German parliamentarians have come out in support of US president Barack Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world during a one-hour debate in Germany's Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, on Friday.
"The time is right for a new beginning on nuclear disarmament," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, referring to an agreement earlier this month between US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dimitry Medvedev, aimed at negotiating a new deal on strategic nuclear arms reduction.
In the debate, the German foreign minister outlined steps which he said were crucial for reaching the goal of a nuclear-free world.
He said US-Russian talks on a follow-up to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1), due to expire in December, must be successfully completed. In addition, Iran and North Korea - two countries thought to be on the threshold of becoming nuclear powers - must be convinced to enter talks on their nuclear programs as proposed by the US president. Other efforts must be made on reducing the number of short- and medium-range nuclear weapons and to unfreeze negotiations on conventional arms reduction.
Scrap Nukes in Germany
In separate motions, Germany’s opposition parties - the environmentalist Greens, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left party - called on the government to press for the removal of American tactical nuclear weapons based on German soil.
The weapons are a remnant of the Cold War, although details about their number and location are not known.
"It’s a myth that the scrapping of these weapons would go along with a loss of security for Germany and reduced influence in decision-making at NATO," the FDP’s foreign policy expert Werner Hoyer said in reference to the government’s stance that the weapons are important.
Gregor Gysi, the parliamentary leader of the Left party, also urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to abandon her policy of participation in NATO’s nuclear strategy.
Under NATO policy, non-nuclear alliance members must provide troops and technical assistance in the event of a nuclear strike. Greece and Canada have already opted out of this strategy.
Gysi said Germany should become the third NATO country to do so.
"The idea that a departure from this policy would diminish German influence in NATO is Cold War thinking," he added.
Cool Response by the Government
Eckart von Klaeden, foreign policy expert of Chancellor Merkel's conservative CDU, expressed skepticism about the demands.
"Unfortunately we’ve seen a rapid increase in the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world," he said.
Stressing that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, and that India and Pakistan are eager to upgrade their nuclear weapons technology, he said that the tactical nuclear arms based in Germany were an important part of NATO’s policy of nuclear deterrence.
"President Obama himself has stressed," he concluded, "that his drive towards disarmament must go hand in hand with maintaining security for his country and that of its NATO partners."
The Social Democratic-conservative coalition government used its large majority to turn down the motions put foward by the opposition.
A nuclear-free Germany can only be part of NATO’s disarmament inititative, they said, and not the start of it.