Germany will continue to host U.S. nuclear weapons, the incoming government has decided, despite strong anti-nuclear traditions within the major parties of the coalition.
"As long as nuclear weapons play a role in NATO's strategic concept, Germany has an interest in participating in strategic discussions and planning processes," incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government stated in the agreement, released Wednesday, that underpins their new coalition.
That decision sidesteps a prospective dispute between Berlin and other NATO power centers, as the new government faces the responsibility of concluding a debate about whether or not the next generation of German warplanes will be capable of carrying nuclear weapons. That debate has been settled in favor of nuclear cooperation.
"It will be a nut to swallow for the Greens and for those leftist pacifists in the Social Democratic Party who have always advocated that we should really get rid of Germany's role in burden-sharing," said former NATO chief strategic policy analyst Stefanie Babst, who noted with approval that the deal makes clear that Germany will purchase fighter jets that can carry nuclear weapons. "That's basically a prerequisite to be able to participate in burden-sharing, carrying U.S. bombs."
Germany is widely understood to be one of several countries that hosts U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. The 2021 parliamentary elections saw outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party lose seats, while the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partner in Merkel's coalition, won the most seats, followed by the Greens.
Those results set the stage for what Scholz of the SPD described Wednesday as a "friendly but intense atmosphere, an atmosphere full of trust" between the top two politicians and the leaders of a smaller third party, the Free Democrats, known for their fiscal restraint and pro-business economics.
The Free Democrats' ideological profile made NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg uneasy, to the point that he spoke last week at a forum in Berlin about the need for the next government to "remain committed to NATO's nuclear sharing."
"They are an important signal of Allied unity against any nuclear-armed adversary," Stoltenberg told the German Atlantic Association. "So NATO's nuclear sharing arrangements are of particular importance for Europe. In today's uncertain world, we are safer when Europe and North America stand together, in strategic solidarity, with a strong Germany at the heart of our Alliance."
Stoltenberg may have found his path cleared by the migrant crisis manufactured by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, with apparent Russian support, and Russia's tandem military movements near Ukraine and in Belarus.
"When you see Russia threatening the eastern flank of the European continent ... you can hardly expect anyone reasonable to come out with such radical initiative, like canceling the agreement on nuclear cooperation," Europeum Director Zdenek Beranek, who served as the deputy chief of mission at the Czech Embassy in Washington before taking over at the Prague-based think tank, told the Washington Examiner.
Russian officials maintain that NATO's nuclear arsenal poses a threat that forces the Kremlin to adopt the policies that cause such anxiety across NATO. Stoltenberg made an indirect argument against any budding German hypothesis that the ouster of U.S. nuclear weapons would conciliate Moscow.
"Germany can, of course, decide whether there will be nuclear weapons in your country, but the alternative is that we easily end up with nuclear weapons in other countries in Europe, also to the east of Germany," he said pointedly.
That alternative won't need to be tested if the coalition agreement is any guide. "It's good — that's really good news," said Babst. "The new party coalition has really drawn a firm line and has obviously made a solid decision on this."
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