U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Germany are generally considered a relic of the Cold War and not the subject of a broad public debate. a new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) strategic concept by 2009, and the apparent withdrawal of U.S. TNW from Ramstein, Germany. This issue brief outlines the background of NATO's "nuclear sharing policy," examines initiatives in Germany to have U.S. TNW removed, and discusses the prospects for U.S. TNW withdrawal.
Recent TNW Developments in Germany and Public Sentiments
In January 2007, the U.S. Air Force removed the U.S. air base at Ramstein from a list of installations that receive periodic nuclear weapons inspections. According to Hans Kristensen, Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, this indicates that the 130 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons that had been stockpiled at the air base during the Cold War may have been permanently removed. If so, Germany now hosts only one site with U.S. nuclear weapons: Büchel air base. Since NATO and the United States make no public disclosures as to how many nuclear weapons are deployed, the exact number of TNWs in Germany is unconfirmed. Nonetheless, it is estimated that 20 nuclear warheads are now stationed at Büchel.
Few in Germany are aware of the TNW; a May 2006 survey indicated that only 12 percent of the German population knew that U.S. nuclear weapons are stationed in their country, while another 31.7 percent said it was "likely" that there were such weapons. However, strong anti-nuclear sentiment within the German population suggests that a campaign to withdraw TNWs would receive broad based support. A 2005 poll by the news magazine Der Spiegel indicated that 76 percent of the German population would welcome TNW removal from Germany.
Background on NATO's Nuclear Sharing Policy
The United States stations TNW in Germany and other European countries as part of NATO's "nuclear sharing" policy. Participating countries host U.S. nuclear weapons on their territory and train their pilots to deliver the weapons. NATO initiated this policy in the 1950s to dissuade U.S. allies from developing indigenous nuclear weapons programs and to persuade them to be protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The United States deployed its first weapons in Germany in 1955. During peacetime, the weapons remain under U.S. control. In wartime, they could be deployed on the host country's aircraft. Host countries voice their opinions concerning U.S. TNW at the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). The NPG is the "ultimate authority within NATO with respect to nuclear policy issues."
In addition to Germany, U.S. TNWs are deployed in several other European countries: Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Deployment has dramatically dropped from its peak in the 1970s, when more than 7,000 weapons were stationed in Europe. In late 2007 only about 350 remained. The drop in deployed TNW resulted mainly from the post-Cold War Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) that Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev announced in 1991. These initiatives called for a drastic cut in both U.S. and Soviet TNW in Europe.
Today, since the military need for TNW deployment in Europe has decreased, NATO emphasizes the political dimension of nuclear sharing. The 1999 NATO strategic concept states 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." In June 2007, the Ministerial meetings of the Defense Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group in Brussels confirmed this position.
Nuclear sharing is highly controversial, and opponents have questioned its legality under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Articles I and II. These articles stipulate that nuclear weapon states shall not "transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly" and that non-nuclear-weapon states vow "not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices." NATO justifies TNW stationing in Europe with the argument that the weapons would only be activated in times of war, at which time the NPT would no longer be legally binding.
Germany Contests TNW Deployment
Factions within German civil society and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have consistently campaigned for a nuclear-weapon-free Germany. Most recently, in August 2007, a new NGO campaign was launched to pressure the German government to push for the removal of American TNWs by 2010 and to end German participation in NATO's nuclear planning. In the past, pressure from civil society has not been strong enough to significantly influence government policies regarding TNW withdrawal.
During the past decade, the TNW issue has been raised several times following external developments that attracted public attention. The 1998 NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels, the NPT Review Conference in 2005, the drafting of the "White Paper" of the Defense Ministry in 2006, and the recent possibly permanent removal of TNWs from the U.S. air base at Ramstein are developments that prompted further discussion of TNW removal from Germany. In the near future, a discussion about a new NATO strategic concept might provide further impetus to the discussion. A new strategic concept would replace NATO's pre-9/11 concept dating from early 1999. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has repeatedly called for a new concept by 2009. It would apply the alliance's experiences from the past decade, and his proposal has received backing from various NATO member states. It remains to be seen if NATO will critically assess its deterrence policy and nuclear sharing policy in a post-Cold War environment.
The Schröder Government 1998-2005: "Fainthearted Attempts"
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's center-left government (1998-2005) comprised the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party. The SPD endorses a relatively coherent anti-nuclear position, while the Green Party sees its anti-nuclear stance as a central feature of its political identity. The government pursued a number of initiatives to address the issue of TNW stationing and NATO's nuclear policy.
In December 1998 Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Green Party) proposed a no-first-use doctrine at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels as a first step towards TNW withdrawal. Not surprisingly, since his proposal was not coordinated with possible like-minded countries, it was not well received in the United States, Great Britain, and France. Oliver Meier of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg called Fischer's proposal "badly prepared." No NATO government openly endorsed it. Germany continued to pursue its policy as part of the NATO-5, an informal group consisting of Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway. The NATO-5 working paper no. 7 for the 2000 NPT Review Conference called upon the United States and the Russian Federation "to include the reduction and ultimate elimination of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the overall nuclear arms reduction negotiations." As a result of this initiative, for the first time the final document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference explicitly mentioned the "further reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons, based on unilateral initiatives" as a step towards nuclear disarmament as called for by NPT Article VI.
In 2004, at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, Germany voted in favor of a resolution by the New Agenda Coalition, calling on the nuclear weapon states "to take further steps to reduce their non-strategic nuclear arsenals and not to develop new types of nuclear weapons, in accordance with their commitment to diminish the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies." With the exception of the United Kingdom, all NATO states with U.S. TNWs on their territory voted in favor of this resolution.
The issue reemerged in the preparations for the 2005 NPT Review Conference. In April 2005, the oppositional Free Democratic Party (FDP) (a coalition partner of the SPD during the 1970s and of the conservative CDU/CSU throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s) issued a petition, "Strengthening the Credibility of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime-Withdrawing U.S. Nuclear Weapons from Germany," in the Bundestag, Germany's national parliament. The petition demanded the withdrawal of U.S. TNWs from German soil as a step towards adjusting NATO policy to current realities and strengthening the nonproliferation regime. Although it was rejected by the Board of Foreign Affairs, the petition received support from several parties in the Bundestag. The Green Party called for a rapid removal of TNWs from Germany, and SPD spokesman Gert Weisskirchen stressed that U.S. TNWs in Germany "make no more sense today." Only the CDU/CSU maintained its support for TNWs in Europe.
In his speech to the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Fischer made a vague statement that complete TNW disarmament "remains our goal." He emphasized the "serious" German discussion on the subject demanding "practical steps," and called for transparency measures and the complete implementation and formalization of the 1991/92 PNIs. In his speech, Fischer reiterated the German Working Paper on "Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons," for the Preparatory Committee to the 2005 NPT Review Conference.
At the June 2005 NATO Defense Ministers meeting, German Defense Minister Peter Struck (SPD) emphasized the opinion that NATO's adherence to nuclear deterrence undermined nonproliferation. He mentioned Germany's desire for TNW withdrawal. He was met with rejection, provoking one German news agency to report, "NATO turns a deaf ear on Struck."
According to nonproliferation analyst Oliver Meier, the Fischer and Struck initiatives marked the start and end points of the Schröder government's "fainthearted" attempt to alter NATO's nuclear policy. TNW withdrawal was not a high priority for the administration, especially since attempts to address this issue within a broader NATO discussion failed to provoke international discussions.
The year 2005 also witnessed the inception of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), a non-partisan forum for parliamentarians to promote nonproliferation and disarmament issues. Among calls for general and complete nuclear disarmament by 2020, PNND emphasized the withdrawal of TNWs from Europe as a key step toward this goal. One of the PNND's main initiatives was the June 2006 written declaration on the withdrawal of U.S. TNWs from Europe that was sent to the European Council, the European Commission, and the government of the United States.
Grand Coalition: Dissent and Delay
The 2005 federal elections in Germany saw the emergence of the "Grand Coalition" (CDU/CSU and SPD) under Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). The members of the coalition were opponents in the past. Although there is generally broad consensus on central foreign policy issues among German parties, the CDU/CSU and SPD hold somewhat different views on NATO, transatlantic relations, and nuclear policy.
The first disagreement on nuclear policy occurred over the CDU-headed defense ministry's drafts of the defense "White Paper." The SPD-headed foreign ministry refused to accept the wording in the draft that that claimed that U.S. nuclear weapons on German soil were essential for supporting NATO's deterrence strategy. Instead, the formulations in the "White Paper" had to be changed to a vague, general endorsement of NATO's nuclear deterrence "for a foreseeable time" and the claim that Germany "contributes" to nuclear sharing-without specifying what this means.
In November 2006, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Norwegian colleague Jonas Gahr Støre highlighted the topic when they published an op-ed in Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau in which they called for a "revival" of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. They claimed that it was "time to enrich arms control by an approach that includes non-strategic nuclear weapons."
Even though the Merkel government has not pursued a clear anti-TNW policy, it has not taken steps to ensure that Germany's participation in NATO's nuclear sharing will continue. Germany will replace the German Tornado aircraft-that currently would deliver U.S. TNW-with the Eurofighter in 2012. The Eurofighter is collectively produced by Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom and Merkel's administration has repeatedly emphasized that it does not plan to certify the Eurofighter for nuclear weapons delivery. Government officials, however, have delayed a final decision and plan to keep some Tornado aircraft until after 2020, not establishing a deadline for their demobilization. Demobilization of the Tornado aircraft would mean that there would be no delivery system for TNW-and this would end Germany's nuclear sharing participation. Furthermore, a position paper of the SPD Defense Board members explicitly states ending nuclear sharing as a policy goal.
In January and March 2006, the Merkel administration reviewed parliamentary petitions by the Left and the Green Parties calling for TNW withdrawal from Germany. The petition of the Left party, "Withdrawal of Nuclear Weapons from Germany," mentions the 2005 FDP initiative, calls for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. TNW from Germany and an end to the training of German aircraft and pilots for a possible nuclear weapons operation. The Green Party's resolution, "Accelerating the Disarmament of Tactical Nuclear Weapons-Completely Withdraw U.S. Nuclear Weapons from Germany and Europe" is more moderate. The Green Party initiative calls for an end to nuclear sharing "as soon as possible" and endorses the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free zone consisting "of all non-nuclear-weapon states in Europe."
Although both petitions failed to gain a majority in the parliament, a broad parliamentary majority for TNW withdrawal has emerged, including the SPD, the Green Party, the FDP, and the Left Party. Among all of the parties represented in the German parliament, only the CDU/CSU still supports nuclear sharing-albeit in a limited way. In a November 2006 resolution, presented shortly before the NATO summit in Riga, the CDU/CSU, together with the SPD, called for "new proposals to reduce sub-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe by NATO."
The January 2007 removal of U.S. air base at Ramstein from the U.S. Air Force's inspection list in gave new impetus to the TNW discussion. Even though the removal was not officially confirmed, SPD spokesman for Arms Control and Disarmament Rolf Mützenich welcomed it as a step in the right direction and questioned whether the remaining TNWs at Büchel air base still served any purpose. This echoes the attempts by SPD chairman Kurt Beck to strengthen the anti-militaristic profile of his party. Beck has criticized U.S. plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe and has repeatedly called for TNW withdrawal from his constituency, Rhineland-Palatinate (where Ramstein and Büchel air bases are located). In addition, the CDU/CSU spokesman for disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control, Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg, stated that his party would not oppose the complete removal of TNWs from Germany, if it were addressed within NATO's framework.
General Motion: In Favor of Withdrawal
The 2005 and 2006 parliamentary initiatives indicate that support for TNW withdrawal is probably higher today in Germany than ever before. Calls among scientists and think tanks for an "open discussion" about the future of NATO's nuclear doctrine are made more frequently, as the military reasons for TNW in Germany have diminished and delivery systems will probably no longer be provided. Increasingly, the alliance's overall nuclear policy is questioned. Even conservative German think tanks like the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung doubt the necessity of a differentiated and large U.S. nuclear arsenal when deterrence is less significant today than during the Cold War. Momentum seems to grow on almost all political levels. In December 2007, European Mayors from cities where U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed published an op-ed calling for the withdrawal of TNW from Europe as a "step towards a new NATO defence policy not reliant on nuclear weapons," and criticizing the lack of transparency on this issue. As Oliver Meier stated in 2007, "the question is not if, but rather when and how the alliance will change its nuclear policy."
However, recent parliamentary initiatives and opinion polls have not yet significantly influenced governmental policy. The administration's reluctance to act has three roots:
1. The CDU/CSU's traditionally strong ties with the United States and NATO;
2. The Schröder government's inability to promote the goal within a broader, international framework; and
3. The reluctance to risk worsening transatlantic relations after the disagreements about the war in Iraq. Germany is wary of raising U.S. opposition in areas it perceives as vital, e.g., its plan to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Conclusion - Mounting Pressure to Remove TNW
Non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace Germany and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) Germany, think tanks, and research organizations have kept track of developments on TNWs in the past, and some of them have consistently urged for their withdrawal. They have managed to influence members of parliament, as is reflected in the parliamentary initiatives discussed above. However, at present the CDU/CSU and Chancellor Merkel enjoy high public approval ratings, and it is unlikely that they will embark on an anti-TNW course that might risk confrontation with the United States.
This said, with the 2009 federal elections approaching, tensions in the coalition are mounting. The CDU/CSU and the SPD will be eager to publicly show their distinct positions on central policy issues, and this will include the foreign policy field. Gerhard Schröder's opposition to the Iraq war helped him to win the 2002 elections, and it is likely that the SPD will try to take the lead in a more leftwing-oriented foreign policy. Given its staunch opposition to a missile shield in Europe, the SPD may well try to make nuclear issues a broader part of its election campaign.
It is not clear how the United States would react to a request by Germany to withdraw its TNW from Büchel air base. In a 2005 interview with Der Spiegel, then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that he would leave the issue "to the Germans and NATO". Hans Kristensen states that a German push for a withdrawal would be successful. This claim is supported by a former German air base commander who stated that the TNWs would be gone "within three days" if Germany were to ask the United States to withdraw them. Joseph Cirincione, of the Center for American Progress, concurs with this view: "If Germany did not want them [TNW], they would be gone," he told the German news program "Kontraste". However, initiatives from the previous German government have not significantly influenced U.S. nuclear policy.
The discussion of a new strategic concept for NATO prior to 2009 could be the catalyst to push withdrawal of TNW in Europe onto the policy agenda. The future nuclear policy of the alliance will certainly be a heavily disputed topic. On January 22, 2008, The Guardian reported on the manifesto of five senior NATO military officers and strategists. The manifesto calls for a strategic consideration of a NATO pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the "imminent" spread weapons of mass destruction.
Russian steps towards transparency and TNW withdrawal would facilitate the process. This is also highlighted in a January 2008 PNND initiative, "Time to Remove Tactical Nuclear Weapons from Europe?" that is signed by legislators Rolf Mützenich (Germany), Patrik Vankrunkelsven (Belgium), and Sergei Kolesnikov (Russia). They emphasize the role parliamentarians can play in promoting this issue "through parliamentary resolutions, questions in parliament, joint parliamentary appeals and through contact with parliamentary colleagues in these [the United States, NATO, and other European] countries." Russia's endorsement would certainly make it easier for the CDU/CSU to support U.S. TNW withdrawal.
Germany is currently walking a fine line between reiterating its call for an inclusion of TNW in the general arms control and disarmament process (as stated at the Conference on Disarmament in February 2008) and confirming that it holds on to nuclear sharing-including U.S. TNW on its soil. It is therefore unlikely that a governmental initiative for TNW withdrawal will originate from Germany. If the impetus were to come from the outside-e.g., by the United States or by an allied European state-Germany would certainly not oppose TNW withdrawal. It is highly unlikely however that the German government will embark on this course independently, especially if doing so is perceived as an impediment to transatlantic relations.
- Oliver Meier, "An End to U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe?" Arms Control Today, July/August 2006, www.armscontrol.org
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 On U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe see Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe, A Review of Post-Cold War Policy, Force Levels, and War Planning", Natural Resources Defense Council, February 2005, www.nti.org.
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 Kristensen, "U.S. Nuclear Weapons", p. 9.
 Greenpeace International, Nuclear Weapons In Europe: Survey Results in Five European Countries, May 25, 2006, www.greenpeace.org.
 A Greenpeace poll showed that the concerns over TNW stationing was significantly higher in Germany (39.4% "very concerned," 20.8% "somewhat concerned") than in the four other European countries polled (Belgium-23.3% "very concerned," 37.8% "somewhat concerned," Italy-23.1% "very concerned," 38.6% "somewhat concerned," Netherlands-23.4% "very concerned," 35.5% "somewhat concerned," UK-26.2% "very concerned," 29.7% "somewhat concerned"). Following Italy, Germany has the second highest rate of approval for a nuclear-weapon-free Europe (70.5%; Italy 71.5%, Belgium 64.6%, Netherlands 63.3%, Great Britain 55.7%). (Greenpeace International, Nuclear Weapons In Europe: Survey Results in Five European Countries, May 25, 2006, www.greenpeace.org.)
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