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German Coalition Policy on withdrawal of US nuclear weapons

6 November 2009

The new German coalition government has announced a new policy of withdrawal of US nuclear weapons based in Europe.

Withdrawing US Nuclear Weapons from Europe

The new German CDU (Christian Democrat) and FDP (Liberals) coalition has agreed on a policy of withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany. Their coalition agreement says that:

"We emphatically support President Obama’s proposals for new far-reaching disarmament initiatives – including the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world....

We observe with concern the erosion of the international disarmament and arms control architecture. We are convinced that follow-agreements to those treaties that expire have to be negotiated and that the missing ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the adapted CFE-Treaty have to be completed.

We will support the conclusion of new disarmament and arms control agreements. We want to use the 2010 NPT review conference to initiate a new dynamic for treaty-based accords...

Against this background, and in the context of the talks on a new Strategic Concept for NATO we will advocate within NATO and towards our U.S. allies a withdrawal of remaining nuclear weapons from Germany. With a view towards preserving the agreements within the CFE-regime, we are ready on our part to ratify the adapted CFE-treaty."

Full text in Germany is available at the Der Spiegel website.)

This represents a change of policy for the CDU, which had previously refused such a move. The policy is being driven by FDP leader and new Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle.

Westerwelle has already held talks with Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, and the two ministers later told the press that they would work together on this issue.

On 3 November, Westerwelle held talks on a variety of issues with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This included discussion of the future NATO Strategic Concept negotiations, and in particular the nuclear weapons issue. Focus magazine reports that:

Westerwelle made clear in his talks with the NATO Secretary-General that the requirement in the new government coalition agreement for withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from Germany should be closely coordinated with the Allies. "We decide together. It alone is not what has the new German federal government in mind, "said Westerwelle. 

Rasmussen was also relieved: "It is of utmost importance that such decisions are taken within the Alliance and that no unilateral action be taken," said the NATO Secretary General. Disarmament issues relate to all 28 NATO countries, ".. it is a question of collective security and deterrence policy. I noted with satisfaction that the position of the new German government that any decisions are taken in a multilateral framework. "

Meanwhile, the Belgian foreign minister, Yves Leterme, who will hold talks with Westerwelle in early November, told the Belgian Senate that he will discuss the issue with German, Dutch and Luxembourgeois colleagues in the course of the coming week. He said that Belgium is a partisan for a nuclear weapon free world and that removing US nuclear weapons from Europe is a crucial step towards that goal. Like Germans, Leterme advocates achieving this goal in a NATO framework. Leterme said that he would like the NATO ministerial meeting this December to discuss the issue.

The new Norwegian government also endorsees the need to debate the role of nuclear weapons in Alliance strategy, and is ready to reduce that role.

On 5 November Westerwelle visited the United States for discussions on this and other issues. It was noted that they agreed the matter should be dealt with in Alliance fora and that the discussion had related to alliance nuclear posture as a whole.

NATO Foreign Ministers will meet in early December and the nuclear question will be addressed there. However, the debate will be seriously engaged next spring when negotiations on a new Alliance Strategic Concept begin. The current Concept, which dates to 1999, says that:

Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance. The Alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe.

Weapons could be withdrawn from Europe without changing this, and indeed some have gone from Turkey, Greece has been denuclearized, all US nuclear weapons have been removed from the UK and the vast bulk of bombs deployed in Germany have already gone.

However, all this has been done without any publicity and has therefore contributed little to ongoing disarmament debates. If NATO ministers wish to make a substantial move that would assist President Obama in his work towards a nuclear weapon free world, then removing this phrase and others that relate to it from the Strategic Concept would send a very strong signal that NATO understands that times have changed and that arms control and disarmament can contribute to the enhancement of Alliance security.

The German initiative, now supported by several important NATO nations, has made significant change a real possibility. It is far from certain that this initiative will succeed. It is not currently known whether Turkey would accept the withdrawal of remaining US nuclear weapons, as it has been a strong supporter of the US policy of 'extended deterrence' in the past. Other NATO members, along with some members of NATO's international staff, may also be resistent to changing the nuclear paragraphs of the Strategic Concept.

It is certain that the role of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy will now be a major part of the Strategic Concept negotiations in 2010.


As NATO Defence Ministers gathered in Bratislava in mid-October for their annual informal meeting, the main headlines focussed on the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Ministers endorsed the plan put forward by NATO and US commander General McChrystal. The Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the press that “What we did today was to discuss General McChrystal’s overall assessment, his overall approach, and I have noted a broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach.”

McChrystal flew into Bratislava unannounced to brief ministers on implementing a major counterinsurgency strategy focused on protecting population centers and accelerating the training of Afghan army and police units. Both these goals will require significant numbers of fresh troops. NATO diplomats told the press at the meeting that it is difficult to see how an acceptance of this broad strategy can be viewed as anything but endorsing an increase in military and civilian resources.

However, the ministers did not actually offer more troops, or to change the caveats on the use of troops already in country. That was not a role for this meeting, but will likely be discussed in December. Nothing will be forthcoming from Europe until President Obama has decided on his future strategy and troop deployment levels. General McChrystal has asked for 40,000 additional US troops to implement his strategy, and the White House is examining all options.

If NATO is to succeed in Afghanistan, something on which the Alliance has bet much of its reputation, then there will need to be a clear statement of the purpose of the mission and how it is to be achieved. Support for the military presence in Afghanistan is waning across the Alliance, notably in the UK and US – the two countries most deeply engaged, and it will be hard to turn that trend around. Nothing that came out of Bratislava indicates how that will be done.

Missile Defence

The Obama administration has put considerable effort into building allied support for their new European missile defence plans, announced in September. The NATO spokesman told the press that:

On missile defence, Secretary Gates kicked off the discussion with a short briefing on the new US approach to European missile defence. Ministers welcomed the fact the new US approach puts European missile defence more in a NATO context. That is good for the Alliance. It is good for solidarity. And to my mind, it is important for the defence of Europe that we are talking about rolling out a system within a couple of years that can provide European and North American citizens defence against a real and growing missile threat.

This meeting saw a sea change in European attitudes to US BMD plans. A major element in European willingness to support the Obama administration’s proposals is that they do not antagonize Russia, and that there remains a possibility of NATO-Russia collaboration.

The Bush administration had intended to deploy mid-course BMD interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. Russia claimed the system was deeply dangerous to its national security, and all independent scientific experts agreed that the system would have been very ill-suited to dealing with threats from its claimed target –Iran -, and very well suited to monitoring and countering launches from Russia.
In the context of the administration’s desire to counter potential launches from Iran, the proposed system that will see a phased deployment across south-eastern Europe as part of an integrated NATO system, is actually targeted at shorter range systems than the ICBMS the mid-course system targets (and that, incidentally, Iran does not possess). US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also told journalists that radars in southern Russia could make a useful contribution to this new proposed system.

From a NATO Europe perspective the new system has several advantages. It is far more developed than the proposed mid-course system, which simply doesn’t work. It poses no strategic threat to Russia, and thus does nothing to harm relations. Finally, in contrast to President Bush whose administration virtually ignored NATO and pursued bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic, the Obama administration has briefed and consulted with allies at a NATO level regularly. They are rebuilding faith in the US commitment to the Alliance which was severely eroded by President Bush.

A number of NATO ministers made supportive statements after the meeting and during the course of this week, while Vice-President Biden has been visiting Europe. Notably, Bulgaria and Romania supported the new proposals, when they had been deeply skeptical of the Bush proposals which would not have covered south-eastern Europe – even supposing it worked. Ministers did insist again that the indivisibility of security of the Alliance was a vital principle and that BMD must cover all NATO nations.

This system remains at the proposal stage, and a lot of work is still to be done. NATO has been discussing whether or not to develop an Alliance wide BMD system since the 1990s without tangible results so far. The intention is to have the proposed system up and running by 2015, and Secretary General Rasmussen told the press conference after the meeting that:

I think NATO Foreign Ministers will look to take this forward in December. And I hope that, by our Lisbon Summit next fall, we can agree to make European missile defence fully a NATO mission.

Defence Transformation

Transformation of NATO for the 21st century has been a major topic at ministerial meetings for some time, and the Alliance has a military command dedicated to transformation based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Ministers discussed transformation at their working dinner in Bratislava, and a major part of that discussion was the prioritization of resources. In the midst of recession, and deep cuts in government spending in years to come, the debate for NATO is no longer how to increase defence spending, but how to do more with less. Ministers agreed the Secretary General’s decision to appoint a high-level group of officials from defence ministries to address this question directly at the NATO level. One way that NATO adds value to national defence budgets is with collective projects, which include initiatives such as Allied Ground Surveillance and Strategic Airlift Capability.

In fact the core of the transformation debate is how NATO can acquire the capability to project forces quickly across the globe. This means military transformation, but also major change sin the decision-making structures at a NATO level which were not designed for an Alliance of 27 states, and are increasingly unwieldy.

No decisions were made in Bratislava. These issues will be central to the NATO Strategic Concept debate when ministers engage in it next year.

Martin Butcher

Translation quoted from http://natomonitor.blogspot.com and was done by Oliver Meier of the Arms Control Association.

More information and links to Dutch language articles at http://natomonitor.blogspot.com/2009/11/netherlands-joins-german-effort-to-oust.html.

Translation by Google Translate/Martin Butcher and the German original can be accessed at http://www.focus.de/politik/weitere-meldungen/nato-rasmussen-fordert-von-westerwelle-mehr-soldaten-fuer-afghanistan_aid_450833.html.

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© 2009 The Acronym Institute.