The United States has long deployed nuclear weapons in Germany under “programs of cooperation” in which the weapons are maintained under U.S. custody but, in a conflict, and with proper authorization, could be turned over to the German military for use. The current delivery system is the German Air Force’s Tornado aircraft, which is dual-capable — it can deliver both conventional and nuclear weapons — but nearing the end of its service life.
Participation in this nuclear role is often referred to as “nuclear sharing” in Germany. However, the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons is not popular with the German public. With national elections which will determine who replaces long-serving chancellor Angela Merkel to be held September 26, two of the three leading political parties have called for an end to nuclear sharing and the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear arms — although with some ambiguity regarding timing. The issues of nuclear sharing and replacement of the Tornado with another dual-capable aircraft may not arise as major questions in the campaign, but these issues will figure in the coalition negotiation between the parties that will form the next government. This paper describes the views of the major German political parties regarding nuclear sharing and the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons and how the possible coalition negotiations might address these issues.
The United States has an interest in how that negotiation turns out. At a minimum, the U.S. government does not want a German policy that seeks to end nuclear sharing in a unilateral manner, which could unravel NATO’s current deterrence and defense posture. Given the contribution of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe to extended deterrence and, in particular, to assurance of allies across the continent regarding the U.S. commitment to NATO’s defense, changes to the alliance’s nuclear posture should come about as the result of an alliance process, not as the result of one country’s unilateral decision. Washington can take steps in the coming months, such as articulating its approach to nuclear arms control, that could help shape how the coalition negotiation in Berlin addresses the nuclear sharing issue.
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