Germany, I think it’s fair to say, is the most anti-nuclear country on earth. I just returned from a few days in Berlin, where the news was dominated by protests over the weekend against the transportation of nuclear waste from German nuclear power stations to Gorleben in Lower Saxony. The protests were seen as a triumph for the German anti-nuclear movement, which opposes the current centre-right government’s recent decision to extend the life of the remaining nuclear power plants in Germany. Germans are of course also passionately opposed to nuclear weapons, as illustrated by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s attempt to remove the remaining US nuclear weapons from the country (see my essay in Prospect last year on this). But one thing puzzles me about this anti-nuclear attitude. If the Germans are so opposed to nuclear power and weapons, why, as I suggested in a previous post, are they apparently so relaxed about the prospect of a nuclear Iran?
I once asked Joschka Fischer that question – he said as a Green he was opposed to civil nuclear power, but he would make an exception for Iran if it was that rather than nuclear weapons. (I gloss, but that was the gist).
As for Germans being “so relaxed about Iran about the prospect of a nuclear Iran”, I think you may have been to a few too many right-wing thinktanks. I think you’ll struggle to find any Germans who want Iran to have nuclear weapons. Your strawman is that it’s not the same as wanting to bomb Iran.
Thanks Matt. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Germans actively want a nuclear Iran. It’s more that they don’t think about it very much – hence the the title of my post. I don’t want to bomb to Iran either. In fact, it’s precisely because I don’t want to bomb Iran – or, to be more precise, I don’t want the Israelis to bomb Iran – that I think it’s important to do everything possible to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons (see my colleague Richard Gowan’s very good recent piece on this).
My sense is that, as the largest western exporter to Iran, Germany has been somewhat reluctant to apply pressure – thus my point about Germany being relaxed about the prosect of a nuclear Iran, despite its general anti-nuclear attitude. Admittedly, the Merkel government eventually signed up to the idea of tougher UN sanctions and if necessary EU sanctions, but this was in response to pressure from its allies rather than its own population. That’s exactly my point – it seems to me that for most Germans, the bottom line is the economy and in particular exports.
Well, you may be right about the export angle.
I think on the Germany/Iran thing, while it’s an interesting thought experiment, the other point is that Germans feel they can actually do something about their own domestic nuclear energy programme – hence the 40,000 in the woods at the weekend – whilst they can’t really influence Tehran, or Berlin over Tehran, so easily.
Yes, that’s true – it’s obviously harder to get the Iranians to stop developing nuclear weapons than it is to get the German government to close nuclear power stations. Thanks for commenting!