Daily Briefing

Should Germany get nukes?

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A deadly mushroom. Source: DPA

Here is yet another sign that the presidency of Donald Trump has already changed the world in ways that until recently seemed unthinkable: Germany is debating whether to build its own nuclear weapons. Pause. Absorb. This is the same country that has spent seven decades atoning for its Nazi past by proving to the world that its instincts are pacific and its intention is to be a loyal but militarily subservient ally within NATO and the EU.

Now, however, some Germans (like people in lots of other places) believe that The Donald, with his recent statements, has robbed the deterrent of America’s nuclear aegis over its NATO allies of all credibility. Credibility, remember, is the point. You want to prevent your enemies from even contemplating using their nukes, because that would be MAD (“mutual assured destruction.”) So, in a world of trans-Atlantic rift, Germany should get its own deterrent, the thinking goes.

Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the US who now runs the Munich Security Conference, thinks that this reasoning is itself (lowercase) mad. Germany renounced nukes in 1969 when it signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and again in 1990 when it signed the treaty that made reunification possible. “If Germany were now to break out,” Ischinger asks rhetorically, “what would keep Turkey or Poland, for instance, from following suit?” Russia would see a German bomb as a direct threat. And the German public would take to the streets in a way it last did against civilian atom-splitting in the 1980s.

Better, Mr. Ischinger reckons, to talk to the French about repurposing their nukes into a European deterrent. Or, come to think of it, to the British. Too bad talking to the Brits about Europe is so difficult these days.

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The Krupps are to Germany what the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Astors or Morgans are to America. Since Alfred Krupp took his father’s small forge in the 19th century and turned it into the furnaces that powered Germany’s industrial revolution, “Krupp steel” has been a German icon. But these days the company, called Thyssen-Krupp, is in trouble. It’s confused whether it wants to concentrate on making steel or elevators or car parts something else again. In recent weeks, the CEO resigned, shortly followed by the chairman of the supervisory board. (German companies, unlike Anglo-American ones, have two boards.)

Now three of Alfred’s descendants have spoken up, in an interview with Handelsblatt. They no longer own shares in Thyssen-Krupp, nor are they part of the foundation that owns 21 percent. But they are in a “family council” that was set up in 1943 for those members of the clan who didn’t inherit. The whole thing is very German. The idea is that the vision and soul of the ancestors be preserved.

Well, it urgently needs preserving, because the foundation is incompetent and asleep at the wheel, the descendants told Handelsblatt. The slide started when the late patriarch, Berthold Beitz, died in 2013. He had run the foundation, and indirectly the company, like an autocrat but had not planned a succession. So the foundation without him is “like Yugoslavia after Tito,” says Friedrich von Bohlen und Halbach, a member of the family council who now runs a biotech firm (“What Krupp did with steel back then, I do in biotech.”)

Ouch. We all know what happened next in Yugoslavia. That can’t be pleasant reading for Ursula Gather, a math professor who now leads the foundation. Now the family council wants a bigger say in the foundation, and thus the company. At these levels, you see, Germany industry is a bit like Game of Thrones, except with somewhat less nudity.

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On Tuesday I mentioned the overture by Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, to Germany to form – with Spain and France – a posse to lead Europe toward a coherent migrant policy. Now Spain and Germany have already taken the next baby step. They’ve made a deal that Germany can, as of Saturday, send back refugees to Spain who first entered the EU there and registered. But the return has to happen within 48 hours.

The reality is that this will affect very few refugees. (And won’t migrants now simply stop filling out asylum applications in Spain?) Moreover, Italy, run by anti-migrant populists, is hardly going to follow Spain’s lead and make a similar deal with Germany. But that’s not the point.

The point is that Spain and Germany seem to be positioning themselves as a spear tip for a new European policy push on migration, one that aims to restore order but also to preserve humaneness. To that end, Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez this weekend in Andalusia. Could get interesting there.

Andreas Kluth is Handelsblatt Global Editor-in-Chief.

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