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Though Germany is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, since World War II it has generally refrained from using this technology to outfit its own armed forces with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), although it participates in the NATO nuclear weapons sharing arrangements and trains for delivering nuclear weapons.

Germany is among the powers which possess the ability to create nuclear weapons but has agreed not to do so (under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as reaffirmed by the 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

As one of the major combatants in World War I, Germany used and developed what we would today describe as weapons of mass destruction. During World War I, Germany developed and used chemical weapons, for instance mustard gas. These kinds of weapon were subsequently also employed by the Allies.

World War II

During World War II, Germany worked to develop nuclear weapons, though Allied scientists ultimately beat the Germans to this goal - the international team included many displaced émigré scientists from Germany itself; see German nuclear energy project. 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.[2] By 1945 the nation produced about 12,000 tons of tabun and 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of sarin.[2] Delivery systems for the nerve agents included 105 mm and 150 mm artillery shells, a 250 kg bomb and a 150 mm rocket.[2] Even when the Soviets neared Berlin, Adolf Hitler was persuaded not to use tabun as the final trump card. 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 emcompasses 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 (Allied research into organophosphates had been kept secret to protect DDT), but Hitler accepted Ambros's deduction, and Germany's tabun arsenal remained unused.[3]

Cold War and beyond

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).[4] 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.[5] 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".[6] 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, becoming part of the structure of the European Economic Community in 1967.

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 and Ramstein Air Bases, 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, 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 practice handling and delivering the U.S. nuclear bombs[7] 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. Such a development is, of course, highly unlikely in the present benign security environment. In 2007, former defence secretary Rupert Scholz stated that Germany should strive to become a nuclear power.[8] In September 2007 the French president Sarkozy offered Germany to participate in the control over the French nuclear arsenal. Chancellor Merkel and foreign minister Steinmeier declined the offer however, stating that Germany "had no interest in possessing nuclear weapons".[9]


  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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Smart, Jeffery K. Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare: 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 January 4, 2009.
  3. 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.
  4. "Kriegswaffencontrolgesetz". War Weapons Control Act (last modified 11 Oct 2002). 
  5. Die Erinnerungen, Franz Josef Strauss - Berlin 1989, p. 314
  6. Germany, the NPT, and the European Option (WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor)
  7. Nassauer, O. (2001) Nuclear sharing: is it legal?
  8. Tagesspiegel: Ex-Minister: Atomwaffen für Deutschland 27 January 2007 (German)
  9. Spiegel Online: "Spiegel" - Sarkozy bot Deutschland Beteiligung an Atomwaffen an 15.September 2007 (German)

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