With Donald Trump leading the United States, Europe seems to be losing trust in the American nuclear umbrella. As the EU focuses on the need to have its own military, the issue of European nuclear deterrent comes to the fore. The debate has been triggered. This issue is intensively discussed in Germany.
The nuclear deterrence plan is eyeing France, proposing to turn the French nuclear potential into a European nuclear deterrent. It is believed that Germany could play a decisive role in convincing France, and may be the UK, to provide security guarantees for all of Europe. Under such a plan, Europe would become independent from the US.
The French nuclear forces would move under a common European command. Or France could move its aircraft with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to other European countries, like Germany, leaving the sea-based arsenal under the national control. From France’s perspective, this may be a good way to get the rest of the alliance to pay for the costly arsenal’s upkeep. Both Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand floated the idea of France extending nuclear deterrence to West Germany during the Cold War.
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union could preclude its participation, though it may join the project even outside the EU under certain conditions. It’s not in the headlines, but the possibility of including the UK into a European nuclear shield is under consideration.
Just three days before the US elections, an op-ed in Germany’s largest left-leaning news outlet, Spiegel Online, mused about the possibility of Germany pursuing its own nuclear weapons. In late 2016, Roderich Kiesewetter, a lawmaker and foreign policy spokesman with Germany’s ruling party, raised the issue after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. According to him, a Franco-British nuclear umbrella could be financed through a joint European military budget that is due to begin in 2019, along with joint European medical, transportation and reconnaissance commands. This would require a doctrine, he said, allowing Europe to introduce nuclear weapons to a non-nuclear conflict.
It is important to emphasize that Kiesewetter is well-versed in foreign and security policy matters as a former Bundeswehr general staff officer; former chairman of the Subcommittee for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation of the Bundestag; and current spokesperson of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He certainly had a good reason to bring this issue into focus.
Berthold Kohler, a publisher of the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, followed with the suggestion that Germany might need to augment the small British and French arsenals with a nuclear force of its own to successfully confront Russia and maybe China. The Carnegie Endowment’s Ulrich Kuehn called such musings «an important early warning sign».
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s former prime minister and now the head of its ruling party provided the highest-level call for a European Union nuclear program in the February interview with a German newspaper. Kaczynski has broached a taboo subject.
Maximilian Terhalle, a German professor currently teaching in Britain, says Germany, Poland or the Baltic countries could never fully rely on France or Britain retaliating against Russia for a strike against them. He concludes that Germany must think about getting its own nukes, perhaps in collaboration with neighbors.
Douglas «Doug» Bandow, an American political writer, currently working as a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, believes that «Rather than expect the United States to burnish NATO’s nuclear deterrent, European nations should consider expanding their nuclear arsenals and creating a continent-wide nuclear force, perhaps as part of the long-derided Common Security and Defense Policy».
There are actors who watch attentively the ongoing debates about the European deterrent. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said during his visit to the United States on March 7 that his country wanted revision of nuclear weapons status. If the EU decides to go nuclear, Kiev may become a part of the plan.
Definitely, the proposal is not so popular at present. It will take a lot of time and effort to convince people it should be done. Nobody of those who have advocated the idea remembered that a deterrent under a European command would mean collapse of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The chain reaction would lead to the emergence of 55 to 60 nuclear countries.
For Germany, going nuclear means facing enormous financial and political costs. Among other things, it would have to pull out from the the 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (Two Plus Four Treaty), where it renounced «the manufacture and possession of and control over nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons». Berlin would also have to tear up the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Atomic Energy Community. Actually, the entire system of arms control would collapse.
There is another aspect of the problem that needs to be addressed here. The B61-12, the new US nuclear bomb intended to replace the B-61 deployed in Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey, was officially authorized last August by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Around 200 B-61 bombs are currently deployed in underground vaults at six bases in Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey. About half of the munitions are earmarked for delivery by the national aircraft of these countries – the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 that forbids non-nuclear states from receiving nuclear weapons.
Article I of the NPT prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons from NWS (nuclear weapons states) to other states: «Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices». Article II requires NNWS (non-nuclear weapons states) not to receive nuclear weapons: «Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transfer or whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices».
Thus, the process of dismantling the existing arms control system has already started, with Europeans, including German pilots, trained to navigate the delivery means of nuclear weapons.
The recently emerged or revived concepts of two-speed, multi-speed Europe, the European Federal Union and the European Defense Force prove the EU is blowing hot and cold seeking other forms of European integration to preserve the United Europe one way or another. The problems multiply and the future is uncertain in the rapidly changing world.
This is the time when making the arms control system unravel is like shooting itself in the foot. Europe does not have the acreage to survive a retaliatory strike. With the NPT not in force anymore, Europe is toast. Its interest lies in strengthening, not weakening, the security mechanism in place.
A lot has been said about the danger of an arms race in Europe. The very fact that the very idea of creating an «independent» European nuclear deterrent has triggered debates and is considered seriously by European savvies and politicians is a matter of grave concern. Europe has suffered so much from wars. It is the only continent to create a complex system of security to prevent the horrors from repetition. It’s important to preserve the existing security tools at the times of uncertainty. It’s easier to destroy that to create. Round tables strengthen security much better than unleashing arms races and violating the existing treaties.