By David Swanson, Executive Director of World BEYOND War, and Heinrich Buecker, der World BEYOND War Landeskoordinator in Berlin
Billboards are going up in Berlin that proclaim “Nuclear Weapons Are Now Illegal. Get Them Out of Germany!”
What can this possibly mean? Nuclear weapons may be unpleasant, but what exactly is newly illegal about them, and what do they have to do with Germany?
Since 1970, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, most nations have been forbidden to acquire nuclear weapons, and those already possessing them — or at least those party to the treaty, such as the United States — have been obliged to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Needless to say, the U.S. and other nuclear-armed governments have spent 50 years not doing this, and in recent years the U.S. government has torn up treaties limiting nuclear weapons, and invested heavily in building more of them.
Under the same treaty, for 50 years, the U.S. government has been obliged “not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly.” Yet, the U.S. military keeps nuclear weapons in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey. We can dispute whether that state of affairs violates the treaty, but not whether it outrages millions of people.
Three years ago, 122 nations voted to create a new treaty to ban the very possession or sale of nuclear weapons, and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize. On January 22, 2021, this new treaty becomes law in over 50 nations that have formally ratified it, a number that is rising steadily and is widely expected to reach a majority of the world’s nations in the near future.
What difference does it make for nations with no nuclear weapons to ban them? What does it have to do with Germany? Well, the U.S. government keeps nuclear weapons in Germany with the permission of the German government, some of whose members say they oppose it, while others claim they’re powerless to change it. Yet others claim that moving the weapons out of Germany would violate the Nonproliferation Treaty, by which interpretation keeping them in Germany violates that treaty too.
Can the U.S. government be brought up to international standards? Well, most nations banned landmines and cluster bombs. The United States did not. But the weapons were stigmatized. Global investors took their funding away. U.S. companies stopped making them, and the U.S. military reduced and may have finally ceased its use of them. Divestment from nuclear weapons by major financial institutions has taken off in recent years, and can safely be expected to accelerate.
Change, including on such practices as slavery and child labor, has always been far more global than one might infer from the typical self-centered U.S. history text. Globally, nuclear weapons possession is becoming thought of as the behavior of a rogue state — well, a rogue state and its collaborators.
Can the German government be brought up to international standards? Belgium has already come very close to evicting its nuclear weapons. Sooner rather than later, a nation with U.S. nukes will become the first to toss them out and to ratify the new treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Even sooner, some other member of NATO will probably sign onto the new treaty, putting it at odds with NATO’s involvement in the hosting of nuclear weapons in Europe. Eventually Europe as a whole will find its way to the anti-apocalypse position. Does Germany want to lead the way to progress or bring up the rear?
New nuclear weapons that could be deployed in Germany, if Germany allows it, are horrifyingly characterized by U.S. military planners as “more usable,” despite being far more powerful than what destroyed Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Do the people of Germany support this? Certainly we have never been consulted. Keeping nuclear weapons in Germany is not democratic. It is also not sustainable. It takes funding badly needed for people and environmental protection and puts it into environmentally destructive weaponry that increases the risk of nuclear holocaust. Scientists’ Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than ever before. If you want to help dial it back, or even eliminate it, you can get involved with World BEYOND War.