The decision not to withdraw U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany hits Free Democrats hard. The party is already stuck at around 4 per cent support of potential voters nationwide and would not make it into the Bundestag if elections were held this month. Their leading figures, Foreign Minister Westerwelle and Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler, share the bottom two spots in the most recent job approval rating with 30 and 18 per cent respectively. (See Sonntagsfrage)
From a transatlantic standpoint, the brief debate in Germany on the failed withdrawal highlights two other relevant points: 1) there is a lack of strategic thinking about defense issues in Germany − when Mr. Westerwelle pushed this initiative there should have been a sound playbook on how allies can be persuaded and what (long term) alternatives for security needs would be made available (See the article by Patrick Keller in Survival’s June/July issue); 2) It is alarming when high ranking (pro-NATO) Members of Parliament slightly deprecatingly distinguish between Allies. Ms. Hoff’s interview – probably due to the sensitivity of this special topic in German politics – exemplifies this, e.g. when she talks about “the U.S. and their allies in Libya” and attributes Cold War thinking to the U.S., Russia and some Eastern European allies.
Although Ms. Hoff is a supporter of NATO, her final remark in the interview that Germany has to, but actually does not want to, provide its end of the nuclear sharing bargain, and thus nuclear deterrence (“Das ist keine Frage des Wollens, sondern einer Buendnisverpflichtung”), leaves an especially bitter aftertaste regarding the idea of alliance solidarity and cohesion. Unfortunately, the lack of a public debate in Germany on such central issues leads to a lack of understanding (which could have been started by this “revelation”) about NATO’s values and Germany’s needed contributions, as well as a further disregard of other states’ security concerns (that might also be German). Also, for German leadership in NATO and Europe this has a detrimental effect. Germany is already seen by other members as a cherry picker, which seems only to engage in defense debates proactively when these promise to be contra-military.
Nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthwhile goal. Building on progress made is essential and will stay on the German agenda, as both administration and opposition point out. To be successful, however, more thought has to be put into a German alliance strategy that builds on common ground and accepts that cohesion is sometimes an exercise in rhetorical solidarity. After all, NATO is still the indispensible organization for transatlantic security – be it as a mere instrument, an insurance or a multilateral forum.