“Top German politicians want US nuclear weapons out”
Fall Quarterly 2017
By John LaForge
Photos by Zara Brown, Marion Küpker and John LaForge.
The series of actions that occurred at the base during the “20 weeks for 20 bombs” brought wide media attention to the US weapons, prompting serious criticism from leading German politicians. A brief timeline of “international week” events shows how the work may have moved officials to speak out.
Upon its arrival in Germany, four members of the 11-person US delegation held a press conference in Frankfurt accompanied by Marion Küpker, the international coordinator for the national peace organization DFG-VK, and the German-wide campaign. News of the unprecedented US delegation and our plans for protest was reported in the Frankfurt Journal (“Activists from the US land in Frankfurt: Campaign against US nuclear weapons in the [southwest Germany]”), the online magazine FOCUS (“Nuclear fighters receive support from the US”), the magazine Volksfreund [People’s Friend], and elsewhere.
“Konstantin Wecker sings for the peace,” was news all across southwest Germany the day after the well-known singer-songwriter performed at the “Music Not Bombs” gathering July 15, near the base’s main gate. Between 300 and 400 concert-goers crowded the roundabout directly in front of the entrance. Other papers reported: “Music for Peace: Wecker Supports Activists,” and “Action day against nuclear weapons: Today in Büchel.”
Five peace activists including four US delegates traipsed deep into the air base, clipping, undetected, through four chain-link fences using wire cutters, and climbed to the top of a large sod-covered cement bunker or reinforced hanger. The five remained there over an hour before guards were alerted. Detained for an hour and ID’d by military and civilian police, the group was released around 3 a.m. without charges. As we go to press, still no charges.
News of the “go-in” action was reported widely, and the Rhein-Zeitung used Nukewatch’s own humorous moniker: “‘Prison Gang’ Inspects Büchel Air Force Base—Peace movement claims five activists succeeded in penetrating the inner security area.”
Journalists asked weapons analysts and Air Force officials in Berlin whether the activists got near the US nuclear bombs. When Air Force headquarters was asked to explain the event, they assured the press that “security had been maintained.” This news went nation-wide. Yet the press and information center of the Luftwaffe in Berlin did acknowledge the breach of security. “The Luftwaffe confirmed that on the night of 18 July, five persons were in the military security area of the airport, where they illegally gained access by cutting fences with cutting tools,” RZ reported, referring to the regional daily Rhein-Zeitung. Another widely reported story quoted, “Military expert [Otfried] Nassauer: ‘Prison Gang’ was probably not in the sensitive area of the Büchel airfield.”
Eslayer Nachrichlen, the daily paper of Nuremberg with a circulation of 300,000, interviewed four of the US delegates at length (Urfer, Platte, Gilbert and Baggarly), and its detailed story and photos ran under the headline: “At night on the atom bunker”—Joint protest of peace activists from the region and the USA.”
Criticism of security at the Büchel base reached a high point when Green Party Bundestag Deputy Tabea Rössner openly criticized the security services. Her questions in the parliament about the fence-cutting go-in action prompted the headline: “Is Air Base Büchel just as safe as an amusement park?”
The accompanying article—circulated widely on social media—reported that “The Greens demanded information about the safety situation at Büchel air base. The reason is an action by activists who entered the inner security area of the airbase. “The federal government must fully explain the incident,” said Deputy Rössner of Mainz [near Büchel]. “If peace activists are in the inner security area of the Tactical Air Force squadron, Luftwaffe, Büchel, then that can mean only one thing: The security concept is more than stupid,” Rössner complained.
This is not a trifle, even if those responsible would try to downplay the incident. “It is more than frightening that at a time of significantly increased terror, the safety measures of such a site fall below the level of a theme park,” Rössner said.
Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat Party candidate for Chancellor in the upcoming national elections, unexpectedly called for the ouster of the US nuclear weapons. Reuters, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Politico and major German media reported, “German rival of Chancellor [Angela] Merkel vows to remove US nuclear weapons from the country”; “Searching for another point of difference, Schulz pledged on [August 22] to have US nuclear weapons withdrawn from German territory if, against the odds, he defeats Merkel”; and “Germany’s Schulz says he would demand US withdraw nuclear arms.” The LA Times reported that Schulz said at a campaign rally, “As chancellor, I’d push for the ejection of nuclear weapons stored in Germany.” Schulz also said Trump’s threats against North Korea “show us more than ever before how urgently we need to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and encourage disarmament.”
Conservative politicians and editors attacked Schulz as unrealistic or uninformed about military matters, but the criticism was short-lived when Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel made a surprise endorsement of Schulz’s proposal.
German Foreign Minister Gabriel, at a press conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, DC, joined Schulz’s call for ridding Germany of the US weapons. Minister Gabriel’s surprise announcement included his straightforward admission that, “I agreed with Mr. Schulz’s point that we need to get rid of the nuclear weapons that are in our country.” The news was startling and media across Germany and the world reported: “Foreign Minister joins call to withdraw US nukes from Germany,” “German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has supported Social Democrat (SPD) leader Martin Schulz’s pledge that he will push for the removal of US nuclear warheads from Germany if elected Chancellor.”
The International Business Times and the Financial Tribune online declared on Aug. 31, “Top German Politicians Want US Nuclear Weapons Out.” The reports noted, “Germany’s top diplomat has backed the suggestion of SPD leader and Chancellor hopeful Martin Schulz, who has pledged to rid his country of US nukes. Washington, meanwhile, is pressing ahead to modernize its nuclear stockpile.”
The issue of ending US nuclear weapons deployment in Germany has been raised by top officials in the past. In 2009, then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the B61 stockpile in Germany was “militarily obsolete” and urged the US to remove them.