Time to rid Germany of nuclear weapons

It is time to rid Germany – and indeed the whole world – of nuclear weapons. This was the message of around 500 Christians who gathered last Saturday (7 July) at Büchel, an air base in the west of Germany where about 20 nuclear weapons are stored in readiness. Our worship began with two minutes of silence at 11.58, two minutes to midday, symbolising the current setting of the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight. The Doomsday Clock represents how close atomic scientists believe the planet is to a global catastrophe such as nuclear war and has been set at two minutes to midnight since January this year.

During the worship Renke Brahms, peace secretary of the “Evangelical” (i.e. Protestant) Church in Germany, said that it was not his job as a preacher to tell the German government what to do. But it is the job of a preacher to encourage Christians, as disciples of Jesus, to follow the call to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, and to do good to those who persecute us (see Matthew 5).

Heino Falcke at Büchel

Heino Falcke, former provost of Erfurt, speaking at the ecumenical event at Büchel

One of the speakers during the afternoon was Heino Falcke, who was Provost of the Protestant church in Erfurt, a city in Thuringia, formerly part of “East Germany”, from 1973 to 1994. He mentioned the World Council of Churches’ (WCC’s) “conciliar process” for justice, peace and the integrity of creation and the role of the churches in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, known as “East Germany”) in supporting conscientious objectors to military service and young people who wanted to work for peace. What he did not mention was that he himself brought a proposal for an ecumenical council on peace to the Vancouver Assembly of the WCC in 1983. It was this that prompted the WCC to launch the “conciliar process” for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Nor did Heino Falcke mention the important role which he himself played in the “conciliar process” in the GDR, which involved a series of ecumenical assemblies. He did, however, encourage us to join him in campaigning for an amendment to the German constitution which would make Germany a nuclear-free zone.

Towards the end of the event, Stefan Maass, peace secretary of the Protestant Church in Baden, presented a recently published scenario, “Rethinking Security: From military to civil security”. More about that below. But first a look at what has happened in the past – in the 1980s in particular – and some thoughts about our present predicament.

Back in the 1980s the Doomsday Clock stood at four minutes to midnight. It seemed likely that the arms race between NATO and the Warsaw Pact would end in a devastating nuclear war. Cruise missiles were to be sited at Greenham Common and Molesworth. Her Majesty’s Government issued a pamphlet entitled “Protect and Survive” with instructions on how to protect oneself and one’s family in the event of a nuclear attack.

But many people opposed this new acceleration in the arms race. A Women’s Peace Camp was established at Greenham Common and Christian peace activists set up a peace camp at Molesworth. CND and the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation published a pamphlet entitled “Protest and Survive”.

At the same time nonviolent movements grew in Poland (Solidarnosc), Hungary, Czechoslovakia (Charter 77), and the GDR (civil society groups under the wing of the churches). They eventually brought about the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which was symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. And at much the same time treaties were signed which more or less brought a halt to the arms race.

Nonviolent movements in both East and West led not only to a pause in the arms race but also to an end to the East-West divide. I never imagined that the Berlin Wall would come down in my lifetime.

However, the world is now a more dangerous place than it was even thirty or forty years ago. Both the USA and Russia still have huge arsenals and both are ruled by unscrupulous megalomaniacs. China has built up a sizeable arsenal. France and Britain still cling on to their “force de frappe” and “nuclear deterrent”. Pakistan and India both possess enough weapons to cause unimaginable suffering. It is no secret that Israel has nuclear weapons. One wonders how long the deal with Iran will hold, now that the USA has pulled out. And relations between the USA and North Korea appear to be unpredictable and potentially volatile.

So what does the future hold? More of the same would mean growing militarisation of the EU, the USA, and a great many countries throughout the world, even though recent experience in Syria and elsewhere has shown that military responses to crises tend to make matters worse. Growing militarisation, more “failed states”, more refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, and the failure to tackle climate change resulting in more and more regions becoming uninhabitable due to flooding and droughts, etc. – all this seems fairly likely.

Indeed, it could conceivably all be much worse: all-out war between Saudi Arabia and Iran; a nuclear missile launched by accident; catastrophic climate change even during the next few decades, because of the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; mass starvation in sub-Saharan Africa; even greater flows of refugees, which UN agencies can no longer cope with. All this is possible.

But a positive scenario is also possible. The scenario postulated by the Protestant Church in Baden envisages Germany making a transition by 2040 from a military security policy to a civil security policy. This would come about because of the recognition that Germany’s own security depends on the security of its neighbours. It is better to help build up justice, peace, and democratic institutions in other countries rather than threaten their security or attempt to build peace by military means. Germany’s civil security policy would stand on five pillars: 1. Just foreign relations; 2. Sustainable development in the EU’s neighbourhood countries; 3. Participation in the international security architecture (EU, OSCE, NATO, UN); 4. Resilient democracy; and 5. Conversion of the federal armed forces and the armaments industry.

Are you intrigued? I hope so! Last week I completed the translation of “Rethinking Security: From military to civil security”, so it is now available in English.

The great thing about this scenario is that it presents a positive vision of how the future could be, if we choose to do all we can to make it happen. I’m reminded of the verse in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:19): “I set before you life and death, blessing and a curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your children may live.”

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