Berlin appears divided over the presence of US nuclear warheads | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.04.2010
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Germany

Berlin appears divided over the presence of US nuclear warheads

By signing the most comprehensive disarmament treaty for decades, Russia and the US want to move towards a nuclear-free world. But the German government is divided over when warheads should be removed from the country.

US nuclear missile at Mutlangen base in Germany

Not all Germans want to part with the nuclear deterrence philosophy yet

As Russia and the US signed a treaty to reduce their nuclear arsenals in Prague on Thursday, the German government was divided over when the remaining US warheads should be removed from German soil. The removal of the arms is part of the coalition treaty between Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats.

In its Nuclear Posture Review, the US administration did not yet give the green light for the withdrawal of its nuclear warheads from Europe, including the 10 to 20 units still on German soil. But US President Barack Obama signaled that those tactical weapons would be dealt with in separate negotiations with NATO allies and others.

"These signals coming from Washington will strengthen our government's endeavors to get rid of the remaining US warheads in Germany," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

Westerwelle scratching his head

For Westerwelle, things are moving far too slowly

In fact, the foreign minister and his Free Democratic Party (FDP) have long been the driving force behind a campaign to free this country completely of the nuclear relics from the Cold War-era. This means that the party has been quite prepared to say good-bye to the policy dogma of nuclear deterrence.

However, many Christian Democrats aren't exactly known to be staunch opponents of the deterrence strategy. They argue that as long as Russia doesn't significantly reduce its arsenal of tactical atomic weapons, Germany should not rush things.

Standstill in Berlin

The conflicting arguments brought forward in the debate have resulted in a waiting game being played in Berlin. Government spokesman Christoph Steegmans has been left to paper over the cracks by stating time and again that the issue will yet have to be coordinated with NATO allies as the alliance seeks to revise its nuclear policy. He also noted that a lot depended on Russia's willingness to play along.

"We explicitly welcome the US president's announcement that after the new START treaty he's also willing to discuss a reduction in tactical nuclear weapons with Russia," Steegmans said on Thursday in Berlin. "The outcome may then have a direct impact on the fate of the US warheads on German soil."

Opposition in favor of unconditional withdrawal

Portrait of Greens floor leader Juergen Trittin

Senior Greens legislator Trittin wants the nukes to go now

In a rare move of solidarity, German opposition leaders are siding with the Free Democrats, who are taking a more radical stance on the remaining nukes in Germany than their Christian Democrat partners.

The leader of the opposition Greens' in parliament, Juergen Trittin, said he sometimes had the impression that the government hadn't realized the Cold War is over.

"Germany is a de facto nuclear power," Trittin told Deutsche Welle. "Every morning, German pilots train the use of nuclear weapons."

Mr. Trittin argued that the US nuclear warheads in Germany no longer play a military role now that this country is surrounded by friendly neighbors. Hence they should be removed right away.

"Tactical nuclear weapons of this kind make no sense any more," Trittin maintained. "Unless you want to convey the message that you're ready to commit suicide by using them."

Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Rob Turner

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