10 December 1998

NATO & No First Use: The Nuclear Debate in Germany

10 December 1998
The Times of India

NATO & No-first-use
The Nuclear Debate in Germany


WHEN German foreign minister Joschka Fischer
proposed last month that NATO renounce the first use of nuclear weapons,
Washington went ballistic. The proposal made sense even within the
warped cosmology of the Cold War, not to speak of morality,
for there is no `enemy' that the military alliance needs to
`deter' any more by holding out the threat of nuclear annihilation. Yet,
with the snarling impatience of a Cold Warrior, US defence secretary
William Cohen brushed aside Mr Fischer's proposal and proceeded to
reaffirm the centrality of nuclear blackmail to the defence of the
Civilised World. Just in case the rest of us had forgotten.

The context of this debate is NATO's 50th
anniversary summit to be held in Washington in April 1999. Since the
alliance is still governed by a bipolar security framework last revised
in 1991, the summit's task is to adopt a new `Strategic Concept'. So
far, the stated rationale for NATO has been the collective defence of
its members. But the US wants the military bloc to adopt the broader aim
of ``the defence of our common interests.'' This would obviously involve
NATO taking a muscular approach ``out of
area,'' such as in the Balkans or even West Asia, without a UN mandate
if necessary. The US specifically wants the alliance to act
against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Germany, governed today by a Social Democrat-Greens
coalition, is in two minds about the direction NATO should take.
That Mr Fischer's no-first-use proposal does not have the full
backing of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was evident from the speed with
which he assured the US that Germany had no intention of undermining
Washington's leadership. Yet, German resentment towards the
discriminatory nuclear order runs deep.

Subordinate Role

Motivated primarily by opposition to this order,
many German experts appear to have reconciled themselves to India's
nuclear status. Shortly after Pokhran-II, for example, former foreign
minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher wrote in Der Tagesspiegel that
``the question of nuclear weapons is (linked to the) attempt to
maintain the old historic model based on superiority and
subordination.'' With an eye on Germany's own subordinate role
in this model, he said that there is ``no space any more for
predominance and superiority ... Germany (must now) strive for
comprehensive disarmament.''

At the German army's National Staff College in
Hamburg, a senior officer told this writer on condition of anonymity
that although Bonn's response to Pokhran-II mirrored Washington's,
his view was that ``sooner or later the tests were bound to happen as a
response to the policy of the five powers, the very exclusive
rights they sought to preserve through the NPT, and their inflexibility
on the question of disarmament.'' He revealed that when Germany hinted
at the Conference on Disarmament in June that India and
Pakistan be brought into the NPT as nuclear powers, the US
vehemently objected. When asked whether amending the NPT
wouldn't tempt others to break out, he said: ``Personally, I
could go along with Kissinger's statement that a country like the US
whose national security doctrine is based on nuclear weapons cannot
logically deny the same right to others.''


According to Mr Guenter Diehl, a diplomat who
played a key role in Germany's accession to the NPT, India's refusal to
sign the NPT because of its unequal nature was correct and had
Germany not been under duress in 1969, ``it would probably not have
signed the treaty for similar reasons''. He then referred to US
assurances that Germany's nuclear renunciation was valid rebus sic
stantibus, i.e. as per the conditions prevailing at the time, and added:
``This is still right.''

For activists like Matthias Kuentzel, author of
Bonn and the Bomb, German elites accept India as a nuclear state
only because ``Germany has still not fully closed its nuclear
option.'' He added: ``Just look at the opposition to making the ban on
nuclear weapons part of the German Constitution.'' So could the Berlin
Republic eventually go nuclear on its own? Most experts are adamant that
it cannot and will not. According to Dr Harald Mueller of the
Institute for Peace and Conflict Research, Frankfurt, apart from the
NPT, the 1990 `two-plus-four' treaty of German reunification reiterates
Germany's obligation never to have nuclear weapons. ``If we
break that obligation, the four powers could reclaim their sovereignty
over Germany.'' Besides, Germany does not face a threat which would
warrant an independent deterrent, thereby disrupting its role in Europe.
``The only situation under which it might even think of the nuclear
option,'' he argued, ``would be if NATO collapses, France turns hostile
and the Russian threat re-emerges. But there is a less
than one in a million chance of this happening together.''

In fact, many specialists interviewed recently by this
writer stressed that precision conventional weapons and the ability
rapidly to project force would be more important for the Bundeswehr than
nuclear weapons. But states acquire nuclear weapons not so much
because they are instruments of war but because they are
instruments of hegemony. While over the medium term Germany is
unlikely to acquire nuclear weapons, two factors will play a
role in the long run. If the nuclear powers show no inclination to
renounce the superior status nuclear weapons confer upon them, German
patience will wear thin. On the other hand, if Germany were to
enter the nuclear club through the backdoor, via the French
proposal of a `Eurobomb', it could get around the NPT's
discriminatory nature. For obvious reasons, however, the US
would be alarmed at such a prospect.

Thinking Ahead

Though Germany reacted coyly to France's 1995
nuclear-sharing offer, the French were obviously motivated by
concern over Germany's own nuclear ambiguity. According to one French
official, in making the offer France was ``simply thinking
ahead.'' ``If the force de frappe is bracketed out from discussion
indefinitely, Germany might later break out and seek a nuclear
weapons capability on its own. If we don't talk to Germany about
the future disposition of our nuclear weapons right now, the
situation will get worse later and we may be overtaken by
events'' (Quoted in the The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan/Feb

In pushing for a no-first-use doctrine for NATO,
Mr Joschka Fischer is perhaps ``simply thinking ahead''. Unless the
US and other nuclear weapon states get serious about disarmament
and begin the process of delegitimising nuclear weapons, Germany's
nuclear abstinence -- and the abstinence of others -- cannot be
guaranteed in perpetuity.

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