“Nuclear weapons on German territory do not heighten our security: just the opposite,” and the time has come to finally withdraw them. This is the message being put forward by the top leaders of the SPD, thus reopening a 20-year-old debate on the NATO nuclear arsenal stored at German military bases.
The Christian Democrats and Liberals are in clear disagreement, the former saying that this proposal is “naïve,” the latter that it “would make former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt roll in his grave.” However, the “right wing” of the Social Democrats themselves stands out as one of the strongest opponents to the proposal: from Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (“Unilateral steps that undermine trust will not bring us any closer to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world”) to former SPD secretary Sigmar Gabriel, now president of the pro-US Atlantik Brücke think tank and member of the Trilateral Commission.
“Nuclear sharing is a legacy of the Cold War. Unfortunately, after the end of the conflict, disarmament was temporary and insufficient. That is why we must now remedy the situation, due to the excessive number of weapons and the changed considerations about their use. In 2018, Donald Trump reformed the US nuclear doctrine, and today almost $2 trillion are being spent on rearmament worldwide. Wouldn’t it be better to use this money to fight the pandemic and rebuild the economy? What is the true enemy of humanity today?” asked the leader of the SPD group, Rolf Mützenich, one of the leaders of the party’s left wing.
SPD co-secretary Norbert Walter-Borjans took an even more aggressive position, saying that he “takes a clear position against the stationing, control over their use and even more so against the use of nuclear weapons,” which are “inhuman” weapons, especially at a time when “the unpredictable US president questions the unconditional trust in the most important allies and sees the use of ‘small’ nuclear weapons as an option.”
The “nuclear” problem is a menace for the Great Coalition: the refusal of US bombs also comes with the veto by the SPD against replacing the old Tornado bombers, the only planes of the Luftwaffe that can carry nuclear weapons.
It is no coincidence that the first one to protest vociferously was Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU secretary and Defense Minister: “Those who want to give up these weapons would weaken our security. As long as there are nuclear states outside our community of values, we will always need a strong negotiating position.” However, when looking at the legal provisions in force, the SPD’s proposal has a very solid basis.
Article 3 of the “Two plus Four Treaty” on German reunification of March 15, 1991 (preserved in the UNESCO document archive) states that united Germany “will abide by [the] commitments” to the “renunciation of the manufacture and possession of and control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.”
Accordingly, in June of the same year, the nuclear arsenal held underground at the Russian bases in the former DDR was decommissioned, as provided for in the agreement between Bonn and Berlin countersigned by the US, Russia, France and the United Kingdom.
Five years later, the Court of Justice at The Hague ruled that both the use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons are contrary to international law, although it “omitted” to ban them in cases of “defense from an extreme threat.” This is the loophole that still allows Washington to keep nuclear bombs in the bunkers at military airports in Germany, as well as in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey. As revealed by the confidential cables sent by the U.S. embassy in Berlin (published by Wikileaks), 20 atomic bombs of the B61 model are currently stored at the Büchel air base in Rhineland-Palatinate.
The presence of these weapons is hardly a secret. Already in 2009, the former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier—currently the President of the German Republic—officially called for the total withdrawal of American bombs from German soil. At the time, the Liberal Guido Westerwelle also agreed. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel was opposed, insisting that any negotiations to this effect should be undertaken within NATO, in the name of multilateralism.
The stalemate imposed by “Mutti” in 2010 led to a lawsuit being filed against the federal government in the Berlin District Court, but that made a difference. Nor did the fact that during the same year, the Bundestag approved with a large majority a resolution calling for the government in Berlin to “put forward to the US ally the request to withdraw its nuclear weapons.”
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