Passport

When Sarko met Angela

SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images News Recently, Passport noted a very interesting tidbit from Der Spiegel: French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently suggested that “perhaps the Germans would consider taking a political stake in the French atomic arsenal.” Der Spiegel appears to be the only source for this assertion, which could actually have several interpretations. Der Spiegel itself ...

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SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images News

Recently, Passport noted a very interesting tidbit from Der Spiegel: French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently suggested that “perhaps the Germans would consider taking a political stake in the French atomic arsenal.”

Der Spiegel appears to be the only source for this assertion, which could actually have several interpretations. Der Spiegel itself interpreted it as a suggestion that France might physically host nuclear weapons on German soil, but derided the idea as “pointless” and just another in a series of Sarkozy’s gaffes that have “surprised, stymied, annoyed, and flabbergasted” German leaders.

The magazine failed to note, however, that such an offer would not be without precedent, since Germany has hosted U.S. nuclear warheads for decades (for use by NATO forces). All but a handful have been withdrawn, but somewhere around 20 remain, probably at Ramstein Air Force Base. Hosting French nuclear weapons in a similar manner would not suddenly make Germany a nuclear power—which makes the German response, that “Germany did not seek to become a nuclear power,” all the more perplexing.

Perhaps this incident is really a story about European integration, which has often been driven forward by a Franco-German “engine” of cooperation. One of the most difficult sticking points of integration in the European Union has always been defense capabilities—of which nuclear weapons are perhaps the most difficult, for obvious reasons.

Even in the context of integration, though, the facts on this incident are too vague to come to any firm conclusions. Perhaps Sarkozy is trying to jumpstart the integration process, in the face of possible new referendums on a new EU constitution. Perhaps he was trying to position France, as opposed to Britain, as the critical guarantor of the EU’s security. Either way, the nuclear aspect of cooperation in Europe will be an area to watch in coming years.

Eric Hundman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science and a Toyota Dissertation Fellow in the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago.

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