Annalena Baerbock stood at the desk in the UN plenary hall for just ten minutes on Monday. It is more of a greeting than a keynote speech that the Federal Foreign Minister brought with her to New York. That's the norm here. But Baerbock's message couldn't be clearer. While some in Germany are asking whether Berlin should strive for nuclear weapons because of Russian aggression and the American longing for isolationism, Baerbock makes a consistent plea for the non-proliferation of precisely these weapons.
"I'm here to defend the rules-based international order," says Baerbock. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, more than 50 years old, is "not just a piece of paper". He embodies one of the fundamental obligations of mankind, namely: “to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons; ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.” The common goal is: “a world without nuclear weapons”.
191 countries are members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It states that only the US, Russia, China, France and the UK can have nuclear weapons. The four other suspected nuclear powers India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have either not joined the treaty or have withdrawn from it. The contract provides for a review of its functioning every five years.
Baerbock traveled to the Hudson River to attend the NPT Review Conference. This will be discussed in New York for three weeks starting Monday. But as far from reality as Baerbock's vision sounds, it attacks Russia's behavior as clearly, especially since the "ruthless nuclear rhetoric" that Moscow has repeatedly displayed. The nuclear power Russia is thus questioning everything that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has achieved in five decades.
Baerbock knows that Russia's war on Ukraine - which once voluntarily surrendered its nuclear weapons - and Moscow's threats to use nuclear weapons increase, not decrease, the urge for such a deterrent. She doesn't bring it up, just hints at it, saying: “I'm not naive.” Her expectations of the conference are modest. The principles enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must be upheld.
The German Foreign Minister recently visited Japan, and so she reports in New York about an 82-year-old man she met in Nagasaki. This survivor of the August 1945 nuclear explosion - initiated by the USA - told her about the bright light of the explosion, about death and dying as a result of cancer. This man appealed to her: "Make sure that people are never injured by nuclear weapons again."
One country addresses Baerbock directly. "Iran has no justification for many of its nuclear activities," she says. For example, no non-nuclear weapon state needs uranium enriched to 60 percent. Recent statements from Tehran are "deeply disturbing". Iran must immediately return to the nuclear deal.
Baerbock doesn't say a word about the peaceful use of nuclear energy in her speech - while in Germany an extended nuclear lifespan is being debated and the SPD and the Greens, including Baerbock, are beginning the first relaxation exercises.
A close ally and “friend” of Baerbock dedicates himself all the more extensively to this topic: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a man who is politically more attached to Baerbock. He speaks just a few minutes before Baerbock at the same desk and has several small provocations ready for the German Green Minister.
The US continued to promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology, Blinken says - after he criticized Russia and explained the position of the nuclear power US on the NPT. "Nuclear energy technologies are helping the world reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and combat the climate crisis," said the US Secretary of State. He immediately lists other advantages of nuclear technology, such as increasing crop yields and in the fight for global food security.
This technology also helps “detect dangerous diseases and prevent the next pandemic”. What Blinken says here, he shares with the world public. But the physical presence of Baerbock in New York and the chronological order of the speakers make it seem like an indirect appeal from Washington to Berlin to please demonize nuclear power less than usual in these tense times.
Spicy for Baerbock, for Germany: Blinken is not a crazy Republican, but a Democrat, representative of a left-liberal government, a US government that has dedicated itself to environmental and climate protection like no other before.
The United States and Great Britain see the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a way to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, says Blinken. The US, on the verge of passing the largest climate package in its history, is backing clean energy innovation, Blinken says. Here he does not refer to wind turbines, but to "small nuclear reactors to combat climate change, which ensure reliable access to nuclear energy".
You have to know that there is actually no debate about the use of nuclear power in the USA, not even left-wing Democrats question it. Criticism of nuclear energy plays no role in the election campaigns. Even more, a nuclear phase-out is taboo in the US. Nuclear power contributes nine percent to the US energy mix.
Rather astonished, especially in these times, the USA observes German rigor, the attempt to phase out nuclear power and coal at the same time (and the crass dependence on Russian gas).
Just last month, Blinken reports, US President Joe Biden announced the provision of 14 million dollars "to support the construction of small modular reactor power plants in Romania that will deliver emission-free nuclear energy". And where of all places did Biden do that? This hint from Blinken's mouth also sounds like a small reminder to Baerbock. Biden announced that help for the small modular reactor power plants for Romania at the G-7 summit in Germany of all places.