Following the release of confidential information from a US Air Force report claiming that US nuclear weapons in Europe are not properly taken care of, German politicians from across the political spectrum are calling for the weapons' removal.
"Atomic weapons in Germany are relics of the Cold War and need to go," Guido Westerwelle, head of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), told the Berliner Zeitung. This is just "one more reason to remove all of the tactical atomic weapons stored in Germany," Westerwelle added.
The information, included in an article published Thursday on the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), states that most nuclear weapons sites in Europe fail to meet US Department of Defense security standards and that several of the sites required "significant additional resources." According to the FAS article, which drew from a partially declassified version of a February 2008 report obtained by the FAS, the report reads, "inconsistencies in personnel, facilities, and equipment provided to the security mission by the host nation were evident as the team traveled from site to site.... Examples of areas noted in need of repair at several of the sites include support buildings, fencing, lighting and security systems."
The report came from an Air Force investigation that was launched after an August 2007 fiasco, when the US military lost track of six nuclear warheads being transported across the United States for 36 hours.
Although the number and location of nuclear weapons in Europe is not public knowledge, FAS estimates put their number at between 200 and 350 weapons stored in underground vaults at bases in Belgium, Holland, Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom and at Büchel Air Base in southwestern Germany.
The Air Force report also recommended reducing the number of bases storing nuclear weapons so as to limit their vulnerabilities, according to the FAS.
Westerwelle was joined in his calls for the weapons to be removed from Germany by other members of Germany's opposition. Former Environment Minister Jürgen Tritten, now deputy floor leader for the Green Party, told the Berliner Zeitung that Chancellor Angela Merkel must denounce all German involvement with nuclear weapons, as having them located in Germany presupposes the military's active participation in a nuclear war waged by NATO.
Gregor Gysi, co-leader of Germany's Left Party, also told the paper: "If the federal government had some spine, it would immediately call on the US to remove all nuclear weapons -- and preferably by destroying them."
Members of the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior member in Germany's governing coalition, are treating the details of the report much more gingerly. SPD foreign policy expert Niels Annen told the Berliner Zeitung that removing nuclear weapons from Germany and Europe would be a huge step forward in terms of nuclear disarmament.
Eckart von Klaeden, however, the foreign policy spokesman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, told the paper that the strategy of nuclear deterrence must be preserved. Although he agreed that high security standards are of supreme importance, he added that "we cannot relinquish them as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world. They protect us."