Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 32, November 1998
Remarks on NATO Nuclear Policy by US & German Defence MinistersPress Conference by US Defence Secretary William Cohen and German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping, Washington, 24 November 1998
Editor's note: see News Review for background and further comment.
Remarks by Secretary Cohen
"We discussed NATO's nuclear policy, and I made it clear that the United States opposes any change in this policy because we believe that the current doctrine serves to preserve the peace and to enhance deterrence.
In particular, the alliance's nuclear forces continue to fulfill an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the allies' response to military aggression, and because the strategy continues to serve NATO's interests, there's no reason to consider changing it.
In our discussion, Minister Scharping explained the German position and said that Germany has no intention to question these core elements of NATO's strategy and that Germany remains prepared to contribute to the nuclear element of NATO's strategy. I welcome these statements. ..."
Remarks by Minister Scharping
"Concerning the no-first-use point, I explained that the German government on the United Nations level for the whole globe is following the vision of a nuclear-weapons-free world, but on the other side we are debating about NATO and its strategy. I made clear that any conclusion must be drawn in consensus. I also made clear that there is no intention to take unilateral decisions which have an impact on the security of the alliance.
And as Secretary Cohen said, there is no intention in my government to question any core element of NATO's strategy including the fact that nuclear forces play a fundamental political role - although the necessity to use them may be extremely remote as it is written down in the actual NATO strategy. ..."
"Question: 'Minister Scharping, might I ask, you seemed a bit embarrassed yesterday when this issue broke about the no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Both you and the Secretary have said that the German government has no intention of questioning the core policy of NATO over nuclear weapons. Does your government, however, intend to formally push for a change in the NATO first use policy of nuclear weapons?'
Minister Scharping: 'Well, in my understanding, NATO itself is a no-first-use organization for common security. We are saying all our weapons, all our weapons we will not use first. Only in the case of defense. And as I said, and it's our common understanding, that the nuclear element within NATO strategy plays an eminent political role and it will play such a role in the future, too.
It's different if you are looking on a global level and if you are looking on the strategic concept of NATO because we have to act within a world which is not the world we wish. But it's the world we have to deal with.' ...
Question: 'I take it you're not willing to create a rift [on no-first-use]?'
Minister Scharping: 'I understand, but we are not debating German security strategy, we are debating NATO's Strategic Concept, and that's a different thing.'
Question: 'Secretary Cohen, Minister Scharping made clear he wants no changes in the core security elements while Foreign Minister Fischer made a move toward NATO Secretary General. In your view, who's speaking for the Germany government here?'
Secretary Cohen: 'I think it's up to the German government to articulate and explain who's speaking for it itself.
Based on my conversations with Minister Scharping, I think that we have a meeting of the minds that the Strategic Concept is critical for NATO's security, that the Strategic Concept as far as the nuclear component should not be altered. It has worked well to date. We believe it continues to serve a vital security purpose for the NATO organization and should not be changed.
Whether or not there is debate at other levels of the German government, it's clear from our perspective that we should adhere to the policy we currently have and not change it.' ...
Question: 'Secretary Scharping seemed to play down the differences a little bit by saying all our weapons will not be used first. I understood Secretary Cohen's remarks yesterday that this option should remain, that it has been proved to be worthwhile. So a question to both of you, how do these different readings fit together? I obviously don't understand the sophistication.'
Secretary Cohen: 'The distinction should not be one that's too metaphysical to describe. On the one hand, Minister Scharping has indicated that NATO, as an organization, is a defensive organization. It is not designed nor intended to be used as an offensive military organization. It's primarily designed to defend the members of NATO itself. That is the sense in which Minister Scharping referred to a policy of defensive use.
But within that concept we reserve the right to call upon whatever armaments we have that would protect and preserve the integrity of the members of that organization.
So on the one hand it's defensive in nature. It is not intended to attack. It is intended to defend. And how we choose to defend will continue to call upon all armaments including nuclear, if necessary, and that's a judgment that NATO would reserve for itself.'"
Source: Transcript - US, German defense officials on NATO nuclear policy, United States Information Service, 24 November.
© 1998 The Acronym Institute.