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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 32, November 1998

US and Germany Disagree Over NATO No-First-Use

The new German Government - a Social Democratic Party/Green Party coalition - has raised the issue of NATO's doctrinal preparedness to use nuclear weapons first. Writing in Der Spiegel magazine on 21 November, Joshka Fischer, the new Foreign Minister and leader of the Green Party, advocated the adoption by the Alliance of a no-first-use policy. Acknowledging that, on this issue, "we see things differently" from other NATO members, particularly the three nuclear-weapon State members, France, the UK and US, Fischer argued that a debate was nonetheless important, particularly at a time when NATO was preparing to unveil a new Strategic Concept next year: "We must speak openly about this in the Alliance without giving the impression that Germany is going its own way."

US officials were quick to defend the existing policy. According to State Department spokesperson James Rubin (23 November): "We are aware that Germany wants to bring up the issue of first use. Let me say that in our view, nuclear weapons have played a key role in ending the Cold War, and they remain an element in coupling the security of North America and Europe." Defense Secretary William Cohen stated the same day: "It [first use] is an integral part of our strategic concept and we think it should remain exactly as it is. We think the ambiguity involved in the issue of the use of nuclear weapons contributes to our own security, keeping any potential adversary who might use either chemical or biological [weapons] unsure of what our response would be."

On 24 November, Cohen discussed the issue with his German counterpart, Rudolf Scharping - see Documents and Sources for extracts from the two Ministers' press conference.

Reports: US rejects 'no first use' atomic policy, Washington Post, 24 November; German leader wants NATO nuke change, Associated Press, 24 November.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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