Column  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2009.12.17

The New German Government and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

On September 27, about a month after the general election in Japan, the federal election took place in Germany. The coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Christian Social Union (CSU) held their position as the majority, with a slight increase in their seats. Their principal opposition, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which, prior to the election, had held just one seat less than the CDU/CSU coalition, suffered a substantial loss, resulting in their having the fewest seats since the end of the Second World War. By contrast, a third party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), gained 50% more seats. As a result, the pre-election grand coalition of CDU/CSU (conservative) and SPD (center left) was dissolved and CDU/CSU and FDP formed a new central right government. The return of this central right government after ten years was big news. Japanese newspapers, however, were more focused on reporting about the new Hatoyama government, and did not devote significant reporting to the German federal election.

I am afraid to say that Japan does not pay much attention to Germany in general. As distinct from the U.S. or Asia, Japan has an impression that Europe is politically, economically, and culturally distant (though one should ponder whether this is really the case) and is difficult to understand. Before WWII, a Japanese Prime Minister even grieved that "The state of affairs in Europe is complicated and mysterious" and, in distress, stepped down from the post. This was when Japan which had earlier entered the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany, was fighting against the Soviet Union in Manchuria at Lake Khasan and Khalkhin Gol. Suddenly, however, Germany and Russia signed a Non-Aggression Pact, which endangered the Japanese Government's policy of uniting with Germany to fight against the Soviets.

Ever since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has regarded Germany as an important country and a great source for study, and many Japanese still revere German capabilities. Regrettably, though, Japanese knowledge of Germany is fragmentary. Therefore, it is necessary for us to deepen our knowledge of Germany, as well as of Europe, in a more comprehensive manner. With this lesson in mind, I'd like to discuss the nuclear policies of the new German government.

Germany, since the oil crisis in the early 1970s, began to promote the nuclear generator of power and built 19 nuclear reactors, of which 17 are currently in operation, providing about a quarter of the country's electricity demand.

After the 1986 nuclear reactor accident in Chernobyl, however, the anti-nuclear power movements grew strong. With the demise of the conservative government in 1998, a coalition government of SDP and the Green Party came into power, decided to ban nuclear power and revised the Atomic Energy Act.

But Germany has been struggling with controlling greenhouse gas emissions and higher energy prices and, recently, has been looking into reconsidering the ban on the nuclear power. With the SDP's big loss in the recent elections, the new coalition government of CDU/CSU and FDP, which have been advocating for a review of the ban, is likely to change Germany's nuclear power policies. All of this is the internal development in Germany.

As for external affairs, even before the new government, Germany, along with the P5 of the United Nations, has been participating in negotiations with Iran about its nuclear development. Japan should pay attention to this. First, Iran's nuclear development is a concern to the global community and it is natural for the P5 to negotiate with Iran, because of their special status at the UN and in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT,) but Germany and Japan do not enjoy such special status.

Germany was included in the P5-Iran talks because it was one of the three European Union member states which had been negotiating with Iran prior to the P5-Iran talks. Germany has, since the 1970s and as a part of its efforts to promote peaceful use of nuclear power, been cooperating with Iran and had agreed with Iran to construct nuclear reactors for that country. Siemens which is the constructor of all of nuclear reactors in Germany was going to be Iran's supplier as well. So, Germany had deep ties with Iran's nuclear development program. This is only by way of historical background and, in and of itself, does not entitle Germany to join P5 in the Iranian negotiations. Secondly, Italy is critical of the fact that negotiations with Iran are handled only by the P5 plus Germany; the negotiation or nuclear development with Iran seemed to be one of the hot subjects for debate at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila.

Italy abandoned and then resumed nuclear power before Germany. It is the largest European importer of Iranian oil. So it is natural for Italy to pay close attention to the fact that Iran is developing nuclear power in case Iranian oil is exhausted.

Thirdly, is Germany's joining the P5 in their negotiations with Iran related to the potential expansion of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)? I cannot go into greater details on this point for want of space, but one of the conditions for permanent membership in the UNSC is whether a state is capable of discharging its international duties, and not just protecting its own national interest. Nuclear negotiations with Iran are an opportune chance for Germany to participate in a negotiation that would meet this criterion. Japan and Italy are keen to join the P5, just as Germany is, and we, in this regard, should pay close attention to Germany.