The West German military during the Cold War planned to stockpile vast amounts of chemical weapons to stave off a Soviet Union invasion into the west. They also planned on using them, despite long-time denials by the government.
War, Auschwitz, chemical weapons: never again. This was what the newly formed Federal Republic of Germany swore after the horrors of two World Wars. The German Empire had, after all, been responsible for the first ever use of poison gas during World War I, and the majority of chemical weapons were developed by German chemists — including Zyklon B, which the Nazi regime used until 1945 to commit mass murder during the Holocaust.
Yet less than 20 years later, the West German government planned to break this taboo. In 1961, West Germany initiated a debate in top-secret meetings with NATO. It called for the United States not to be the only country with the deterrent and retaliatory capability of chemical agents.
“We cannot do without such a means,” Friedrich Foertsch, the inspector general of Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr, said at the time. In the event of a Soviet attack, NATO anticipated a swift chemical weapons strike via the Warsaw Pact countries.
The documents that have now been disclosed and made available to a team of journalists from German regional public broadcasters NDR and WDR, and daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, attest that in 1963 West Germany Defense Minister Kai-Uwe von Hasse secretly asked the US to supply his government with chemical weapons.
The US Department of State, however, expressed serious reservations. “That was very serious business. The political problem would be immense,” remembers Matthew Meselson, a chemical weapons expert who was an adviser to the US government at the time.
“This was a really hot potato, and only the president could decide that.”
Washington considered the proposal in detail but in 1966 ultimately decided against a transfer. The US did, however, leave open the possibility of making chemical weapons available to its allies in the event of a war.
Concurrently, from 1962 until at least 1968, a small group of high-ranking Bundeswehr officers were making detailed plans for a possible chemical weapons attack — on the instructions of the inspector general, and in consultation with defense ministers and deputy ministers. The documents show the military suggested procuring 14,000 tons of chemical weapons for the Bundeswehr from the US and, if war broke out, using artillery and the air force to deploy them against Warsaw Pact troops.
West Germany was forbidden to possess chemical weapons at the time and the recent document that has brought into the light the desire to not only possess but use these highlights the fears of a Soviet invasion back then.
Officially the German government owns no chemical weapons.
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