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Germany split on US stationing long-range cruise missiles

July 11, 2024

The announcement that the United States will station long-range weapons in Germany has split opinions in Berlin. Criticism comes not only from the far left and right but also within Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition.

President Joe Biden, left, greet Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Biden and Scholz met at the NATO Summit in Washington Image: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

The decision made this week to periodically station long-range United States missiles in Germany as a deterrent to Russia has been greeted with both support and criticism in Berlin.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended the announcement, made on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington on Wednesday, as "a necessary and important decision at the right time" in terms of "deterrence" and "securing peace."

The move will see a return of long-range US cruise missiles to German soil for the first time since the late 1990s, including SM-6, Tomahawk and developmental hypersonic weapons with a longer range than those currently in the armories of European militaries.

As such, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that the deployment would address a "very serious gap" in Germany's defense capabilities.

"Exercising these advanced capabilities will demonstrate the United States' commitment to NATO and its contributions to European integrated deterrence," read a joint German-US statement.

Germany agrees to host long-range missiles: DW's Michaela Küfner

'An adequate deterrent'

"We have long been grappling with the question of how we can ensure a deterrent that secures our own alliance territory, but also Germany, with conventional options," Chancellor Scholz told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

"This decision has been a long time in the making and comes as no real surprise to anyone involved in security and peace policy," he added.

The move was also endorsed by Germany's conservative opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) who, given the current unpopularity of Scholz's center-left coalition, could be back in power by the time the missiles are deployed in 2026.

"This is a good news, which shows that the United States is standing by its security guarantees," CDU defense spokesman Johann Wadepuhl told DW. "We need an adequate deterrent against Russia."

Missile system mounted on a truck
Long-range missiles are once again set to be deployed in Germany as a deterrent to RussiaImage: Schöning/IMAGO

Criticism from within Scholz's own party

There has also been criticism of the decision from within the governing coalition, and even from within Scholz's own Social Democratic Party (SPD), where one lawmaker warned of a new "arms race."

"This will not make the world safer," the SPD's Ralf Stegner told the Funke media group. "On the contrary, we are entering a spiral in which the world is becoming increasingly dangerous."

The Greens, who form part of Scholz's coalition along with the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), said they and the German public had not been kept adequately informed of the decision and demanded an explanation.

"It can increase fears and leaves room for disinformation and incitement," the Greens' parliamentary security spokeswoman Sara Nanni told the regional Rheinische Post newspaper, adding that Scholz had provided little information on the precise threat posed by Russia.

Katharina Dröge, head of the Greens' parliamentary group, told broadcaster RTL that Scholz should "explain and answer these questions in public."

Criticism from far left and far right

Opposition to the announcement also came from the fringes of German politics, including from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the traditional socialist Left Party (Die Linke) and the new leftist Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW).

Sahra Wagenknecht
Sahra Wagenknecht of the eponymous left-wing BSW alliance is opposed to arms deliveries to Ukraine and to the deployment of US cruise missiles in GermanyImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

"Chancellor Scholz is not acting in Germany's interest," said Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the AfD, which continues to oppose German arms deliveries to Ukraine.

"He is allowing Germany's relationship with Russia to be permanently damaged, and we are falling back into the pattern of the East-West conflict," Chrupalla said, adding that the US missile deployment would make "Germany a target."

The Left Party called the decision "highly problematic." Sahra Wagenknecht, the politician after whom the new BSW is named, told Spiegel magazine that the move "increases the danger that Germany itself will become a theater of war."

Back in the 1980s, the deployment of US Pershing ballistic missiles in West Germany, which was then on the front line of the Cold War, prompted widespread pacifist demonstrations. Even after German reunification, US missiles remained stationed in Germany into the 1990s before being slowly removed.

The US currently has nuclear weapons stationed in Germany, which isn't a nuclear power itself, but its conventional capabilities are limited in range.

Russia, whose full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has accelerated Western rearmament, said it was planning "response measures" to contain what it called the "very serious threat" from NATO.

mf/lo (AFP, Reuters)