Friday 20 October 2017

Merkel denies 'EU plan for nuclear weapons'

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel

Justin Huggler in Berlin

THE German government has been forced to deny it is interested in acquiring nuclear weapons amid calls for it to lead a European "nuclear superpower".

"There are no plans for nuclear armament in Europe involving the federal government," a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

The highly unusual statement comes amid growing calls for the European Union to invest in its own nuclear deterrent in the wake of President Donald Trump's comments that Nato is "obsolete".

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland's ruling party, told a German newspaper this week he would "welcome an EU nuclear superpower".

A senior MP from Ms Merkel's Christian Democrat party (CDU) has called for Germany to press for a European nuclear deterrent.

'Spiegel' magazine has questioned whether it is time for Germany to acquire its own nuclear weapons and the 'Financial Times' has called for Germany to "think the unthinkable" on the issue.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, left, and Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite welcome the German battalion being deployed to Lithuania as part of Nato deterrence measures against Russia in Rukla, Lithuania, earlier this week. Photo: Reuters
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, left, and Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite welcome the German battalion being deployed to Lithuania as part of Nato deterrence measures against Russia in Rukla, Lithuania, earlier this week. Photo: Reuters

There are fears in several quarters that the US may not remain committed to Europe's defence under President Trump.

He described Nato as "obsolete" in an interview last month and has repeatedly spoken out in praise of Vladimir Putin.

During the presidential election campaign, he warned the US may not necessarily come to the aid of its Nato allies.

Following her visit to Washington, British Prime Minister Theresa May urged all Nato nations to meet a target matched by Britain for all member nations to spend 2pc of GDP on defence.

Mr Kaczynski's call for a "European nuclear superpower" came in an interview just before Ms Merkel's visit to Poland, and it is thought he may have pressed her on the issue.

But leading voices in Germany have warned that the country acquiring its own nuclear weapons is not the solution.

"We would open Pandora's box and start an arms race," General Hans-Lothar Domrose, a former Nato commander, said. "It would make it even more difficult to prevent other countries like Iran from getting the bomb.

"Obtaining nuclear weapons, either directly or indirectly through the EU, would be a serious violation of international law for Germany," Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of the influential Munich Security Conference, said.

Roderich Kiesewetter, an MP and former army colonel who is foreign policy spokesman for Ms Merkel's party, has called for Germany to take a leading role in setting up a European nuclear deterrent.

But he warned: "A German bomb would be a disaster because it would lead to a new nuclear arms race".

Instead he wants Germany to pay for the UK and France, Europe's two existing nuclear powers, to increase their arsenals in order to provide a "nuclear shield" for the continent.

Such a move would be extraordinarily costly, but Mr Kiesewetter says the EU could finance it through a common defence budget.

"Europe must start planning for its own security in case the Americans sharply raise the cost of defending the continent, or decide to leave completely," he said.

Others believe the UK is not a viable partner in the light of Brexit, and have called for any such plan to focus on France.

"If the US is no longer prepared to do its part of the nuclear deterrence, Germany and France will have to fill this vacuum," Gustav Gressel, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Merkel said last night that she and the governors of Germany's 16 states have agreed to push for more and faster deportations of rejected asylum-seekers.

Mrs Merkel, who faces a national election in September, has called repeatedly for a "national effort" to make sure that people without the right to stay leave the country.

Deportations currently are handled by state governments, but top officials have recently made clear the federal government wants more influence.

After meeting, Mrs Merkel and the governors told reporters in Berlin that they would work closely to devise new deportation regulations.

The government officials are planning to create several so-called "exit centres" where people could be taken before their scheduled deportations to make sure they don't disappear at the last minute. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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