In the EU cooperation, Germany relies on partner France, on security issues on the nuclear shield of the USA. At the Munich Security Conference, President Macron recommended that Germans change their minds.

Did the Germans make themselves too comfortable under the US nuclear umbrella? French President Emmanuel Macron gave this impression at the Munich Security Conference. Macron campaigned for the security policy elite for a nuclear debate in Germany – even if this discussion was “by no means easy”. In any case, according to Macron’s words, France is not afraid of Germany and the EU breaking away from the US protective shield.

Return of history?

French openness to nuclear issues has a long tradition. As early as 1957, Paris was ready to make extensive commitments to Germany. At that time, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauß and his French counterpart Jacques Chaban-Delmas agreed on close cooperation in missile and nuclear technology at a meeting in the North African desert. Details were later fixed in a secret agreement.

Germany Franz Josef Strauß |  with paratrooper 1959 (picture-alliance / AP Photo)Wanted to develop nuclear weapons together with France: Federal Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauß

For Paris, the prospect was tempting that the economically strong Federal Republic could participate in the expensive development of nuclear weapons. In parallel to France, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower also campaigned for nuclear armament for the Germans. The German population, on the other hand, rejected a large majority of German nuclear weapons a few years after the end of the Second World War. And was even able to rely on international law, since the federal government had explicitly declared that it would not use nuclear weapons when it was admitted to NATO in 1955. At the time, this question was not an obstacle for the French government, since the arms were to be produced in France.

The ambitious project between Bonn and Paris failed when General Charles de Gaulle took power in Paris in 1958. De Gaulle stopped nuclear cooperation with his eastern neighbor, led his country out of NATO’s military integration, and built up the French nuclear force, the “Force de Frappe”, without foreign support.

Third largest nuclear power in the world

The President of the Armed Forces alone decides on their deployment as commander-in-chief of the armed forces – nothing has changed 60 years after the first nuclear test of the French in Algeria.

The “Force de Frappe” comprises a little less than 300 warheads today, as Macron said in a key speech on security policy a few days ago. France is the third-largest among the officially recognized nuclear powers.

Macron visits the submarine Le Terrible (Getty Images / AFP / Contributor)The President alone decides on the use of nuclear weapons: Macron aboard the “Le Terrible” nuclear submarine

The warheads for submarines and bombers are to be modernized in the coming years for more than 35 billion euros. There is a cross-party consensus that large investments in the military and armaments are necessary to maintain the sovereignty of France, but for the country, which is indebted with 100 percent of its gross domestic product, the maintenance of nuclear weapons is still a feat. It’s no wonder that President Nicolas Sarkozy offered Germany co-financing as early as 2007. But Berlin thankfully declined.

Laage |  Luftwaffe begins exercise in the northeast (picture-alliance / dpa / R. Jensen)Nuclear participation: In the event of war, Bundeswehr pilots would fly US atomic bombs to the destination with the “tornado”

Difficult debate

Macron did not make such a financing offer to the federal government at the security conference. However, the statement about a German nuclear debate suggests that Macron, who sees himself as an innovator and driver of Europe, also wants movement on this issue. However, no well-known politicians on the German side have yet reacted to this.

The Bundeswehr would certainly be involved in a nuclear attack in the event of war. Nuclear missiles are stored under US supervision in Büchel, Rhineland-Palatinate, which would be flown to their destination in the event of conflict by German Tornado fighters. However, the fighter jets have reached the end of their lifespan and will be replaced in a few years. In Munich, Macron promoted a major military project in which France, Germany, and Spain would jointly develop a new generation of fighter planes by 2040.

Only this week, the budget committee of the Bundestag gave the green light for a financing stage. This new generation of combat aircraft could also be upgraded for French nuclear weapons.

No clear plans

In Munich, Macron did not comment on concrete plans for a more independent European defense. Macron did not repeat his concern expressed last year about a “brain death of NATO”, but spoke of the two “pillars” EU and NATO for the security of Europe. His urgent appeal: “We need a stronger Europe of defense.”

However, France continues to draw narrow limits with regard to nuclear weapons. Macron refuses France’s return to the NATO body, which advices on nuclear defense issues. The president remains true to his role model de Gaulle. After all, the French want to give their European partners greater insight into their nuclear strategy. Macron should think primarily of Germany.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron sign the new Elysée contract in Aachen (Getty Images / S. Schuermann)The signing of the Aachen contract by Merkel and Macron in January 2019

It is also theoretically possible that both governments are farther ahead on the nuclear issue than was previously known. In a report by the Bundestag, scientists do not rule out that Paris and Berlin dealt with the subject of nuclear weapons last year in non-public additions to the Aachen friendship treaty with France.

The German population seems to be able to gain something from this logic. According to a survey by the Körber Foundation, 40 percent of Germans would approve of a nuclear protective shield by France or Great Britain – only 22 percent say this about the existing protective shield of the Americans.

In the end, money should play an important role in all of these questions. When de Gaulle stopped atomic cooperation with the Germans after his election as President, the German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss is said to have raged in Bonn. The CSU politician had the French fighter jets ordered by the Bundeswehr canceled and instead bought US starfighters.


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