Time for a European Nuclear Deterrent?

Licorne thermonuclear test in French Polynesia. Flickr/Creative Commons/Pierre J.

Instead of expecting the United States to risk a nuclear exchange to protect Europe, the Europeans should take over that risk.

A possible solution would be to create European nuclear deterrent through contributions from member nuclear states. Roderich Kiesewette, a Bundestag leader on foreign policy, suggested turning to Britain and France, with a build-up financed by a joint European military budget: “If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes.”

However, it would be hard for Germany to avoid joining such the nuclear club. No doubt, history would make such a decision controversial, and the German people have shown little desire to play such a role. But those concerns do not justify expecting the American people to act as defenders of last resort for Germany and Europe.

Berthold Kohler, a publisher of the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, followed with the suggestion that Germany might need to augment the small British and French arsenals to successfully confront Russia and maybe China. The Carnegie Endowment’s Ulrich Kuehn called such musings “an important early warning sign.”

However, a nuclear Germany isn’t a new idea. It came up during West Germany’s rearmament and induction into NATO. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer advocated possession and use of American tactical weapons and capability to make German warheads. The latter proposal deserves a full debate today.

For much of the foreign policy community, what has always been must always be is the guiding mantra. The incoming Trump administration is likely to provide greater opportunities to rethink Washington’s conventional wisdom.

One policy which deserves rethinking is extended deterrence in Europe. The continent already has two European nuclear states as members of NATO. Instead of expecting the United States to risk a nuclear exchange to protect Europe, the Europeans should take over that risk. With their continent already hosting two nuclear states, it is time to ask whether that number should grow.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Image: Licorne thermonuclear test in French Polynesia. Flickr/Creative Commons/Pierre J.

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