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The nuclear boomerang

The goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world is a guideline of German foreign policy. Earlier this week, however, CDU politician Johann Wadephul demanded in a Tagesspiegel Interview: “anyone who wants to be a good European must not only cooperate in environmental policy, but must also do so in arms policy.“And further:” Germany should be prepared to participate in this nuclear deterrent with its own capabilities and Means. In return, France should place them under a joint command of the EU or Nato.”

The demand for nuclear weapons in response to international crises sets us back decades in the debate. Even if the guidelines of German foreign policy are often diffuse and fall short of the expectations of various actors, one thing is clear. After all, Germany is trying to adopt a new policy approach: multilateralism instead of going it alone, diplomacy instead of Force de Frappe. A Franco-German or a European nuclear weapons programme would fall behind the policy approach of the federal government in recent years.

Germany and France are already cooperating closely in the field of armaments, including the innovative Air Force Project Future Combat Air System. An even stronger Franco - German or European cooperation with a nuclear component would counteract any alliance of multilateralism. Moreover, under President Sarkozy, France last offered Germany limited participation in the French nuclear arsenal in 2007. Germany should contribute to the costs of the French nuclear force and have a say in this. The federal government refused. According to foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the time, Germany was a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and did not seek to possess nuclear weapons. This attitude should still exist today. A participation in the French nuclear program would not be a short affair but a long-term marriage contract. With consequences for the entire arms control and disarmament regime. A “divorce” would only be painfully possible in the future.

A participation in the French nuclear program would not be a short affair but a long-term marriage contract.

Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear deterrence is based on the Will and ability to use it. This strategy is neither a Basis for a united Europe, whose security policy perspective varies greatly from the Baltic states to Portugal, nor can it be the basis for a cooperative policy towards other states. How Can Germany convincingly argue against the nuclear armament of others and oppose the nuclear ambitions of North Korea or Iran if it becomes part of a new European nuclear deterrent initiative? In fact, it would be even more inconsistent than NATO’s existing nuclear involvement with US nuclear weapons.

Yes, Germany must develop an independent foreign and security policy, including more responsibility in some areas. However, participation in nuclear weapons programmes cannot be part of it in the long term. It does not matter whether the current policy style of US President Trump is fuelling the debate or whether it may at some point be Marine LePen, who has nuclear weapons in France. Decision-makers are changing, but the concept of nuclear deterrence has been shaping international cooperation for 75 years. It has created a System in which certain states may possess an instrument for the destruction of humanity that others will never be entitled to.

It would be naive to assume that this initial situation could lead to stability in the long term. We have already observed the Erosion of this approach in recent years. Despite international sanctions, North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The relationship between Russia and the West is more strained than ever. The conflict with Iran comes to a head again after the respite caused by the JCPOA created in 2015. Even Turkish President Recep Erdogan demanded the right to nuclear weapons in autumn 2019. Nuclear deterrence does not lead to stability. On the contrary, it encourages other actors to strive for the possession of nuclear weapons. Because they see the “nuclear map” as a trump card in the fight for influence and recognition in the international community.

The idea of a new European nuclear deterrent can only be based on the belief in a manageable number of rational actors and the faultless functioning of communication and technology. The accelerated processes of communication and decision-making change the political leeway, especially in crisis situations. In this context, the risks of nuclear deterrence are usually underestimated, if not negated, in public debate. We do not need to look at all the false alarms of history that have repeatedly brought Russia and the United States, in particular, to the brink of nuclear war. It was not until January 2018, when the conflict between North Korea and the US intensified, that it was not clear for 48 minutes whether a missile was approaching Hawaii. A chain of information was mistakenly triggered by the Civil Protection Agency EMA, which sent an SMS warning to citizens.

The debate on nuclear weapons and deterrence must finally arrive in the 21st century.

A recent Pentagon report points to vulnerabilities in the Software of the new B61-12 nuclear bombs, which are open to cyber attacks. Studies on the Nexus between new technologies and nuclear weapons show that the development of autonomous weapons, artificial intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities increases the risk of nuclear weapons use.

Technical systems and human decisions are fallible. It is therefore the responsibility of policy makers to minimise the security risk to the population. This means turning away from nuclear deterrence. As a” good European”, to use Johann Wadephul’s words, this would actually be a preventive, security-policy action. Not only in the national sense, but also in the interest of the community. The use, inadvertently or intentionally, of only one nuclear weapon over a single city would have devastating consequences for which, according to the International Red Cross, No suitable relief measures are available. A potential Fallout would not stop either at the EU border or in the Kashmir region should the conflict between the nuclear powers Pakistan and India escalate.

It is not only the arrest of the discussion on nuclear deterrence in the Cold War paradigms that is surprising. The decoupling of the CDU from the attitudes of its voters is also surprising. A Greenpeace poll from summer 2019 shows that 89 percent of CDU supporters surveyed support Germany’s accession to the treaty banning nuclear weapons. In doing so, they advocate outlawing these weapons of mass destruction. Almost three quarters of CDU supporters surveyed also explicitly vote for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany. Among the supporters of other parties, the approval is largely even higher.

The debate on nuclear weapons and deterrence must finally arrive in the 21st century. Otherwise, we encounter the adherence to old paradigms again and again: as a boomerang of new nuclear weapon states.