New German Government to remain part of NATO’s nuclear sharing while also seeking observer status at UN nuclear ban treaty meeting

27 November 2021

Germany will remain part of NATO's nuclear sharing agreement under its new government, according to a coalition deal (between the Social Democrats, SPD, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, FDP) agreed on 24 November. Germany does not possess nuclear weapons but hosts US nuclear bombs that German Tornado fighter-bombers are meant to carry to target during a conflict.

The policy agreement, which each of the three parties will vote on in the coming weeks, also says the incoming government plans to observe the meeting of states parties to the nuclear ban treaty - Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) - to be held in Vienna in March 2022. It says Germany's participation as an observer will be based on the results of the upcoming review conference of the parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in January 2022. It also says Germany will closely consult with its allies.

Germany had rejected the nuclear ban treaty under outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, not least due to pressure from the United States, which pressed all NATO allies to boycott the treaty. Germany would become the second NATO member after Norway to seek observer status, and the first country in which nuclear weapons are stationed to do so. From Europe, non-NATO states Switzerland, Sweden and Finland are also due to participate in the meeting as observers. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) welcomed the German decision.

It had not been clear how the incoming government would handle these two issues, especially as some parliamentarians in the new coalition oppose Berlin's participation in the nuclear sharing deal. The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had called the alliance's nuclear sharing "our ultimate security guarantee" on a visit to Berlin last week, and added he counted on Germany to remain committed to the agreement.

"As long as nuclear weapons play a role in NATO's strategic concept, Germany has an interest in participating in strategic discussions and planning processes", the coalition document said, referring to Berlin's seat on NATO's Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).

The NATO Secretary General’s comments, reinforced in several media commentaries (e.g. see here and here), suggested that Germany’s future participation in the NPG was dependent on continuing with the nuclear sharing arrangement. However, this is not the case: all NATO member states have an opportunity to take a seat at this so-called “top table” in the NPG. In further scaremongering, Stoltenberg also warned that that US nuclear weapons might be moved further east (and closer to Russia) if Germany dropped out of the arrangement.

The new coalition aims to replace the German air force's ageing Tornado fighter-bombers, the only Bundeswehr plane fitted to carry US nuclear bombs, which has been in service since the 1980s. The defence ministry plans to phase it out between 2025 and 2030, while a decision to purchase F-18s as a replacement was postponed until 2022. The new coalition appears to want to find a nuclear-capable replacement, but could yet be deterred by the cost, thought to be in the tens of billions of Euros, or the questionable utility of continuing with the nuclear sharing role.

Finally, the coalition deal also included an agreement to arm the next generation of German military drones and to carry out an investigation of the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan in August.