NATO Strategy Paper: Nuclear Weapons Likely to Stay in Germany

Nuclear weapons, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has long insisted, have no place in Germany. But a new NATO paper seems to indicate that his efforts to get all such weapons removed from German soil will not succeed.

The Büchel military base in southern Germany where it is thought that some US tactical nuclear weapons are stored. Zoom
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The Büchel military base in southern Germany where it is thought that some US tactical nuclear weapons are stored.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has long shown an interest in having the remaining atomic weapons based in Germany removed. At the beginning of his term in office one year ago, he called the weapons a "relic of the Cold War" and said they "no longer have a military purpose." Indeed, Westerwelle's desire to get rid of the weapons even found its way into the governing coalition agreement his Free Democrats signed with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

Now, with NATO foreign ministers meeting this week to prepare for November's summit in Lisbon, it looks as though Westerwelle isn't going to get his way. In a secret draft of the new NATO Strategic Concept currently under development -- seen by SPIEGEL -- the nuclear missiles stationed in Germany are not mentioned. Furthermore, the document urges that NATO's nuclear posture must take into account the disparity with the larger Russian arsenal of nuclear short-range missiles.

Indeed, the document appears to leave no room for the kind of unilateral desires Berlin had been espousing. In a speech at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels last Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, while avoiding specifics, said that "our job remains to deter attack against our citizens, which means that as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO must retain nuclear weapons as well." He didn't specifically mention the weapons stationed in Germany.

'Huge Imbalance'

NATO has some 200 short-range nuclear weapons stationed in Europe with an estimated 20 of those in Germany. Russia is thought to have many times that amount. In an interview with SPIEGEL earlier this year, former NATO Secretary General George Robertson said Russia had 5,400 such weapons. In that interview, Robertson was very critical of Westerwelle's desire to remove all atomic weapons from German soil, calling it "simply dangerous."

The demand from Berlin, he said, "does not deny the idea of extended nuclear protection. It just says that Germany does not want to share the risks of providing it." He also said that "instead of making unilateral demands for weapons to leave Germany, the priority should be to do something about this huge imbalance."

The issue of Russian nuclear weapons is sure to come up during the NATO foreign ministers meeting. Germany has also pushed for a closer strategic alliance between NATO and Russia, but many NATO members in Eastern Europe have proven skeptical of such a path. The draft Strategic Concept includes a reference to cooperation with Russian in the creation of a missile defense system.

In an interview with the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on Monday, Westerwelle reiterated his support for nuclear disarmament but did not specifically mention the warheads stationed in Germany.

"We are interested in ensuring that the connection between international security on the one hand, and disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons on the other, is clearly established," he said. "Disarmament is no less a task for humanity than climate protection. The more countries that have nuclear arsenals, the larger is the danger that terrorists can gain access to them."

cgh -- SPIEGEL

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