A protest note was handed to the German military by the Russian Defense Ministry in response to comments about deterring Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Germany especially had been coming out with statements about the pressing need to focus on Russia and reducing their nuclear capabilities, causing Russia to deliver the note. According to Reuters, Russia announced it would break off existing institutionalised contacts with NATO and the alliance agreed on a new plan to defend against any potential Russian attack.
In an interview last Thursday, incumbent Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stated that: “We have to make it very clear to Russia that in the end — and that is also the deterrent doctrine — we are ready to use such means [nuclear weapons] so that it has a deterrent effect beforehand and nobody gets the idea…” It is alarming that Germany is quick to state that they would put to use such weapons against Russia. The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that “there are level-headed people in the German leadership who can prevent their defence minister from recklessly wanting to test our armed forces.” It is unknown what the note from Russia stated, but it introduces a possible strife between the two nations over nuclear power.
Janis Kluge, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, views the current relationship between Berlin and Moscow as at an all-time low in post-Soviet history. Germany-Russia relations have always been complicated with shifts from alliances to total warfare. The recent rise in negative relations stemmed from Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Within NATO, Germany was quick to impose multiple rounds of harsh sanctions against oil and other Russian industries. This leaves Germany and Russia with unstable relations today, meaning the note is indicative of a possible major conflict between the two.
Germany has made an aggressive threat towards Russia by stating that they would go as far as to use nuclear weapons in acts of deterrence. This puts hundreds of millions of people at risk, as a deadly conflict would arise if Germany took such severe action. Germany’s initial comments and responses to the situation are intended to make Russia fearful of an attack and be cautious with their nuclear program. Weapons of mass destruction like the ones in question are obviously catastrophic, which pushes the common reaction to often be the use of them as it is the only way to counter such a massive threat. It is ironic that many nations choose to fight the problem with further use of the same weapons. However, nations may not see many alternatives to preventing the spread of nuclear power as they have to put forth a large enough and credible type of threat.
According to the Arms Control Association, Russia possesses approximately 6,400 nuclear warheads, making it the largest stockpile in the world. This raises fear among others and creates unstable relations between NATO and Russia. It is also unsettling that Russia has the power to threaten nuclear conflict in response to any other conventional conflicts. All of these then raise the question: why is this problem persisting and why have nations not figured out how to end this threat?
Following the conclusion of the Cold War there have been treaties and efforts put in place by nations to promote the decline of nuclear proliferation. Many of these efforts have been between nations in NATO and Russia including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (in which Russia is still apart of), and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which Russia chose not to sign. Some of these have had successes in Russia leading them to reduce their programs, however, there are often questions surrounding possible Russian violation of the terms, or nations pulling out of the treaty causing other parties to build up their nuclear arsenal in fear. These negotiations have proven to be no simple fix as it is difficult keeping nations like Russia accountable and knowing if countries are reporting accurate information.
The current situation, responses, and issues have been outlined above, but it is additionally important to discuss what could be done differently. Germany’s comments about Russian nuclear programs and the possible use of such weapons against them are alarming and threatening. This reaction creates an escalating situation and a spread of fear throughout the two nations and all other parties involved. Attempting to deter Russian nuclear capabilities with aggressive action is only likely to make the circumstance worse. Russian leadership will likely become agitated and they still will not have any incentive to want to cooperate with other nations’ demands.
Looking forward, nations like Germany and even all NATO nations should have a greater focus on building relations with Russia rather than straining them. It is advisable that countries such as the U.S. collaborate with Germany to deescalate the situation while formulating a better plan to work with Russia. This should not include the threat of nuclear warfare but rather how collective agreements can be met and respected. It is important to identify why Russia has nuclear weapons or feels the need to expand their program. They may feel threatened by other nations and need a means to protect themselves. In this situation it is important to make the other nation feel protected rather than threatened unlike what Germany is promoting, because that only gives Russia more reason to build up their arsenal. If leaders can reach agreements not only with nuclear programs but in many areas of national security, the economy, and others it is likely Russia would be more willing to comply.
As stronger relations are being established, nuclear treaties can be introduced or revised to increase the likelihood of Russia complying. There has been success in the past such as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) where the U.S. and Russia both agreed to reduce their stockpiles to a certain number, which they did. Instances like this show that when nations collaborate or agree to something together there is a greater chance parties comply. Fighting fire with fire would only escalate matters and no nation in the world wants to go to war when nuclear weapons are involved. Germany also is tying its hands when they state that they would use nuclear warfare- are they actually likely to launch an attack? Collaborations and agreements that delve into various areas of society have a much greater outcome and less risk involved that puts the public in danger. Germany should work to establish these with Russia with the backing of alliances like NATO and the UN.