Germany's Nuclear Dilemma and the Future of NATO

Germany's foriegn minister hopes to rid his country of nuclear weapons and possibly add to the debate of the future of NATO (Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany's foreign minister hopes to rid his country of nuclear weapons and possibly add to the debate of the future of NATO (Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2009 the need for tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is dwindling. According to Prof. Joachim Krause of the Institute for Security Policy at Christian Albrecht University, the 480 warheads currently located in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey, are primarily short-range tactical weapons and their range is too limited to reach targets in the Middle East or further. It is within this context that Germany’s new foreign minister and leader of the Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, has made it his top priority to rid Germany of its remaining US nuclear arsenal. He is visiting the U.S. in November, following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit and it is thought that he would use this opportunity to ask the Obama administration to remove the weapons from Germany. To read the full article, click here or continue reading about the article below.

This move comes amidst a growing debate as to the merits of the presence of nuclear weapons in Europe. As mentioned above, those who oppose their presence point to the uselessness of these weapons. However, there are many who see the presence of these weapons as having more just a strict military purpose. France and Britain who are Western Europe’s two nuclear powers see the removal of US weapons as a threat against their own nuclear stockpiles. The other reason for supporters of the US nuclear presence is its effect on the NATO alliance itself. Solidarity within the alliance is fragile on account of the war in Afghanistan. One NATO official, on condition of anonymity, was quoted saying that if the US removed its nuclear weapons from Europe there would be nothing left to hold the alliance together. This is seen as a highly sensitive issue.

Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, explains that there is a bureaucratic resistance to change and a NATO mentality that is still married to the Cold War line of thinking. The alliance also simply does not know what to do about the future of nuclear weapons in its arsenal. These questions are at the heart of the discussion of the future of the alliance itself. Kristensen argues that if Mr. Westerwelle wishes to rid Germany of nuclear weapons how he goes about it will have an effect on the debate of the future of NATO. He also has the option is being discrete and avoiding the debate all together, but if Germany wishes to make this a public issue then it will have to provide some answers to the future of the alliance.

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