There are reportedly around 20 B61 nuclear bombs at the German Bundeswehr’s Büchel Air Base alone. If an armed conflict were to break out, German pilots flying Panavia Tornado aircraft would drop nuclear bombs on the “enemy”. American nuclear bombs are also stored at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and Aviano Air Base in Italy, as well as military air bases in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. An internal US Air Force investigation has determined that most nuclear weapon sites in Europe do not meet Department of Defense security requirements, and according to public opinion in many of the countries where they are stored, people are in favor of having these weapons withdrawn.
Following the termination of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, many European media sources are currently discussing the American medium-range nuclear-tipped missile launchers which have begun appearing in Europe, and the possible repercussions this move could have for European security. At the same time, reports have emphasized that Russia has yet to aim nuclear-tipped missiles at any of its neighbors, and the US withdrawal from the INF brings Europe a step closer to a nuclear apocalypse. The peace that has prevailed in Europe in recent years without being affected by the conflict between Russia and NATO, is now coming under threat. The US withdrawal from the INF has divided Europeans, and has also created divisions between the US and Europe. “It is unpleasant to be within range of missiles, no matter who they belong to,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly told Le Monde on September 7.
In this context, Washington’s move to increase its nuclear arsenal in Europe has been met with criticism by America’s European allies, who have good reason to fear that they may become victims of this provocative US policy, and that a nuclear conflict breaking out on the continent could mean the end of European civilization.
Researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick have used a modern global climate model to examine the possible repercussions of a nuclear war between two nuclear superpowers. According to the results of their study, if the US and Russia were to wage an all-out war, the whole world would suffer apocalyptic devastation, the planet would be plunged into a nuclear winter, and summer temperatures across large stretches of the Northern Hemisphere would even drop below freezing. As a result, not only the inhabitants of Europe, but nearly all of the Earth’s 7.7 billion people would starve to death due to famine. Scientists believe there is only one right thing to do, one action humankind can take to prevent this catastrophe, which is to destroy all nuclear weapons. The only question is: who will take the first step?
Moscow sent out a signal to try and reduce tensions back in September: Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a proposal to NATO, calling for a moratorium on deploying short- and medium-range missiles in Europe, in order to prevent another nuclear arms race. NATO rejected this proposal however, and an article published in the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard deduces that the US is interested in military escalation. Putin’s current initiative could well be an attempt to mitigate the damage. “Russia has already announced its decision not to deploy medium- and short-range missiles in Europe or other regions as long as the Americans refrain from doing so. We called on the United States and their allies to make similar commitments, but we have yet to see our calls met with any interest. We urge you to support our efforts by announcing a NATO-wide moratorium on the deployment of ground-based [missiles] similar to the one announced by Russia,” Vladimir Putin wrote in his letter, an excerpt of which was published in Der Standard.
Julie Wilhelmsen, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, spoke in an interview with the newspaper Dagbladet: “It is a dangerous situation for Europe that comes in a way. The United States has to place its medium-sized missiles in European countries like Poland or Norway to affect Russia. If European countries become the launch site for US mid-range rockets, they will also become a target for Russia.”
A survey conducted by polling group Kantar Germany following the termination of the INF Treaty on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles has showed the vast majority of Germans (86%) are against the further deployment of American nuclear weapons in Germany, and believe the German government should remove all of these tactile nuclear weapons. The results of these polls call on the German government, which remains undecided on this issue, to take real action.
On top of these statistics, some very significant remarks were made in an article published in the German-language business newspaper Handelsblatt, which noted that once the INF Treaty is terminated, Germany could become the main arena to host another nuclear arms race between Russia and NATO. After all, millions of Germans took to the streets in the 1980s to protest against the arms race. That is why the Social Democratic Party of Germany has not given up trying to remove US nuclear weapons from Germany. The recent termination of the INF Treaty gives them the opportunity to put the issue back on the agenda.
Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), who served as Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development when Gerhard Schröder was the German Chancellor, has come forward with an honorable proposal — to go from nuclear non-proliferation to banning nuclear weapons completely.
To put this proposal in context, only one country, South Africa, has ever renounced its own nuclear weapons. In the 1970s and 1980s, South Africa secretly assembled six nuclear warheads in defiance of powerful international opposition exerted through sanctions and a complete arms embargo. South Africa’s insistence on developing nuclear weapons as part of its national nuclear program, pro-actively assisted by American ally Israel, was mainly in response to regional tensions, as there had been ongoing conflicts in the region for many years. South Africa was a nuclear-weapon state for ten years. Nevertheless, South Africa agreed to give up its nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War, which was around the same time apartheid ended. These were crucial changes which redefined what the country perceived as threats.
Isn’t it about time other countries learned something from South Africa’s experience with the world’s deadliest weapons?
Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.