Treaty to ban nuclear weapons: why germany refuses

The ban on nuclear weapons will finally become universally valid international law on January 22, 2021. Against the resistance of the German government.

"Ban nuclear weapons": Greenpeace protest on the 75th anniversary of the throw on Hiroshima Photo: Bodo Marks / dpa

On Saturday, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty banning nuclear weapons of mass murder worldwide, adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017. There could hardly have been a better gift for the UN’s 75th birthday. As a result, the ban on nuclear weapons will become universally valid international law on January 22, 2021.

This is a "victory for humanity," as Peter Maurer, the otherwise rather sober Swiss president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has noted. And a great success for the many hundreds of non-governmental organizations involved in the "International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons" that initiated this agreement – against massive opposition from the USA, Germany and other states.

As recently as last week, the Trump administration had called on numerous signatory states to rescind their ratification. On the grounds that a ban on nuclear weapons would weaken the NPT treaty, which has been in place since 1970 and merely prohibits the transfer of these instruments of mass murder.

With this claim, the German government had also tried in vain to prevent the treaty. Now Berlin is saying that the treaty is useless without the participation of the eight or nine nuclear weapons states, and that Germany’s accession would not change anything and would also be incompatible with NATO membership.

Pressure grows only with entry into force

However, this argument disregards the history and development dynamics of numerous arms control agreements. Only when they came into force did the political and moral pressure grow on the countries that had initially stood aside to join the agreements as well. Two former NATO secretaries-general and 55 former foreign and defense ministers from 20 alliance member states have now spoken out in favor of Germany and other NATO members joining the nuclear weapons ban.

By refusing to do so, the German government is fueling suspicions that it wants to keep open the option of Germany sharing nuclear weapons as part of a future joint EU nuclear deterrent capability.

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