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Explosive Plans: Berlin Split over US Nuke Modernization

The US wants to modernize part of its nuclear arsenal, including some bombs based in Germany. But the plan is likely to be controversial in Berlin where the ruling coalition remains divided over whether the American weapons should be in the country at all.

Tornado fighter jets stationed at Büchel military base in southwestern Germany, where the country's tactical nuclear weapons are likely stored. Zoom
dpa

Tornado fighter jets stationed at Büchel military base in southwestern Germany, where the country's tactical nuclear weapons are likely stored.

The Pentagon is planning a comprehensive modernization of part of America's nuclear arsenal -- including bombs deployed in Europe. The newly-designed weapons, to be given the designation B61-12, will be based on the current B61-4 design, of which experts estimate there are already between 10 and 20 based in southwestern Germany at the Luftwaffe air base in Büchel.

The modernization program for these nuclear weapons would, according to a report from the American Government Accountability Office (GAO) to Congress, be "the most complex life extension effort undertaken" to date.

Both the conventional and nuclear components of the bombs are set for modernization, with a view to changing the power behind the nuclear explosion. The weapons will also be outfitted with controllable tail fins to improve their effectiveness as flying bombs.

Technical development will begin next year with the first new bombs set to be ready by 2017, after which full production of the model would start. According to the report, the US began discussing the proposals with "certain NATO allies" in early 2010, reaching an agreement on the "key military characteristics of the bomb."

But the planned modernization could also have an explosive effect within the ruling center-right coalition in Berlin. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle from the junior coalition party, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), has spoken out in favor of the withdrawal of American bombs from Germany. The foreign ministry said that the "reduction of tactical nuclear weapons and, in this framework, their withdrawal from Germany" remains an "important part of our agenda."

In his new policy guidelines, however, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has expressly incorporated a commitment to nuclear deterrence.

dsk/SPIEGEL

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