A Deep Dive on German Attitudes Toward Nuclear Arms, Ukraine, and Russia

April 2021

Steven Pifer spent an eventful five months at the Robert Bosch Academy.

As a Fellow of the Brookings – Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative, Steven Pifer spent the first half of 2021 at the Robert Bosch Academy. His intention: to explore German attitudes toward key security issues, including the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany and Europe, Russia as a challenge to the West, U.S. and NATO nuclear policy, and prospects for nuclear arms control.

A Virtual Success

Most of Steven Pifer’s meetings and events took place virtually. That did not keep him from conducting 74 individual meetings with political decision-makers from German parties and federal ministries, Bundestag members, foreign policy experts, journalists, and diplomats. He gave 12 talks and lectures across Germany and the U.S., and participated in more than ten panel discussions. “I had not fully expected the number of invitations to panel discussions and other sessions on nuclear issues, but found those interesting and believe that I may have had an impact on how some of the German participants now view these questions,” he says. Concluding his fellowship, he convened an exclusive, virtual round table on the topic “Ukraine – Where Next? German and U.S. Perspectives” in late May.

Surprisingly Timely: Russia and Nuclear Arms

Steven Pifer’s stay in Europe proved timely because of his expertise on Russia and nuclear arms control – and it made him a sought-after commentator in Berlin. On Russia, for example, he published articles in leading German newspapers such as Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit on the significance of Russia’s military movements near Ukraine, the imprisonment and treatment of Alexei Navalny, and the need for Western countries to impose preventative sanctions. For the Brookings Institution, he wrote a comprehensive briefing on Nord Stream 2. He gave an overview of its geopolitical implications and the role that Germany and its federal elections play in its completion. Beyond that, he appeared on several podcasts and published over 20 texts in U.S., European, and Ukrainian media.

New Perspectives

Steven Pifer says he spent more time at the Robert Bosch Academy speaking and writing about German attitudes on nuclear arms issues than he had anticipated. He explains that his contacts opened new perspectives, such as how the nuclear-sharing issue will play a role in coalition negotiations after Germany’s federal elections in fall 2021. He returned to the U.S. with a much deeper understanding of German attitudes on the key foreign policy issues. “In future writings on arms control, Russia, and Ukraine, I will be able to apply a more nuanced understanding of how the German government views these issues and how Berlin might weigh in during deliberations at NATO or in U.S.-EU venues,” he says.

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