The modernization program for Germany was announced some time ago, but now the U.S. is getting down to brass tacks at the nuclear weapons station at Büchel in Germany's Eifel mountains. The German military base will be updated to ensure that nuclear weapons can be accommodated there in the future. The runway will be equipped with a modern instrument approach system, security fences will be strengthened, new vehicles will be procured to make maintenance of the weapons easier, and special new software for the bombers themselves will be installed. The reason: New U.S. nuclear weapons are to be stationed in Europe.

The new B61 bomb is a precision-guided weapon with better accuracy that might reduce the likelihood of accidents. That nuclear weapons play a well-known deterrent role is shown by the recently announced results of U.S. government simulations in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to Michael Steiner, the former foreign policy adviser to then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the Bush administration had considered a nuclear attack on Afghanistan in the days subsequent to 9/11.

To date, the nuclear “smart bomb” has yet to make an appearance. It is still being developed, and deployment isn't expected for another five years. Modernization of the B61 atomic bomb — euphemistically referred to as its “life expectancy extension” — is fortunately progressing slowly. That means more time for Europeans to convince their politicians that a modernization program runs afoul of disarmament obligations contained in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Therefore, the European Union nations of Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey should fight against stationing new U.S. atomic weapons in Europe.

This discussion is currently already ongoing in the Netherlands. The Dutch parliament has demanded the government decide against the stationing of the updated nuclear arsenal in Europe. The German government should finally take action and implement the Bundestag's bipartisan 2010 decision and enact it when the U.S. nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from Büchel. Instead, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told parliament at the beginning of this year that the decision would be put off indefinitely.

Because of the NATO-Russia confrontation, Germany is behaving decidedly passively on the subject of nuclear weapons. The NATO alliance partners should do likewise in this position and stop stirring up dust. We are reminded of what former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder allegedly said years ago about the U.S. nuclear bombs at Büchel. When asked about standing up to the U.S. on principle, he replied that he wasn't going to do battle with the United States over those 20 bombs. But improving the installation and deploying additional nuclear weapons in Europe is a dangerous game of playing with fire. It entails more potential conflict with Russia and escalates matters there in a place where de-escalation and disarmament are most needed. Thus, Russia reacted quickly, threatening to terminate its participation in the medium-range nuclear missile treaty, something that could precipitate a NATO response and possibly lead to another armaments spiral.

Only the US Government Makes the Decisions

Civilian society has been opposing upgrading nuclear weapons arsenals for years. Even before NATO decided at the Chicago summit in 2012 to develop new atom bombs, Hans Kristensen and other experts explained to the German parliament in minute detail what new capabilities the new generation weapons would have. The campaign “Nuclear Weapons-Free Now,” supported by 50 organizations Germany-wide, directed public attention to the issue with a 24-hour musical blockade in Büchel in 2013. During the year, activists blockaded the installation for 65 days, and yesterday, the antinuclear weapons activist Hermann Theisen was arraigned in court for secrecy act violations when he called upon members of the German military to explain the nuclear weapons upgrade initiative to the public.

The German government still maintains that the new nuclear weapons are nothing more than an innocent swapping out of the old weapons for new ones, and that it is the prerogative of the U.S. government to decide which weapons it wants to deploy to Germany, according to the German Foreign Office. Chancellor Angela Merkel even insists the weapons are safer in Germany than they would be elsewhere. In a press conference, she said she would be briefed on the status of the upgrade and would pass on that information in due course. When is the time to do that if not now? Are we supposed to wait five years until U.S. bombers deliver the new B61-12 bombs to Büchel?

The motivating force for the modernization program in those nations that have nuclear weapons is economic as well as political. Construction of the new weapons lies in the hands of companies like Babcock and Wilcox, the Bechtel Corporation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Relationships between these firms and the congressional decision-makers are cozy. In Germany, Airbus and Thyssen Krupp are involved in the nuclear armaments business, and German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and Allianz loan these companies money or invest in their stocks and bonds.

Returns on investing in mass destruction are huge. The nuclear weapons business is booming.