Good and Bad Nuclear WeaponsBerlin’s Part in Shaping Nuclear Reality
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the question of how to cope with the existence of nuclear weapons has been a key issue of international politics. Their huge destructive potential gives nuclear weapons a unique political, military and moral quality. During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were part of a comprehensive strategy of war avoidance. The Cold War’s bipolar character, nuclear security assurances by the United States for its allies, and the emergence of a global non-proliferation regime created a system that served to bridle nuclear ambitions. The nuclear risks were high, but manageable.
This era is over, and so is the “Golden Age” of non-proliferation. In its wake a “second” nuclear age has dawned, an age that follows different rules. Private proliferation networks have emerged that supply interested nations with the full range of know-how and hardware with which to become nuclear powers. Religious fundamentalism poses a radical challenge to the rational cost-benefit analysis that is essential for stable deterrence relationships. The renaissance of civilian nuclear energy and diverging interests within the UN Security Council further complicate the international community’s response to these challenges. For these and other reasons, the goal of global nuclear abolition, despite its superficial appeal, will remain unattainable. Hence international politics will continue to be influenced by the existence of nuclear weapons.
Germany is a non-nuclear medium-sized power situated on a continent that hosts several nuclear nations and whose Middle East neighbourhood threatens to become nuclearized in the not too distant future. This poses new challenges for Berlin’s foreign and security policy, including its relationship with the United States, whose nuclear protection Germany has enjoyed for over half a century. However, since the end of the Cold War, nuclear questions no longer feature in the German security debate. On the contrary, that debate reveals the collective mindset of a country that finds it difficult to acknowledge the security challenges of the age of globalization. In coming to terms with the emergence of a “second nuclear age,” Germany needs to craft a comprehensive policy that moves beyond general calls for nuclear disarmament and seeks to shape the new nuclear reality in line with German security interests.