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Nuclear deterrence in the German perspective

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Nuclear deterrence in the German perspective

Does it make sense to write a review of a book written in German and not available in other languages? Yes, if we take into account the importance of the topic and the implications for our national security.

The topic addressed, the nuclear deterrenceit is uncomfortable and the author, Karl-Heinz Kamp, he has been dealing with it all his life. Kamp spent many years in the think-tank world before winning the job of director of research at the NATO Defense College in Rome, then becoming president of the Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin and more recently having a senior role to the German Ministry of Defense.

Kamp tells how, from the fall of the Berlin Wall until today, both the political (governmental and parliamentary) and the technical-administrative (foreign and defense ministries) and military worlds in Germany have neglected the study and understanding of nuclear deterrence and extended deterrence. For more than thirty years, with a few exceptions, the majority of the German political and military establishment has focused on disarmament as a central element of a national security policy and felt confirmed when, in the spring of 2009, the then President of the United States Obama in Prague announced his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. This collective ‘illusion’ ended abruptly with theRussian aggression on Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and with Vladimir Putin’s repeated threats against Kyiv’s supporting countries.

The contradictions of nuclear deterrence

An important chapter of the book deals with the logic and contradictions related to nuclear deterrence. Kamp explains that to achieve the political outcome of credible deterrence, nuclear weapons must be credibly militarily usable and be perceived as such by an adversary. The author does not hide his doubts about some choices made in the past, for example when ‘suicide systems’ such as the Davy Crockettnuclear warheads for artillery with a range of two to four kilometers, which would not have allowed the survival of those who fired them, or mine nuclearihidden along the borders and which would have ‘ploughed’ their land in the event of a detonation.

Deterrence extended to NATO allied countries has always been the subject of European doubts and paranoia and has fundamentally revolved around the underlying question of whether Washington would be willing to risk its own head to defend Berlin, Warsaw or Rome. Various statements by Donald Trump before and during his presidency they again fueled European doubts about US security guarantees, but were then dampened by the Biden administration.

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Germany’s nuclear interests

Another educationally important part of the book deals with Germany’s ‘nuclear interests’. Kamp categorically excludes the option of a Federal Germany equipped with its own nuclear weapons but explains that even a country not equipped with its own nuclear weapons has ‘nuclear interests’, which are basically four: (1) protection from military aggression, (2) access to information on operational and doctrinal plans for the use of nuclear weapons, (3) having an indirect say in Washington’s plans, and (4) having a voice indirect chapter on issues related to arms control and disarmament. Kamp explains that these four types of nuclear interest already existed during the Cold War but are still valid today and need to be updated and further developed, taking into account the new international context created by the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The book also deals with many other topics related to nuclear power, explaining the background that led to the creation of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, commenting on the operational usefulness of the F35 dual-capable aircraft with latest generation B61 bombs and analyzing possible scenarios and future deployments, taking into account the enlargement of NATO to the east. Kamp also mentions the US B-21 Raider program, which, in the writer’s opinion, will also deserve particular attention in future scenarios of extended deterrence towards allied European states.

Not everything in Kamp’s book is 100 percent convincing and should be explored further. Kamp is a transatlanticist and does not mince his words when it comes to criticizing ‘the illusion of a militarily significant European Union’ and the ‘sandcastles of a European nuclear deterrent’ based on the French nuclear, but I agree with the author that ‘in the near future there is no credible alternative to the extended US deterrent.’ If anything, we should talk about an addition, not an alternative – but this is already partially recognized, also through the official texts of NATO summits.

A new dialogue on deterrence

A final aspect of the book, which would also deserve attention in Italy, is Kamp’s proposal develop a trilateral dialogue between Paris, London and Berlin on deterrence, taking inspiration from the Lancaster House agreements between France and England in 2010. London had suggested a similar dialogue with Germany in 2016 but this was not followed up, also due to Brexit. Seen from a German perspective, the idea has its own logic, but what are the implications based on the Italian perspective?

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Be that as it may, the nuclear deterrent is a difficult and uncomfortable topic but it must be addressed, even in Italy, and Kamp’s book is an excellent contribution to the debate, which we hope will develop. Perhaps starting from an Italian translation of his book and indicating it as compulsory reading for any future worker in the sector.

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