Petra Kelly and Gert Bastian interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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What in particular about these two weapons [Pershing and Cruise missiles]? Is it that they are a symbol of an arms race that doesn't stop? What in particular was most disturbing about these two weapons?
That's a good question. In my opinion, these two weapons are a significant change in nuclear strategy. In former times, nuclear weapons have been only available to prevent war. Effective deterrence as a revenge potential. Nobody could fire the first shot without a risk of being killed as a result of the second shot. But these new weapons are more accurate and more precise and are mobile, and are deployed in a forward-based European terrain. This is an important fact.: it gives the owner a chance to win -- to wage and win war in a traditional way, if war is not long avoidable. This makes a new situation for the European allies of the United States. The entrance in a nuclear war is much easier when such weapons are available.
So, the argument is that before, these nuclear weapons were a last resort, and they were really deterring war. But with the Pershings and the Cruise, you are talking about using them in a war which may or may not be terminated. You are talking about a movement toward war-fighting weapons.
That's right. War-fighting weapons have an offensive character and not a character which is useful as a defense strategy and a deterrence strategy.
Of course, it was the Europeans, if I know the history correctly, especially Helmut Schmidt, who pushed in this direction.
Yes, of course. That's why I was angry at first against my own country at this time. And why I wrote the text for the appeal. We started this together with five other friends against our own German government. And this, we knew very well, my government and Chancellor Schmidt was the inventor of the so-called "missile gap" and the "window of vulnerability" and the ability and necessity to deploy, to close this window with Pershing, Cruise, and to do so on German and European soil.
So the argument that Schmidt was making was that the West had to deploy new weapons to meet the threat that was posed by the SS-20. It must have been pretty hard for you, as a soldier, to take the position that you wound up taking.
I was very disappointed that Chancellor Schmidt came to this conclusion. Then it was very clear, and everybody who looked at the papers and the facts who came to this conclusion said this new deployment was not an answer to the SS-20 deployment on the other side. This answer on NATO's side was given for a long time with Poseidon and Polaris missiles, and the British and French submarines and other submarines from the United States which have been permitted to secure. There was no necessity to make a new step, only to come to the equivalent of the SS-20 missile. Now, General Rogers, the Supreme NATO Commander in Europe, said in a statement three weeks ago in a German magazine, "Of course, Pershing is not an answer to the SS-20. And it would have been necessary to deploy these weapons without one SS-20 on the other side. It is not in connection to be seen with the SS-20 deployment on the other side." And that was always my opinion and the opinion of the peace movement. This was a point in which we have not reached the same conclusion as our government and like the NATO steps.
You were then not saying that you are opposed to all nuclear weapons. In terms of this decision that led you from being in the military to being in the peace movement, it was the particular quality of the new weapons that were being introduced that was changing the overall strategy behind the weapons.
I think all nuclear weapons are a danger for the whole world, and are no longer useful. But we have been accustomed to the fact that they are existing, and it was possible to accept this situation by thinking, "Nobody is so crazy as to fire the first nuclear weapons, knowing very well that we must die in the second round." But this situation is no longer a given with these new weapons and with the answer of the Soviet Union with new missiles of the same quality. We have come to a new situation, and now these weapons are directed from one side to another in Europe, potentially crossing the Iron Curtain, with a very short fly and warning time. It is easy to understand that nobody will have the time in a situation of increasing crisis and fear to make a second check if the first impression is given that the other side is attacking. Then these weapons must be fired or lost. Therefore the danger that they are fired too early is very much greater than before.
The Pershings being a hard-target kill weapon with a time of ten minutes warning.
And that's the purpose. To prevent the other side to start a war, they have the purpose to neutralize, to hit the nerve centers in the military and political leading organizations on the other side, in the Warsaw Pact side. And have a war-waging quality, in my opinion. Our government is saying not, but I have another estimation of the real purpose of these new weapons.
And that is, a war-fighting strategy.
Yes, a war-fighting strategy which goes with a new concept of the United States, which is not the official concept of NATO in Europe but is the concept of the United States troops and is another sign that there is an important change going forward. A change which is, that if war is not avoidable, it is not the first objective to have crisis management in which the first missile does not cause the next missile to be fired., but if the first troop is fired on, then the new concept has the objective to make new fronts and to make new offensives and to wage this war until the other side is completely defeated.
So you are talking about nuclear weapons not being in place to stop there ever being a war, but rather actively engaged in waging and winning the war. The assumption being that you could, in fact, terminate the war, which is an open question.
Right, the other side is completely defeated with these weapons.
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