Germany and weapons of mass destruction

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Although Germany has the technical capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, since World War II it has generally refrained from producing those weapons. However, Germany participates in the NATO nuclear weapons sharing arrangements and trains for delivering United States nuclear weapons.

Germany is among the powers which possess the ability to create nuclear weapons, but has agreed not to do so under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Two Plus Four Treaty. Along with most other industrial nations, Germany produces components that can be used for creating deadly agents, chemical weapons, and other WMD. Alongside other companies from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, India, the United States, Belgium, Spain, and Brazil, German companies provided Iraq with precursors of chemical agents used by Iraq to engage in chemical warfare during the Iran–Iraq War.[1]


World War I[edit]

One of the major combatants in World War I, Germany was the first to develop and use chemical weapons such as mustard gas and phosgene. These kinds of weapon were subsequently also employed by the Allies.

The use of chemical weapons in warfare during the Great War was allegedly in violation of clause IV.2 'Declaration concerning the Prohibition of the Use of Projectiles with the Sole Object to Spread Asphyxiating Poisonous Gases' of the 1899 Hague Declarations, and more explicitly in violation of the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, which explicitly forbade the use of "poison or poisoned weapons" in warfare.[2][3]

World War II[edit]

During World War II, Germany conducted an unsuccessful project to develop nuclear weapons. German scientists also did research on other chemical weapons during the war, including human experimentation with mustard gas. The first nerve gas, tabun, was invented by the German researcher Gerhard Schrader in 1937.

During the war, Germany stockpiled tabun, sarin, and soman but refrained from their use on the battlefield. In total, Germany produced about 78,000 tons of chemical weapons.[4] By 1945 the nation had produced about 12,000 tons of tabun and 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of sarin.[4] Delivery systems for the nerve agents included 105 mm and 150 mm artillery shells, a 250 kg bomb and a 150 mm rocket.[4] Even when the Soviet army neared Berlin, Adolf Hitler decided not to use tabun in a last ditch effort against the Soviets. The use of tabun was opposed by Hitler's Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, who, in 1943, brought IG Farben's nerve agent expert Otto Ambros to report to Hitler. He informed Hitler that the Allies had stopped publication of research into organophosphates (a type of organic compound that encompasses nerve agents) at the beginning of the war, that the essential nature of nerve gases had been published as early as the turn of the century, and that he believed that Allies could not have failed to produce agents like tabun. This was not in fact the case, but Hitler accepted Ambros's deduction, and Germany's tabun arsenal remained unused.[5]

Cold War and beyond[edit]

As part of the accession negotiations of West Germany to the Western European Union at the London and Paris Conferences, the country was forbidden (by Protocol No III to the revised Treaty of Brussels of 23 October 1954) to possess nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. This was reiterated in domestic law by the War Weapons Control Act (Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz).[6] During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were deployed in Germany by both the United States (in West Germany) and the Soviet Union (in East Germany). Despite not being among the nuclear powers during the Cold War, Germany had a political and military interest in the balance of nuclear capability. In 1977, after the Soviet deployment of the new SS-20 IRBM, West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt expressed concern over the capability of NATO's nuclear forces compared to those of the Soviets. Later in the Cold War under the chancellorship of Helmut Kohl, the West German government expressed concern about the progress of the nuclear arms race. Particularly, they addressed the eagerness of Germany's NATO allies, the United States and United Kingdom, to seek restrictions on long-range strategic weapons while modernizing their short-range and tactical nuclear systems. Germany wanted to see such short range systems eliminated, because their major use was not deterrence but battlefield employment. Germany itself, straddling the division of the Eastern and Western blocs in Europe, was a likely battlefield in any escalation of the Cold War and battlefield use of nuclear weapons would be devastating to German territory.

In 1957 the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) was created to promote the use of nuclear energy in Europe. Under cover of the peaceful use of nuclear power, West Germany hoped to develop the basis of a nuclear weapons programme with France and Italy.[7] The West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told his cabinet that he "wanted to achieve, through EURATOM, as quickly as possible, the chance of producing our own nuclear weapons".[8] The idea was short-lived. In 1958 Charles De Gaulle became President of France, and Germany and Italy were excluded from the weapons project. Euratom continued as the European agency for the peaceful use of nuclear technology, falling under the institutions of the European Economic Community in 1967.

Protest in Bonn against the deployment of Pershing II missiles in West Germany, 1981

Germany ratified the Geneva Protocol on 25 April 1929, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on 2 May 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention on 7 April 1983 and the Chemical Weapons Convention on 12 August 1994. These dates signify ratification by the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), during the division of Germany the NPT and the BWC were ratified separately by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) (on 31 October 1969 and 28 November 1972, respectively).

Before German reunification in 1990, both West and East Germany ratified the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. Germany reaffirmed its renunciation of the manufacture, possession, and control of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In addition to banning a foreign military presence in the former East Germany, the treaty also banned nuclear weapons or nuclear weapon carriers to be stationed in the area, making it a permanent Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. The German military was allowed to possess conventional weapons systems with nonconventional capabilities, provided that they were outfitted for a purely conventional role.

The United States provides about 60 tactical B61 nuclear bombs for use by Germany under a NATO nuclear weapons sharing agreement. The bombs are stored at Büchel Air Base and in time of war would be delivered by Luftwaffe Panavia Tornado warplanes. As well as being a breach of the Protocols to the (revised) Treaty of Brussels (terminated in 2010), many countries believe this violates Articles I and II of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), where Germany has committed:

"... not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly ... or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices ...".

The U.S. insists its forces control the weapons and that no transfer of the nuclear bombs or control over them is intended "unless and until a decision were made to go to war, at which the [NPT] treaty would no longer be controlling", so there is no breach of the NPT. However German pilots and other staff practise handling and delivering the U.S. nuclear bombs.[9] Even if the NATO argument is considered legally correct, such peacetime operations could arguably contravene both the objective and the spirit of the NPT.

Like other countries of its size and wealth, Germany has the skills and resources to create its own nuclear weapons quite quickly if desired. The Zippe-type centrifuge was, indeed, invented by captured Germans working in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and URENCO operates a centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in Germany. There are also several power reactors in Germany that could be used to produce bomb-grade plutonium if desired.

In 2007, former German defence secretary Rupert Scholz stated that Germany should strive to become a nuclear power.[10] In September 2007 the French president Nicolas Sarkozy offered Germany to participate in the control over the French nuclear arsenal.[11] Chancellor Merkel and foreign minister Steinmeier declined the offer however, stating that Germany "had no interest in possessing nuclear weapons".[12] Due to concerns over Vladimir Putin's actions, Merkel reversed her position, stating to the German press, "As long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, we need to have these capabilities, as NATO says."[13]

NATO member states, including Germany, decided not to sign the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a binding agreement for negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, supported by more than 120 nations.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Al Isa, I. K. (1-12-2003) Fresh information on the Iraqi chemical program; Iraqi money and German brains cooperated in building chemical weapons. Al Zaman, London. Federation of atomic scientists. Referenced 21-11-2006.
  2. ^ Telford Taylor (1 November 1993). The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-3168-3400-9. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  3. ^ Thomas Graham, Damien J. Lavera (May 2003). Cornerstones of Security: Arms Control Treaties in the Nuclear Era. University of Washington Press. pp. 7–9. ISBN 0-2959-8296-9. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Smart, Jeffery K. Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare Archived 26 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine: Chapter 2 – History of Chemical and Biological Warfare: An American Perspective, (PDF: p. 14), Borden Institute, Textbooks of Military Medicine, PDF via Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, accessed 4 January 2009.
  5. ^ Paxman, J.; Harris, R. (2002). A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare (2002 Rando edition). Random House Press. ISBN 0-8129-6653-8 pp.82–84.
  6. ^ "Kriegswaffenkontrollgesetz". War Weapons Control Act (last modified 11 Oct 2002).
  7. ^ Die Erinnerungen, Franz Josef Strauss – Berlin 1989, p. 314
  8. ^ Germany, the NPT, and the European Option (WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor)
  9. ^ Nassauer, O. (2001) Nuclear sharing: is it legal?
  10. ^ Tagesspiegel: Ex-Minister: Atomwaffen für Deutschland 27 January 2007 (in German)
  11. ^ Beste, Ralf; Simons, Stefan (17 September 2007). "Thanks but No Thanks – Sarko's Nuke Offer Bombs with Berlin". Der Spiegel. Archived from the original on 3 May 2017. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  12. ^ Spiegel Online International
  13. ^ Deutsche Presse-Agentur, "Merkel Shifts Stance to Say NATO Must Keep Nuclear Defence," 22 October 2010
  14. ^ "122 countries adopt 'historic' UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons". CBC News. 7 July 2017.

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