(Nuclear) Sharing Is Caring: an Introduction
DGAP asked leading European experts on foreign policy about Germany’s role in providing nuclear deterrence in Europe. These experts, who each represent an EU member or a key partner, responded to three open-ended questions.
You can read the introduction below or download a printable PDF of all responses using the download button to the right. In the related content section, you can view the responses by country.
In the last couple of weeks, the German security policy community has been debating about the country’s engagement in NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement. An interview Rolf Mützenich, chairman of the SPD, gave to Der Tagesspiegel at beginning of May sparked a controversy around the question whether Germany should continue to host US tactical nuclear weapons on its territory and provide the dual-capable aircrafts (DCA) that could deliver those weapons if push came to shove.
Critics suggest that the current arrangement is obsolete and that any decision to replace the current German DCA fleet should be accompanied by a broad debate about the use of German participation in nuclear sharing.
One key question in the debate is how a German withdrawal would be seen among our allies in the EU and NATO. So we asked them! We were interested in three main questions:
- How do our partners think about NATO’s nuclear strategy in general and nuclear sharing in particular?
- How do they see the German role?
- And what would be the consequences of a German withdrawal?
We asked security experts from different European countries to share their views. All of them have graciously volunteered their time and thought.
Their opinions are personal views but provide valuable insight into how the German debate is seen from the outside and can help German policy makers understand the concerns of our closest allies.
While being spotlights that need further exploration, the responses indicate directions for future research on nuclear deterrence and arms control as well as for key areas that a political dialogue would have to touch upon.
As might be expected, our contributors offered a variety of views, but we have identified some common through themes. We briefly summarize these in the sections below.
How does your government view the importance of nuclear deterrence and NATO's nuclear sharing agreement for its own security and European Security?
While we received different opinions and viewpoints, one conviction unified all of them: Nuclear deterrence is the cornerstone of NATO’s security strategy and therefore vital for European security. All respondents also supported NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement for a variety of reasons. Some pointed out the importance of nuclear sharing in signaling the credibility of NATO’s extended deterrence, others added that the agreement was an important way of giving NATO allies a voice and sharing the risks and responsibilities of NATO’s nuclear strategy. S.E.Darius Jonas Semaška, Lithuanian Ambassador to Germany, acknowledged that nuclear sharing and the availability of low-yield nuclear weapons prevents Russia from achieving “strategic dominance and escalation control.”
And Prof. Dr. Alexander Mattelaer from the Belgian Egmont Institute reminded that NATO’s nuclear sharing was crucial in preventing some European allies – including Germany – from acquiring their own nuclear deterrent
Question 2: In view of your government: What difference does Germany's participation in (technical) nuclear sharing make? (Why is Germany important in nuclear sharing?
The most important argument put forth by most of our experts was that Germany’s participation in NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement is an important symbol of Germany’s commitment to the Alliance. Many added that especially a unilateral withdrawal without consultation with the allies would be a worrisome signal and would have to be replaced by a commensurate conventional contribution in order to assuage Germany’s NATO partners. Almost half of our respondents thought that Germany’s participation was important for the credibility of NATO’s extended deterrence. They thought that it was essential for one of NATO’s most powerful members to actively share the burden of NATO’s nuclear strategy and to be a strong voice in the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). Dr. Bruno Tertrais pointed out that Germany’s active contribution to nuclear sharing was crucial for bridging “the strategic culture gap” between Berlin and Paris.
What would be plausible/probably effects within NATO and for European Security, if Germany would leave nuclear sharing?
The great majority of our colleagues were especially concerned about the consequences for NATO’s cohesion.
They pointed out that a unilateral German withdrawal could lead to a rift with Washington, adding oil to the flames of an already strained relationship. Many also feared that NATO members in the East – such as Poland – would seek to replace Germany in hosting the tactical nuclear weapons on their territory. This would likely lead to tensions with Russia as such a move would be in direct violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act (1997).
Another worry was that other allies such as Italy and Belgium might follow Germany’s example and withdraw from nuclear sharing as well which would provide even more incentive to move the weapons eastward, potentially risking an arms race with Russia. A number of respondents also worried that such a move would harm the credibility of NATO’s deterrence posture. Our Italian and Norwegian colleagues pointed out that any withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons should only be considered as part of a negotiation with Russia about arms control and certainly not be a concession without getting anything in return.
DGAP Report No. 10, June 2020, 14 pp.