Germany and Nuclear Weapons: A Difficult History

During the Cold War, East Germany, the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR), was part of the Warsaw Pact military alliance, and from 1958, nuclear missiles and warheads were stationed in Soviet military bases on GDR territory. Some were withdrawn in 1988 as part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and the Soviet Union.

After German reunification and the withdrawal of the Soviet military, the territory of the former GDR officially became free of nuclear weapons in 1991.

Post-Cold War Germany
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the division between East and West Germany, the German position was once again cemented in the so-called “Two-Plus-Four Treaty”: No nuclear weapons! On September 12, 1990, the four victorious powers of World War II (the US, the Soviet Union, France and UK) stipulated that Germany East and West should be reunified and renounce nuclear weapons.

Kamp says this was hardly surprising, because “a German nuclear power would be something that would cause horror. For historical reasons alone.”

The US government withdrew many of these nuclear warheads after the collapse of the Soviet Union, though an estimated 180 US nuclear weapons are still stored in Europe, in Italy, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Experts believe that 20 US nuclear warheads are currently stored in the town of Büchel in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany. “But the decision-making authority over these weapons lies solely with the American president,” explained Kamp.

Any debate about Germany acquiring its own nuclear weapons is completely unrealistic, says political scientist Peter Rudolf from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Nuclear bombs need to be stored so that they are not easy targets, he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily.

Survivable nuclear weapons would have to be on nuclear-powered submarines that can remain underwater for a very long time, he said, pointing to equipment the Bundeswehr does not have. “So there are so many problems standing in the way of a German nuclear bomb that it has no relevance to current crises,” Rudolf concluded.

Those who are now talking about a European defense dimension are not talking about German nuclear weapons, because Germany is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has made several binding commitments under international law to renounce the possession of weapons of mass destruction — including nuclear weapons,” agreed Kamp.

Defense Minister Pistorius, meanwhile, who made headlines not so long ago saying Germany should get “war-ready,” is now keen to brush the whole debate aside: He told ARD that “the majority of those in charge in the United States of America know exactly what they have in their transatlantic partners in Europe, what they have in NATO.”

And Kamp agrees: “Trump may be able to damage NATO considerably, but he cannot destroy it. You can’t destroy decades of transatlantic relations in one term of office.”

Volker Witting is a political correspondent for DW-TV and DW online. Rina Goldenberg is a writer and editor at DWThis article was edited by Ben Knight and Peter Hille, and it is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).