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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Reports of German Nuclear Pledge Denied
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Oliver Meier

Contrary to widespread reports, the German government has not made a commitment to its fellow NATO members to modernize its nuclear-capable Tornado aircraft, German and NATO officials said in interviews last month.

In a Sept. 5 article, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported that, at the May NATO summit in Chicago, Germany had reneged on its pledge to push for withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany and committed to spending 250 million euros to keep the nuclear-capable Tornado flying until at least 2024. Other German media outlets picked up the story, leading to allegations that Berlin is no longer advocating withdrawal of U.S. bombs from Germany, as promised by the government in 2009.

In interviews, however, the officials said that because there is no official estimate of the costs of keeping the Tornado in service beyond 2020, no such contribution could be pledged.

In a Sept. 10 interview, a senior NATO official dismissed the reported numbers as “nonsense.” He said that “only the text” of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review report was discussed at the summit, but not details such as the Tornado’s retirement date or life extension program costs. The report was adopted in Chicago to define NATO’s new mix of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense forces.

A senior German official confirmed that Berlin made no promises at the May summit on a specific date until which German nuclear-capable aircraft would be kept in service and that the government did not commit to spending a specific amount on keeping the Tornado flying. “On these particular issues, the German government entered no new commitments beyond those contained in the [posture review] report,” the official said.

The German government, like other members of NATO, agreed in the report to “ensure that all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective for as long as NATO remains a nuclear alliance.” This seemingly open-ended commitment to maintaining nuclear sharing appears to be at odds with the goal of all parties in the German parliament to work toward withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe and with the anti-nuclear mood of the population. Reacting to the article, opposition Social Democrats have pledged to put the issue of Germany’s role in nuclear sharing on the parliamentary agenda this fall.

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, the United States still deploys an estimated 180 to 200 tactical nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Büchel Air Base in Germany probably hosts 10 to 20 of these weapons. Some of the B61 gravity bombs deployed in Europe would be delivered by host-country aircraft in times of war.

The German government repeatedly has stated that it intends to keep nuclear-capable Tornado aircraft in service at least until 2020, but has so far refused to give a specific date when the planes will be phased out. The successor aircraft, called the Eurofighter, is not nuclear capable; and the government, in a Feb. 29 response to questions from Parliament, said it “has not examined the suitability of the Eurofighter/Typhoon as a nuclear weapons delivery system.”

The German Foreign Office reacted to the news reports by stating that Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and the rest of the government “continue to work towards a reduction and withdrawal of substrategic weapons in Germany.”

It appears that the report in the Berliner Zeitung was based on an article by Karl-Heinz Kamp in the September/October issue of the German journal Internationale Politik. Kamp, who teaches at the NATO Defense College in Rome, argues in the journal that it would cost Germany 250 million euros to keep the Tornado flying in its nuclear role until 2024. The Berliner Zeitung article quotes Kamp and uses the same figures that he does, but does not indicate if its figures came from him.

 

This story is adapted from an article by Oliver Meier on Arms Control Now, the blog of the Arms Control Association.