German nuclear participation

There's occasionally a minor debate about whether the Americans should withdraw their about 20 nuclear bombs from Germany. This is more than a debate about the storage location for a handful of nukes; it's a debate about German nuclear participation.

So what's "nuclear participation"?

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty limits which ratifying countries may be nuclear powers and it does also prohibit transfer of control over nukes to non-nuclear powers.
The Cold War arrangement in NATO was that the Americans would hand over nuclear warheads (for example for ballistic Honest John, Lance, Sergeant & Pershing missiles as well as free-fall nuclear bombs) to allied non-nuclear powers such as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). This made a lot of sense because in the event of WW3 the NNPT wouldn't matter any more and the Central European front(ier) was divided by nationality of forces. There would have been impractical friction and lags if an American rocket battery or strike fighter wing would have been designated to support a German army corps with battlefield nukes.

Bundeswehr Honest John SRBM with launcher vehicle

What was the (West)German motivation?

The basic law (constitution) of West Germany pretended that the West German government represented all of Germany and East Germany was no state, but a mere Soviet-occupied zone. The FRG government thus strived to represent the interests of East Germans as well. American and British plans to blow up all of East Germany with nukes were not in the best interest of East Germans.
Nor was it in the best interest of West Germans that French, British and Americans planned to blow West Germany up with battlefield nukes in defensive land battles.

To participate in the nuclear warhead delivery chain of events meant to be able to abort it. To provide alternatives to nuclear strikes (such as a strong army and the otherwise rather inexplicable Tornado IDS interdiction role) did help to avoid some nuclear strikes on German soil in the event of WW3.

(From this point of view it might irritate that the Bundeswehr wasn't located in Northern Germany only, opposing East Germany and the Soviet armies there. There are explanations for the actual locations; 
(1) a conscript army is much more sustainable if the conscripts serve all over the country. Southern Germany would have been pissed if all its conscripts had to serve 100-900 km far from their homes while Northern Germans would serve never farther than 500 km from their homes.
(2) the federal nature of the FRG meant that the Southern German politicians had much influence on this affair, and military bases were considered a good way to help the economy especially in rural areas
(3) the Bundeswehr provided the backbone to all allied forces in West Germany through its territorial (mobilised) army logistical and security forces
(4) the locations of the British and American forces were path dependent on the original occupation zones; Bundeswehr forces were squeezed in between
(5) the early Heer (pre-mid-60's)was quite fragile with training and spare parts issues in particular. It would have been unacceptable to have the entire northern half of the FRG guarded by the Heer alone
(6) the Belgians and Dutch preferred to have their forces not far away in Southern Germany, but in Northern or in the Central FRG.)

It wasn't the only point of view anyway; the early West German minister of defence (insert expression of disgust here) Strauß was all-in on throwing around nukes. He apparently focused on deterrence, not on mitigating how very much devastating WW3 would be to us. This was one of his few reasonable stances, actually.

- - - - -

The original motivation for the German nuclear participation is gone. If WW3 or WW4 still happens in Europe, it would likely begin and have its most extreme effects in Eastern Europe. Germany might still be affected (airbases, airports, Oder river bridges, ports), but not by NATO's nukes. As of now it's fairly unlikely that NATO would nuke locations in Eastern European NATO members even if they were overrun by Russian forces.

I strongly suppose nobody is seriously contemplating to seize the handful of American nukes (B61 bombs) stored in Germany. 

So what's the continued nuclear participation of Germany good for?

I suppose there's no "pro" side here, save for nebulous "transatlantic" ideology.



clarification: All NATO members except France are part of the Nuclear Planning Group - a participation does not require us to afford delivery systems. Luxembourg sure has none and it's a member of the group.


  1. Would the nukes in Germany, be sufficient distance from possible conflict area's(Baltics) to render them secure from a first strike?
    & could they be used upon opfor Staging area's in Belarus/Russia?

    1. The airbase Büchel is about 1,000 km away from Kaliningrad and thus certainly out of range of the Iskander SRBM, but all of Germany could be hit by air-launched of ship-launched cruise missiles.

      The B61 nukes are (supposedly) stored in up to 11 modified hardened aircraft shelters on the airbase. 22 conventional-tipped cruise missiles would knock out the majority of the nukes with good reliability and some plutonium would escape.

      I don't worry about that, though. The 20 nukes are symbolic. They would be replaced within 24 hrs from the U.S. and a use of those nukes within the first 24 hrs of conflict is unthinkable.
      The nukes' location is nothing but symbolic.

  2. American nukes aren't necessary unless you're on a time budget. Germany has a number of functional reactors, which means they can produce batches of plutonium as required. The bomb that they spent 5 years pursuing during WW2 (and ultimately failing) can be created in under 6 months. Its a frighteningly easy thing to do in this day and age.

    Speaking of which, how much do you know about the uranverein? I read david irvings book on the matter and was really captivated by what the germans did. They never succeeded at building a reactor, but they did manage to create highly advanced centrifuges that were duplicated by the soviets. I recently updated my article on the uranverein, you should check it out.


    1. Lots of countries could produce crude nukes within months. Even Apartheid South Africa succeeded at producing half a dozen nukes.
      That's not really interesting in case of Germany, for the nation would need massive blows till it would agree to such a thing.

  3. There are maps floating around that show the expected sites and ranges of missile systems that would be employed in an european conflict. Its chaos. I dont care how many cores you are running your war games on there is no way to know what the outcome of the first days of theatre combat would be.

    There would be no possibility in this environment to task a freefall nuclear armed interdiction mission.

    Its politics.

    It is 'demonstrating the political will to accept the realities of nuclear brinkmanship' and share those realities across the major players.

    One of Duncan Campbells "Secret Society" programmes for the BBC talked about this back in the 80s. You can probably get it on yt.