GERMAN NUKESGermany and Nuclear Weapons: A Difficult History

By Volker Witting and Rina Goldenberg

Published 19 February 2024

Donald Trump’s suggestion that, should he become president again, the U.S. will no longer abide by NATO’s principle of collective defense, has sent shockwaves through Europe. German politicians have been discussing whether French and British nuclear weapons would suffice as a protective shield or whether Europe needs new nuclear weapons.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is annoyed by the current debate about European nuclear weapons. “There is no reason to discuss the nuclear umbrella now,” he told public broadcaster ARD.

Ever since Donald Trump suggested that, as US president, he would not provide military assistance to NATO countries if they invested less than 2% of their GDP in their defense, German politicians have been discussing whether French and British nuclear weapons would suffice as a protective shield or whether Europe needs new nuclear weapons.

The debate about European nuclear weapons is a very German debate that we don’t see in any other country,” political scientist Karl-Heinz Kamp from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) told DW — especially not in Eastern Europe, where there is a constant perceived threat from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Germany has a special history: Germany was “seen as an intrinsically aggressive country, that had started two world wars and could not be trusted with nuclear weapons,” said Kamp.

Germany-Based Nukes During the Cold War
In 1954, not long after the end of World War II, the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, signed an agreement renouncing the production of its own nuclear, biological or chemical weapons on its territory. In return, the US included West Germany in its nuclear deterrence policy against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

In 1958, the German parliament, the Bundestag, approved the deployment of US nuclear weapons, despite some pacifist protests among the population. In 1960, 1,500 US nuclear warheads were stored in West Germany and a further 1,500 in the rest of Western Europe.

The nuclear weapons were also available to the Bundeswehr for training and use in the “case of defense.” “There was never any discussion about Germany acquiring its own nuclear weapons,” said Kamp.

The West German and European peace movements grew. The protest against the “NATO Dual-Track Decision” in 1982 saw over a million people in West Germany take to the streets in protest against the planned stationing of new US medium-range missiles in the country.

Nevertheless, on November 22, 1983, a center-right majority in the Bundestag approved the stationing of the missiles in US bases shortly thereafter. At the time, the Greens were newly represented in the Bundestag and appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court against the storing and deployment of nuclear missiles on West German territory. This bid was rejected as unfounded in December 1984.