCom
Vienna International Centre, May 2nd, 2012

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.

  1. 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 consensus.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 members.
  4. 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:

  1. 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 withdrawal does.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 seriously concerned.

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 Alliance-members disagree.


ist freier Journalist und leitet das Berliner Informationszentrum für Transatlantische Sicherheit - BITS