Europe must brake mounting nuclear arms race: Germany

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democratic Party arrives for a meeting during coalition talks held at the headquarter of the Social Democratic Party, the Willy-Brandt-Haus, in Berlin, Germany, on Feb 2, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP) - Europe must lead the way in pushing for nuclear disarmament after Washington proposed upgrading and expanding the United States' nuclear arsenal, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Sunday (Feb 4).

"As in the times of the Cold War, we in Europe are especially endangered" by "a renewed nuclear arms race", Gabriel said.

"That is why precisely we in Europe must begin new initiatives for arms control and disarmament."

Gabriel was responding to a so-called Nuclear Posture Review released Friday (Feb 2) by the Pentagon that details the US military's vision of nuclear threats and its response in the coming decades.

Upgrading the US arsenal and complementing massive "strategic" bombs with smaller "tactical" weapons was "aimed at making use of nuclear weapons less likely", President Donald Trump said in a statement.

American nuclear planners believe potential adversaries abroad, especially Russia, assume America would never use its existing arsenal as the effects would be too devastating and provoke globally catastrophic retaliation.

"The US and Nato require a wider range of credible low-yield nuclear options" to deter Russia from using its own smaller nuclear weapons, Greg Weaver, the deputy director of strategic capabilities for the military's Joint Staff, told reporters Friday.

Gabriel acknowledged that Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine had led to a "dramatic loss of trust towards Russia" in Europe as well as Washington, and that "signs that Russia is re-arming, not only conventionally but with nuclear weapons, are obvious".

But instead of developing new weapons, Germany's top diplomat called for "existing arms control treaties to be upheld unconditionally".

Berlin would press "with its allies and partners" for further worldwide disarmament, he said.

"Our long-term aim must continue to be a world without nuclear weapons," Gabriel continued - the stated aim of US nuclear policy under former president Barack Obama.

Historically a close US ally and key Nato member, nuclear weapons were a divisive issue in Germany's Cold War politics.

Berlin does not have its own arsenal, but the Pentagon maintained nuclear warheads in Germany as part of a gigantic military presence designed to deter Soviet invasion of western Europe.

The issue has been rediscovered by frontline politicians in the wake of Trump's election.

Martin Schulz, a failed challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in elections last September, called during the campaign for remaining American bombs to be removed from Germany.

The German response to the US nuclear review comes on the heels of condemnations from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.