The ongoing discussion about Germany’s role in NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements is unfortunate as it raises questions about the country’s commitment to European security and defence.
When Rolf Mützenich, the parliamentary leader of the German Social Democrats, called for US nuclear weapons to be withdrawn from the country he was immediately criticized not only by coalition partners and his fellow SPD member, foreign minister Heiko Maas but also by the US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. Ambassador Grenell recalled that before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Germany sat on the front lines of a possible nuclear conflict which is why NATO Allies came together to strengthen the Alliance’s nuclear deterrence through allied nuclear sharing – a key joint project which protected Germany’s security. He stated that now is the time for Germany’s political leaders, especially in the SPD, to make clear Germany stands by that commitment and stands by its allies.
One day later he was followed by his colleague in Poland, US Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, who tweeted a suggestion that US nuclear capabilities could be relocated to and housed in Poland who “pays its fair share, understands the risks, and is on NATO’s eastern flank”.
This high-level discussion on a topic so central for European security is unfortunate for several reasons. First, it indicates that Germany through a senior member of the coalition does not feel comfortable with the security arrangement that has been in place for many decades. Second, and as a consequence, it undermines the political credibility of NATO’s deterrence and thus European security. Third, it gives the impression that this concerns only Germany and the United States. Berlin and Washington. Chancellor Merkel and President Trump. Nothing could be more wrong.
This concerns all European countries that enjoy the peace, security and stability that US extended deterrence offers. In particular, this discussion is followed by 70 million people from the nations that suffered directly from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Again, Russian aggression threatens Europe, and reviving Transatlantic relations is central to ensure our security now and also in the future. Here Germany has a central part to play.
Having itself benefitted from the political determination and military capabilities of all NATO nations for decades, it is time that Germany adapts to today’s security environment. The number of US forces present at any time in Europe is nowhere near the 250.000 of the Cold War. Europe, and Germany in particular, must step up and become more serious. The construct that involves the German-led eFP battlegroup in Lithuania is only credible if the politicians responsible for taking informed and rapid decisions in a crisis situation act credibly and responsibly, and if these decisions are backed with relevant conventional and nuclear military capabilities.