Keith Wise July 10, 2022
European countries such as Germany rely on the United States to deter Russia from a nuclear attack. The US president heads NATO’s nuclear arsenal. Should Berlin accept Paris’s offer to build its own nuclear defense shield in the EU?
The municipality of Büchel is nestled between the tree-crowned Eiffel Mountains and the picturesque landscape of the Moselle Valley. However, the village is not necessarily known as a holiday home. Bechel is the only NATO storage facility in Germany. No one likes to imagine what has to happen before they get hitched. But US President Joe Biden tackled that question perfectly during his 2020 election campaign.
Within NATO, the United States plays a nuclear defense role for countries such as Germany that do not have nuclear weapons of their own. The decision of when to detonate a nuclear weapon from Büchel rests in the hands of the current US President. Germany only has the right of veto here. If he is elected, he wants to change NATO’s strategy, Biden said at the time: the United States will face a nuclear counterattack only in the event of a nuclear attack on its allies, but, as previously guaranteed, an attack with conventional weapons after an escalation.
Biden did not implement the idea until after his election. With Russian President Vladimir Putin openly threatening nuclear strikes at the start of the Ukraine war, Biden and his Western partners must continue to show their strength with a possible deterrence scenario. But Biden’s pre-election announcement highlights how much European nations must rely on the United States to effectively deter Russia from deploying nuclear weapons.
Merz sees nuclear power as “life insurance.”
The dependence on the Pentagon is causing concern in Germany, especially for the CDU, which aims to be re-elected in two years as Donald Trump’s declared NATO opponent. Thorsten Frei, executive director of the union branch in the Bundestag, requested one at the end of May Guest post FAZ requires Europe to be ready to “think the unthinkable”. It “must answer the question of how, if necessary, it can assert itself without a major ally in the West”. Frei sees the only way to get there in the “Europeanization of French nuclear power.”
Eckhard Lübkemeier was the German ambassador to Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. He is now researching EU crises for the Science and Politics Foundation.
(Photo: Eckhard Lübkemeier/ Foundation for Science and Politics)
CDU leader Friedrich Merz has also opined that a European “nuclear capability is our life insurance”. The two Union politicians are referring to an offer that Emmanuel Macron made to other EU members several years ago: for states to hold a strategic dialogue on the role of France’s nuclear deterrent for common security. The French president reiterated his offer in early 2022, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. But the government’s response is still pending.
Eckhard Lübkemeier, who examines the crises in the EU for the Foundation for Science and Politics, calls for Berlin to finally negotiate with Paris. Europeans can count themselves lucky to benefit from America’s security guarantees, he tells ntv.de. However, they should not forget that this is a deterrence not rooted in the EU itself.
The President of the United States must first protect his own country
“A central question in nuclear deterrence that does not help the defense of nuclear weapon possessors is: How credible is the promise of security to one’s own allies and to a potential adversary, namely, the nuclear weapon possessors. To be deterred?” , Lübkemeier emphasizes. After all, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the President of the United States. His first task is to protect his own people against a nuclear threat should the previously unimaginable happen. “This leads to the question of whether, in extreme cases, Americans are really willing to risk their own existence to protect Europeans.”
Lübkemeier worked in the European Department of the Federal Chancellery before becoming German Ambassador to Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. For his doctorate, shortly before the end of the Cold War, he dealt with the dilemmas of the so-called extended deterrence of the US promise of nuclear security to Germany and other NATO allies. “Unfortunately, many of the questions I dealt with at the time are now coming back,” he says. In a study published in 2020, Lübkemeier explains the complications of this extended inhibition.
Not only since the election of Trump, but the US has been demanding more security independence from the Europeans. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, their foreign policy focus has gradually shifted from European security to their own defense against China, a leading player on the world stage. US presidents have come under pressure from internal political forces, Lübkemeier says: “In the future, it will be very difficult to convey to the Americans that rich Europe cannot ensure its own security.” For this reason, the United States has been encouraging its allies to give NATO two percent of their total land production.
The Kremlin invested a lot of money in modern nuclear weapons
“The times when we could rely on others are long gone,” said then-Chancellor Angela Merkel in May 2017. “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” If he takes this sentence seriously, Lübkemeier says, he inevitably comes to the conclusion that the EU must develop its own defense policy. Ultimately, a state’s political sovereignty is also based on its ability to defend itself.
By deploying its weapons, the Kremlin directly threatens European territory. “Missiles stationed in Kaliningrad, Russia, can reach Berlin with nuclear warheads,” Lupkemeier said. Fears are already high among Germans that the war in Ukraine could spill over into Europe SurveyEvents held by Forsa Opinion Research Institute at the end of June this year. Accordingly, more than half of the population fears that the conflict will lead to World War III.
According to NATO, Russia has invested a lot of money in recent decades to expand its nuclear arsenal, while NATO began to modernize a few years ago. The Kremlin is focusing on the development of new types of rocket systems, He says Jessica Cox, Director of Nuclear Policy at NATO. Russian hypersonic missiles are particularly dangerous because they “fly at very high speeds, relatively low altitudes and can maneuver during flight”. These qualities make it almost impossible to defend against them. So Cox demands that NATO absolutely “review its own capabilities in light of new Russian systems.” In their view, such developments demonstrate that nuclear deterrence is of existential importance to NATO partners, although the security alliance is committed to promoting nuclear disarmament worldwide.
Security requires European integration
NATO has kept the number of nuclear weapons in Europe secret. However, experts believe there are 100 nuclear bombs, of which about 20 are stored at Büchel. Other warships are based at Klein-Brogel in Belgium, Aviano and Gedi in Italy, Volkel in the Netherlands and Incirlik in Turkey. However, NATO’s nuclear weapons deployed in Europe represent only a small fraction of the total arsenal of nuclear powers. to do Declarations According to the Association of American Scientists (FAS), Russia has nearly 6,000 nuclear weapons, the United States has more than 5,400, Great Britain 225 and France 290.
Lübkemeier believes that France can make a credible promise of nuclear security to Europe. But only if the EU is to develop into a political union with its own security wing, Germany and France in particular need to take care. Not as an alternative to NATO, but within the framework of NATO, it rests on a European and American pillar. After Brexit, the United Kingdom will also remain a member of NATO.
In the end, full European sovereignty is only possible if Europe can defend itself like the United States. However, European defense can only be seen as the culmination of a long-term process in which EU countries continue to grow together. In transitioning to a European defense union backed by France’s nuclear arsenal, the US or its European allies must be careful not to perceive this as alienating Washington. Otherwise, America’s security pledge will crumble before a European transition. Berlin and Paris should ensure that other EU members are involved at an early stage. “A closer integration of states in the EU is the only way to a European defense union with France as the nuclear backbone,” says Lübkemeier.
The same applies to the security principle of economic cooperation: the EU must remain united to avoid being crushed between great powers such as China and the United States. Many of Trump’s statements during his tenure must be painfully remembered by Europeans. He described the EU as an “enemy” of the US and NATO as “obsolete”. The fact that nuclear weapons could be withdrawn from Büchel after Trump’s re-election seems even more threatening today after the Russian attack on Ukraine than it was five years ago.
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