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Germany underscores commitment to nuclear deterrence

May 4, 2020

Berlin says the US nuclear umbrella extending into Germany remains part of its adherence to NATO deterrence. Some Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition want rid of German warplanes kept ready.

Tornado fighter jets at the Büchel airbase
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Frey

Germany will continue to make an "appropriate contribution" to deterrent NATO nuclear capability, said federal government spokesman Steffen Seibert on Monday, after senior Social Democrats had demanded the removal of US bombs.

The United States reputedly has as many as 150 nuclear devices stored in Europe — at the Büchel air base in western Germany, in Belgium, in the Netherlands and in Italy — for carriage on warplanes, including aging German Tornados.

Read more: US set to upgrade controversial nukes stationed in Germany

Over the weekend, two senior Social Democrats — nominally in coalition with Merkel's conservatives — Rolf Mützenich and Norbert Walter-Borjans called for nuclear removals from Büchel in the lead-up to federal elections due in 2021.

Replacement aircraft sought

Last month, Defence Minister and Merkel confidant Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had floated a procurement package, foreseeing the replacement of the Tornadoes with US-made Boeing F-18 jets as well as Eurofighters.

The Boeings can carry US nuclear arms that the Airbus jets are not designed for.

Seibert on Monday said Germany, like NATO, envisaged a world without nuclear weapons, but in the meantime adhered to NATO's nuclear deterrence concept, noting this was anchored in the Merkel coalition's 2018 agreement.

"There are some nations that continue to regard nuclear weapons as a means of military conflict, and as long as this is the case, we believe that there is still a need to maintain nuclear deterrence," said Seibert.

"In this context, the Federal Government will also ensure that an appropriate contribution to the preservation of these NATO capabilities is provided by Germany," Seibert added without referring to Büchel or potential adversaries.

Read more: US military in Germany: What you need to know

Do not strengthen security

Mützenich, the Social Democrats' (SPD) parliamentary leader in the Bundestag, had told the Tagesspiegel newspaper: "It is time Germany ruled out them [US nuclear weapons] being stationed here in future."

"Nuclear arms on German soil do not strengthen our security, quite the contrary," said Mützenich.

Walter-Borjans, who co-chairs the SPD nationwide told Sunday's Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper he was against "buying replacement fighters to transport nuclear bombs."

"My position is clear against their being stationed [in Germany], being made available and of course the use of nuclear arms."

Reiterating official coalition policy, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, himself a SPD member, said Germany stood by US weapons stationing based on the understanding that this could only change through disarmament negotiations.

Lingering Cold War issue

At the height of Cold War in the 1980s hundreds of thousands of Germans demonstrated against the deployment of US Pershing missiles in Europe during a standoff with the Soviet Union armed with SS20 intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Reacting to the calls by Mützenich and Walter-Borjan, Patrick Sensberg of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) warned "our international partners will doubt Germany's ability to fulfil its future role with the transatlantic security apparatus."

"The SPD is in total nirvana about security policy," asserted Sensberg, adding that American nuclear weapons "serve above all to protect us."

ipj/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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