Old B-61: primary thermonuclear weapon in US stockpile since the end of the Cold War.Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.It was already announced some years ago, but last week
Germany woke up to the fact that new US nuclear weapons are actually going to
be deployed at its base in Büchel. Frontal
21, a programme on the second main TV channel reported last Tuesday that
preparation for this deployment was due to begin at the German air force base.
The runway is being improved, perimeter fences strengthened, new maintenance
trucks arriving and the Tornado delivery aircraft will get new software.
It is a little known fact: Germany (and four other European
countries) host nuclear weapons as part of NATO “nuclear sharing”. This means
that in a nuclear attack the US can load its bombs onto German (or Belgian,
Italian, Turkish and Dutch) aircraft and the pilots of those countries will
drop them on an enemy target. This arrangement pre-dates the Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT), which explicitly disallows any transfer of nuclear weapons from a
nuclear weapon state to a non-nuclear weapon state, thus undermining the spirit
of the treaty.
This new nuclear bomb – the B61-12 – is intended to replace
all its older versions and be able to destroy more targets than previous
models. It is touted by the nuclear laboratories as an “all-in-one” bomb, a
“smart” bomb, that does not simply get tossed out of an aircraft, but can be
guided and hit its target with great precision using exactly the right amount
of explosive strength to only destroy what needs to be destroyed. Sound good?
Not to us – a guided nuclear bomb with mini-nuke capability
could well lower the threshold for use. And the use of any kind of nuclear
weapon would lead to the use of more nuclear weapons – this we know from the
policies and planning of all nuclear weapon states. It has already been well
established by three evidence-based conferences in recent years on the
humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that any use of nuclear weapons would
have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.
This new “magic bomb” is not yet with us. It is still being
developed and is planned to be deployed in five years time, if there are no
more delays. The development of the B61-12 – euphemistically called a “Life
Extension Programme” although it is a full redesign not just an update – has
fortunately taken longer than intended, giving us more time to convince
European leaders what a bad idea it is to deploy new nuclear weapons in Europe.
The debate is already under way in the “host” countries,
most prominently in the Netherlands where the parliament has already voted not
to task the new F35 aircraft with a nuclear role. However, the Dutch government
is not listening. The German Bundestag voted in 2010 to get rid of the B61, and
the government was nominally in favour, but after the change of government in
2013, Foreign Minister Steinmeier put the decision on ice, quoting the new
Yet the current confrontation between NATO and Russia needs
deescalation, not rearmament. Sending a signal to Russia that NATO is
modernising its European infrastructure and deploying new high-tech bombs is
bound to elicit a reaction. Even as we write, reports are coming in that Russia
will respond by withdrawing from the INF-Treaty, basing SS-26/Iskander missiles
in Kaliningrad (didn't they already do that?) and targeting Germany with
And what will be the NATO response to all of those threats?
When will this escalation become hysteria and the first ‘shot across the bows’
start a nuclear war? Nuclear deterrence is the archetypal security dilemma. You
have to keep threatening to use nuclear weapons to make it work. And the more
you threaten, the more likely it is that they will be used.
This is the moment where nuclear weapon-free countries need
to call out for a ban on nuclear weapons to stop this madness. It is also the
right time for nuclear co-dependents, like Germany, to make up its mind to give
its nuclear dependency up.
Deploying new nuclear weapons is forbidden by the NPT, which
obligates its members to end the arms race. The transfer of nuclear weapons
from the US to Germany and any plans to do so also undermine the NPT. As a
responsible member state of this important treaty, it is time to denounce
nuclear weapons and to join the international community of nuclear weapon-free
countries that is signing the ‘Humanitarian Pledge’, calling for the legal gap
to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons to be closed. Time for Germany to
show some real leadership for nuclear disarmament.
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