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May 07, 2020

Will Germany cease to host US nuclear weapons on its soil?

We have been observing a shift in German politics, away from an uneasy equilibrium in support of Nato to increased hostility. That shift explains the difficulty Angela Merkel has had to meet the Nato defence spending targets, which she herself signed up to. Yesterday we noted a commentary by Justyna Gotkowska (@JGotkowska) from the OSW think tank in Warsaw, who argues that Germany may soon abandon a key pillar of its defence policy: nuclear sharing. This is a part of Nato policy where several EU countries, Germany among them, host US nuclear weapons on their soil.

Gotkowska argues that it is highly probable that Germany will end its participation in the programme within ten years. While the government itself, including the SPD leadership, is committed to it, the programme is not supported by the rank-and-file of the SPD. We would add that it is not supported by the Greens either. Whatever the outcome of the next elections, we struggle to see a scenario that does not include at least one of those two parties in government. Rolf Mützenich, the SPD leader in the Bundestag, has now formally come out supporting withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany, and quitting nuclear sharing. The SPD has also nominated an anti-nuclear MEP for the job of Bundeswehr ombudsman. Gotkowska concludes that there is no longer a majority in the Bundestag for the procurement of the F/A-18 Hornet tactical aircraft, which forms a key component for the nuclear sharing strategy. The government has now pushed a decision on the F/A-18 into the next parliament, which is even less likely than the current one to support it. Germany's exit from the programme poses important questions for Nato: whether Germany can still be useful in other ways, and whether others member will, or should, pick up the slack.

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