Ukraine regrets abandoning nuclear weapons

Nuclear Weapons: Security and Moral Scandal

Europe is looking for nuclear reinsurance for Germany. The abolition of nuclear weapons remains a utopia.

Guest comments and contributions from external authors do not have to correspond to the opinion of the editors.

The German soldiers who took part in the last NATO maneuver in Northern Europe had to borrow long johns from their comrades from other countries because their own army could not equip them with warm clothing for a winter war. At least that's how it is told in a malicious tone. It is well known that many German submarines and warships are not operational. With great difficulty, the Minister of Defense can now raise the money for the renovation of the sailing training ship Gorch Fock, which, of course, will cost around ten times as much as originally forecast, even in the cheap version.

At the same time, the chairwoman of the Christian-Democratic Union of Germany, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who will probably be the next German Chancellor, is in favor of a European aircraft carrier. However, Germany would find it difficult to finance its share in the cost of such a huge project because the social democratic finance minister has cut the budget for the Bundeswehr again from next year.

But what do the rest of Europe have to do with German underpants, submarines, school ships and assault rifles? In any case, more than the Germans would like. Ever since the USA and Russia announced the end of the INF treaty banning land-based ballistic missiles and medium-range cruise missiles (between 500 and 2000 kilometers), Germany's military capacity has become a European issue. In the USA in particular, criticism has been leveled for years (including by President Obama) that Germany is spending too little on its defense. In Europe, one wonders whether the US nuclear guarantee still applies to Germany and whether there can be a replacement.

Germany is now benefiting from the "extended deterrence" provided by the USA. At what cost and under what conditions this is a latent problem in NATO, and it has now become acute. A German nuclear weapon of its own is out of the question: in view of the latently pacifist and anti-military sentiment, no government could get through that. However, the two NATO nuclear powers France and Great Britain have little inclination to offer Germany “nuclear participation”.

The Russian medium-range missiles, which were the direct cause for the termination of the INF Treaty by the USA, are aimed just as much against China as against Europe. The need to react to this in Europe does not arise from the danger of offensive military action by Russia against the West, but from the logic of nuclear equilibrium thinking. Although Russia would like to ensure its military superiority in the post-Soviet space and be considered a major European power, it certainly wants to avoid a direct military confrontation with NATO.

The West learned how to keep an opposing nuclear power in check during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The decisive element is the second strike ability. It must be clear to the opponent that in the event of an attack he risks his own extinction because the attacked person still has enough reserves to strike back. In the event of an attack, both sides must therefore expect certain destruction (mutual assured destruction). A prerequisite for this is, of course, a certain degree of mutual transparency and that the respective political leaders act rationally. One can assume that from Israel, for example, India and Pakistan have proven it, with North Korea one is not sure. In addition, central institutions of a country and its urban agglomeration must remain relatively unprotected.

Will be nuclear weapons. . .

The paradox of total mutual threat as a guarantee of security has always deeply outraged moralists. The fact that Mutual Assured Destruction is the abbreviated word “mad” was a confirmation of their disgust. In times when the civil use of nuclear power is being phased out (only in Germany, of course), this logic seems unbearable to many. A bitter argument about this was waged in Germany. The reason for this was the NATO “double decision” in 1979. Double decision because the offer of disarmament was combined with a threat. Should the Soviet Union not withdraw the nuclear-armed medium-range missiles of the type SS-20, which it had stationed in the Warsaw Pact countries bordering on the west, the USA for its part would in allied NATO countries in Western Europe Pershing II missiles and cruise missiles from Set up type Tomahawk. Since the Soviet Union did not give in, these systems were then also stationed in Germany. This was orchestrated by the hysterical mood of the “peace movement”, which saw the outbreak of nuclear war because of the NATO retrofitting. The INF Treaty made the cause for excitement obsolete.

. . . produced - not used

Nuclear weapons have the paradoxical quality of being produced in order not to have to be used. North Korea also experienced this. Its dictator may feel flattered that he has already met the President of the USA “on an equal footing” twice, but he is now also tied into the relentless logic that the threat of deployment alone triggers the opponent's preventive reaction can. With its nuclear weapon, North Korea has made itself a direct object of the military giant USA. His blackmail potential is less than he might wish.

Incidentally, the ambition of states to acquire nuclear weapons is not as great as one might assume. South Africa, Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Ukraine have even given up their nuclear weapons, which is likely to have been regretted in Kiev after the capture of Crimea by Russia. Since the mid-1980s, the arsenal of the nine nuclear states has decreased from over 70,000 warheads to 15,000. Even a fraction of it - once used - would make the earth an uninhabitable place.

The utopia of a world without nuclear weapons pops up again and again, and occasionally an obscure organization that advocates it even receives the Nobel Peace Prize. But the world would not be helped if the wish came true. In order to preserve the security effects that emanate from nuclear weapons and the strategies developed for them, an arms race in the conventional area would begin with enormous costs. The risk of war would increase considerably if the states fell back into the old military patterns.

"War is too serious a matter to be left to the military," said French statesman Georges Clemenceau. You have to change the word: He is too serious to be left to pacifists.


Hans Winkler was for many years head of the Viennese editorial team of the “Kleine Zeitung”.

[email protected]

("Die Presse", print edition, March 26, 2019)