German and US ambassadors clash over NATO nuclear sharing

German ambassador to Poland Rolf Nikel says that since Germany is fulfilling its obligations to NATO then the issue of whether US nuclear weapons it hosts should be moved to Poland does not arise. Ambassador Nikel was responding to a Tweet from the US ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher who wrote that if Germany was not willing to meet its obligations to NATO then US nuclear capacity could be moved to Poland.

Ms Mosbacher’s comments were in reference to an article published by the website for the US Embassy and Consulates in Germany. The piece written by the US ambassador to Germany, Richard A.Grenell, on Thursday argued that “a credible nuclear deterrent, including through nuclear-capable aircraft, is a core NATO capability. One that remains needed in today’s world, and one that Germany has pledged to contribute to.”

Responding to Ambassador Mosbacher’s tweet Rolf Nikel wrote that “Germany is fulfilling its commitments to NATO and its partners, in line with the coalition government agreement signed in 2018. So any speculation here is pointless”.

Germany has been embroiled in a public debate regarding its future participation in NATO's nuclear sharing programme since the leader of the SPD fraction in the Bundestag said that he opposed further German participation in that programme. National security experts have criticised Berlin for inactive defence policies that result in underfunding its military when it is supposed to be one of the key forces of the NATO alliance in Europe.

As of 2015 Poland has become one of five NATO countries that have met the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Germany is well short of meeting that target and tensions within the ruling CDU/CSU-SPD coalition mean that this is unlikely to change.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticised Germany for its low spending on defence. He has also criticised Germany for its energy policy of becoming dependent on Russia for gas supplies through the development of the Nord Stream pipelines that by-pass Poland in taking gas directly from Russia to Germany. At the same time President Trump has been praising Poland for its commitment to NATO and its policy of diversifying gas supplies.

Poland unlikely to join in the dispute

It is unlikely that Poland will wish to openly state its position in this dispute. Its new national security strategy published this week does not make specific reference to any ambition of participation in the nuclear sharing programme.

Moreover, it would be awkward diplomatically for Poland to make any moves ahead of any decisions taken by the German government. Poland wants both the eastern flank of NATO to be strengthened while retaining German commitment to NATO.

Poland wants to avoid any unsettling situation in Europe in which the US nuclear sharing capacity in Europe ended up disappearing altogether. It is likely to join the debate on nuclear sharing only if and when Germany decides to end its participation in the programme and even then it is likely to want to seek consensus over any moves within NATO.