BERLIN — Imagine a nuclear-armed Germany. No, this isn’t a fantasy à la “The Man in the High Castle” (Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novel in which the Nazis got the bomb first and dropped it on Washington to win World War II), but a real debate, happening in present-day Berlin.
As Germany’s foreign policy establishment becomes increasingly convinced that Donald Trump’s aggressive rhetoric toward Berlin and NATO represents a seminal shift in transatlantic relations, some are daring to think the unthinkable.
“Do We Need the Bomb?” read the front page headline in Welt am Sonntag, one of the country’s largest Sunday newspapers.
“For the first time since 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany is no longer under the U.S.’s nuclear umbrella,” Christian Hacke, a prominent German political scientist, wrote in an essay in the paper.
“It’s crucial for Germany and Europe that we have a strategic debate” — Ulrike Franke, analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations
For Hacke, the next step is clear: “National defense on the basis of a nuclear deterrent must be given priority in light of new transatlantic uncertainties and potential confrontations.” Counting on a European solution to materialize is “illusory” because national interests are too different, he argued.
It would be easier to dismiss the article as the ramblings of an eccentric academic were Hacke not a fixture of Germany’s foreign policy establishment and a respected university professor.
That the debate is happening at all speaks to how unnerved Germany’s security community has become in the face of Trump’s threats, including his warning at last month’s NATO summit that the U.S. might “go it alone.”
This isn’t the first time Germany has considered its nuclear options. In the early 1960s, then-Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who had his own doubts about the reliability of the U.S. as an ally, approached Charles de Gaulle to see if he might include Germany in the Force de frappe, France’s nuclear strike force. He was politely rejected.
A few years after Adenauer left office, Germany ratified the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which bars it from developing atomic weapons. Under the so-called Two Plus Four Agreement, a 1990 treaty between the two Germanys and World War II allies that paved the way to German reunification, the country also committed to eschew nuclear weapons.
Those agreements are why the prospect of a nuclear Germany remains extremely unlikely.
“If Germany was to relinquish its status as a non-nuclear power, what would prevent Turkey or Poland, for example, from following suit?” Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of the Munich Security Conference and a former German ambassador to the U.S., asked in response to Hacke’s essay. “Germany as the gravedigger of the international non-proliferation regime? Who can want that?”