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  • Freya Astrid Theresa Entrup

Does Germany Need The Atomic Bomb?

In a recent speech at a rally in South Carolina, US Presidential candidate Donald Trump expressed his opinion on NATO member states that are “not paying their bills”. He was referring to the NATO commitment, which member states had agreed upon after Russia's annexation of Crimea, to spend a minimum of 2% of their total gross domestic product on defense. Trump encouraged Russian President Putin to “do whatever he wants” with the NATO states that were not honoring this clause, implying that he would not assist certain European nations in case Russia decided to initiate military action. A scary scenario. 

Freya Entrup

But which EU countries are not “paying their bills”? France spends only 1.90% of its GDP, while The Netherlands, 1.70%, Germany 1.57%,  Italy 1.47% and Spain only 1.26%.

There are many more countries on the list whose military spending sticks below the obligated 2% of the nation's GDP. The five states mentioned above would already be a pretty chunk of land for Putin's empire. The speech naturally caused outrage, but also panic and, surprisingly, compliance. The NATO 2% clause has been elegantly ignored for most of the institution's history. NATO will celebrate its 75th anniversary at the Washington Summit this summer. Putin's military invasion of Ukrainian territory has been a wake-up call for most of the NATO members on European territory - among them being Germany.

The country has pledged a 100mio € in support of its military industry. Europe's main ammunition producer, Rheinmetall, is based in Germany and produces in Spain, South Africa, Australia, and Hungary. The group received a considerable amount of the “sondervermögen” (special fund) that German chancellor Olaf Scholz promised. By 2025, the company aims to produce up to 700.000 rounds of artillery ammunition. As a comparison, Ukraine's forces use up to 7000 (numbers from last summer's offensive), whilst Russia uses 20.000 shells daily to fire at its neighbor's territory. 

With its current defensive power, Germany would be able to withstand an enemy attack for 1-3 days. A bleak outlook. These calculations are not even made with Russia as an enemy in mind. Even a country the size of Denmark or the Netherlands could capture a considerable amount of German territory. Maybe Germany would stand a chance against Luxembourg, who knows? 

The calculations are made based on ammunition stocks.  So, how to prevent the further advancement of Russian forces? How to deter any potential enemies? How about a nuclear bomb to threaten escalation? 

Nuclear armament

The new threats of Russian aggression, the US turning away from NATO, and the surge in wars in the Global South have inspired some voices in Germany to wonder, Why doesn´t Germany have nuclear weapons? Let me briefly explain the historical reasons. Then, I will explain the ambiguity that Germany harbors towards the pretty, but deadly mushroom clouds. 

After the Cold War, Germany signed the so-called  2+4 agreement. This contract allowed West- and East Germany to unify (the Allied forces were in control over this decision). With this, came some strings. Germany signed an agreement that committed them to stay a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone. With their signature, the German government reaffirmed that there could be no manufacturing, possession, or control over nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons on the territory. They would also honor the NTP: Nuclear-Non-Proliferation Agreement. This agreement is committed to disarmament, peaceful operation of nuclear weapons (prevention rather than aggression), and non-proliferation (no transferral of nuclear weapons in assistance). In the world, the only countries that are not committed to the NTP are Pakistan, India, and surprise, North Korea.

Some countries are more creative than others when it comes to dealing with Article 2, which mandates non-proliferation. Non-proliferation is elegantly being circumvented by the US, which has distributed its nuclear weapons in several European host countries. Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands are hosting US warheads on their territory with no control over the weapons. That, ironically, would be a contract breach. Russia has several nuclear warheads in Belarus. 

Germany has also committed to the Global Zero commitment. An initiative hosted by an NGO committed to nuclear disarmament. Some good news: in 1986, there were 70,300 nuclear weapons on this planet. Today, 12,500 remain (number from 2024). The NGO aims to have 0 nuclear arms in 2045. This seems delusional, given the state the world is in. Russia currently has 5889 nuclear warheads. The US has 5224. In Europe, France and the UK are the only ones to have nuclear arms. France has 290 warheads whilst the UK has 225. 

Both the UK and France are members of NATO. France is a member of the EU. Both agreements comply with military assistance in case of an attack on a member. The EU assistance commitments are stricter than those of NATO. Good thing the UK just existed that commitment. The EU has a mutual defense clause known as Article 42(7) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). It states that if a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, other member states must provide aid and assistance by all the means in their power.

NATO operates on the principle of collective defense, enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It states that an armed attack against one or more NATO members is considered an attack against all members, and each member agrees to take action deemed necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Arguably, there is a big difference between ALL MEANS OF POWER, and ACTION DEEMED NECESSARY. 

Hypothetically, if the situation were to escalate, we could count on France to use its nuclear arms to defend the EU and the European mainland. But who is in control of the Frenchnuclear weapons? France. And France alone. No EU authority has any control over how the weapons are deployed or where or when. France wants Europe to have “strategic autonomy”. This means that ideally, it should be able to defend itself without the help of foreign neighbors against an enemy like Russia, for example. 

So, 290 French nuclear warheads against 5889 missiles from Russia. The numbers seem hopeless. This again makes many people ask, why does one of the biggest countries in the EU not have their own nuclear weapons? Aside from all the agreements and the commitments to peace? 

The answer is pretty simple. Because in case of nuclear escalation, it wouldn`t matter. Mutually assured destruction. Whoever fires first, dies second. Nuclear weapons are of a metaphoric kind, rather than an actual one. The risk of nuclear escalation is a deterrent to enemy powers. In theory. 

A popular theory is that of the “nuclear taboo”, which suggests that there exists a normative constraint against the use of nuclear weapons. This taboo arises from the recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear warfare and the moral repugnance associated with such actions. Thus, nuclear weapons are not just instruments of power but also carry a stigma that discourages their actual use.

In line with nuclear deterrence, Germany holds a rather ambiguous position. In 2022, they pledged their support for the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (TPNW). 

What an unlikely coincidence. 



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