Germany is using a meeting to review the effectiveness of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on Monday to urge the United States to remove its nuclear missiles from German soil.
The Statue of Liberty in a bomb -- anti-nuclear demos in Berlin Monday
Germany will take the opportunity of a meeting in New York on Monday on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to officially increase pressure on the United States to remove its Cold War-era nuclear weapons from German soil.
The meeting of some 190 nations, convened to address how seriously the world's fight against the spread of atomic weapons has been imperiled since the NPT went into effect in 1970, will give Germany the chance to directly air its concerns over the 150 or so land-based US nuclear weapons still deployed on German soil.
"The nuclear weapons still housed in Germany are a relic from the Cold War," said leader of the Green Party Claudia Roth in Monday's Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "There is no need for them to be there. They should be removed and destroyed." She added that while nuclear states continued to hesitate in disarmament issues, the NPT would be weakened further.
Roth was not alone in calling for the missiles to go. Social Democrat Gert Weisskirchen from the German foreign ministry and Liberal Democrat leader Guido Westerwelle echoed the call for the missiles, mostly based at the Rammstein and Büchel air bases, to be removed. The removal of the missiles would "add credibility and strengthen negotiations with other countries," Westerwelle said.
German politicians join in call for nuke removal
Last week, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for progress to be made on strengthening disarmament measures -- but an opposition demand that the US pull its nuclear weapons from Germany fell on deaf ears.
Ahead of Monday's five-yearly review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called Thursday for progress on strengthening disarmament measures.
"We have two expectations from the talks," Schröder said in reference to the NPT conference. "The first is that we reinforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as it is now and we need to put all our efforts into that," he said. "The second is that there is a credible disarmament mechanism and we hope we will see movement from countries on this point."
Continued purpose of missiles in question
But the opposition Liberal Democrats (FDP), with backing from the Green Party, went further and called for an immediate withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons from Germany -- a surprise move from a party generally known for its staunchly pro-American stance.
"It's time to reconsider whether their presence still serves a relevant purpose," Liberal Democrat MP Werner Hoyer told German weekly Der Spiegel. Harking back to the days of the Iron Curtain, most of the 480 US nuclear weapons stored in Europe are located in Germany, strategically closest to Eastern Europe.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will be attending the NPT meeting on behalf of Germany and politicians are urging him to make an official case for the removal of missiles will fall to him. The call, however, is likely to go unheeded as Washington has more pressing concerns as the dual crises in North Korea and Iran worsen and threaten to undermine the treaty further.
Rogue states offering new threats
The treaty seems increasingly flawed if not outright ineffective ahead of the conference at the United Nations. Since the treaty was signed, the world has faced a new era of "rogue" states, international nuclear smuggling rings, and trans-national terrorist groups seeking weapons of mass destruction.
"The world has changed but the regime has not changed with it," the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in a recent study.
Events over the past few days have shown how critical the situation is. The United States reported that a short-range missile was fired early Sunday from the east coast of North Korea. It flew about 100 kilometers (62 miles) until it fell into the Sea of Japan, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told CNN .
North Korea ups the stakes with missile test
US State Department spokesman Kurtis Coope said: "We have long been concerned about North Korea's missile program and activities and urge North Korea to continue its moratorium on ballistic missile tests." North Korea shocked the world in August 1998 by firing a long-range missile over Japan that landed in the Pacific Ocean.
On Thursday, US Defense Intelligence Agency director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby told US lawmakers that North Korea is believed capable of arming a long-range missile that could each the United States with a nuclear warhead.
North Korea is currently free of international surveillance of its nuclear activities. It kicked out International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in December 2002, withdrew from the NPT the following month and now claims to have made atomic bombs.
Iran complains of EU ineffectiveness in talks
Iran is showing the strains in the non-proliferation treaty in another way as the United States claims the Islamic Republic is secretly developing atomic weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear power program that is under IAEA safeguards.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Sunday dismissed Washington's concerns over Tehran's nuclear program, the day after Iran said it was unhappy with the progress of nuclear negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, and warned it may resume uranium conversion activities in defiance of a November agreement.
The European Union, backed by the United States, wants Iran to halt all nuclear fuel cycle activities. In return, the EU is offering in talks that began in December a package of trade, security and technology incentives.
Iran has said repeatedly that its current enrichment suspension is temporary and voluntary, as it insists on its right under the NPT to conduct nuclear activities for peaceful purposes.