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"To forbid the use of military bases on our territory"
U.S. Military Bases in Germany and a Brief History of Protests Against Them
By Elsa Rassbach
On September 25, 2009, U.S. and NATO commanders emblematically chose Ramstein Air Base
in Germany to announce the request of General Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 or more
additional U.S. troops for Afghanistan -- even before they presented this request to lawmakers in Washington. Roughly halfway between Washington and General McChrystal’s headquarters in Kabul, Ramstein is the largest U.S. overseas military airbase and also a NATO installation. The war in Afghanistan is partly a NATO war, but if NATO partners such as Germany were to oppose escalation, the U.S. could still use Ramstein and other bases in Europe for waging a functionally unilateral war , not unlike the Iraq war.
From Ramstein, the U.S. European Command directs air operations in a "theater" covering three continents, more than eight million square miles, and 51 independent nations. U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq or Afghanistan are flown to Ramstein, then transported to nearby Landstuhl, the largest overseas U.S. military hospital. Just days before McChrystal arrived, Ramstein opened the largest U.S. military shopping center in the world, with a 350-room hotel. This article focuses on the most important foreign military presence in Germany – that of the U.S. -- and on the opposition to U.S. military bases here. However it should not be forgotten that Britain also maintains some bases in Germany, and there are joint French-German and Dutch-German bases here as well. Moreover, popular struggle against military bases in Germany is not restricted to foreign bases. Especially since the war on Yugoslavia, in which Germany played a
leading role, German activists have increasingly focused their efforts on the dangers of German militarism, whether in the context of NATO or of the European Union.
It is sometimes difficult to know which bases in Germany are "foreign." For example, at the German military airbase at Büchel, the U.S. maintains 20 nuclear weapons guarded by about 50 U.S. Special Forces troops. The U.S. president alone has authority to launch these nuclear weapons, but German Air Force pilots flying German Tornado aircraft would deliver them to their targets. Likewise, there is increasing co-mingling of responsibility in the field: on September 4, 2009, a German officer ordered a NATO bombing, carried out by the U.S. Air Force pilots, that killed about 125 Afghans in Kunduz.
Shortly after German reunification, a 1990-91 Rand Corporation study commissioned by the U.S. Air Force found that 85 percent of Germans supported membership in international alliances. Two thirds of western Germans and one third of eastern Germans considered NATO essential for their security. However, the same study found that 57 percent of all Germans, including 84 percent of eastern Germans, hoped for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany. By 1995, Russia had withdrawn all of its forces, and Britain had reduced troop level to about 22,000, but between 54,000 and 68,000 U.S. troops have remained in Germany. This is a significant reduction from the more than 300,000 GIs here during the Cold War, leading some to believe the U.S. military is in the process of leaving Germany. Nothing could be further from the
The Pentagon is still implementing its “strategic transformation” plan for U.S. armed forces begun under George W. Bush. The plan designates Germany as the long-term strategic and logistical foundation of U.S. forces in Europe for wars in the Middle East, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Africa. There are to be six “enduring communities” or “Main Operating Bases” (“MOBs”) in Europe: one in Italy (Vicenza/Dal Molin) and five in Germany (Ramstein/Kaiserslautern, Vilseck/Grafenwöhr/Hohenfels, Ansbach/Katterbach, Spangdahlem, and Wiesbaden). The U.S. is closing some bases in Germany but is investing heavily in the MOBs. (By counting smaller facilities, many of which are incorporated in the MOBs, some reports refer to as many as 293 U.S. military bases in Germany.)
The Pentagon divides the world into six vast territories, with a Pentagon multi-force headquarters overseeing each. While four of these headquarters are in the U.S., the other two are in Stuttgart: EUCOM, the European Command responsible for the territory stretching from Greenland to Alaska and including Turkey; and AFRICOM, responsible for military operations in Africa. Both are authorized to command unilateral U.S. military missions from German soil. The center of U.S. military intelligence in Europe is also in Germany: the commanders of Abu Ghirab were stationed in Wiesbaden; a soldier court-martialed in Vicenza will serve time in Mannheim, the U.S. military prison for all Europe.
Far more U.S. troops are stationed in Germany than in any other country with which the U.S. is not at war. According to a DOD report, at the end of 2008 there were54, 974 U.S. military personnel stationed in Germany, comprising more than half of the 81,582 U.S. troops in Europe. The next largest contingents of U.S. soldiers were 34,039 in Japan and 24,655 in South Korea. At the end of 2008, 13,300 of the troops stationed in Germany were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Washington hopes to rely on Germany as the long-term safe haven for U.S. military power in Europe, the more so now as protests mount in other European countries such as in Italy, the Czech Republic, and Ireland. Following nationwide Irish protests against the use of Shannon civil airport for U.S. military transports, the Pentagon chose the German commercial airports at Leipzig, Hahn, and Nuremberg as substitutes for Shannon. About 80% of the GIs, weapons, and supplies sent from the U.S. to Iraq and Afghanistan are routed through Germany. In 2008 there were 1350 military transport landings in Leipzig, including about 500,000 GIs en route to or from Iraq and Afghanistan. The German government-owned firm DHL has the exclusive U.S. Army contract for courier services in Afghanistan and Iraq and uses Leipzig as its hub airport. Activists
near the Hahn commercial airport counted a record 165 U.S. military transports in August 2009. Before making their way to the battle zones, some GIs are first sent to Grafenwöhr for training exercises. German government unemployment offices assist with this training by providing large numbers of job seekers, often of Arab or Muslim heritage, to play the role of the Afghans and Iraqis in village search trainings.
In the reunification agreements of the early 90s, Germany achieved full sovereignty, including the right to cancel the Stationing of Forces Agreements with the U.S. on two years' notice. Were Germany ever to prohibit or restrict the U.S. military from using the bases, as Turkey did during the invasion of Iraq, this could force a major U.S. policy change. Thus far, however, the U.S. has been able to count on German government acquiescence, despite the pacifist views of a majority of German citizens.
According to a 2005 survey conducted by the German military, 68% of Germans agree that
"conflicts within nations or between nations can always be resolved by peaceful means.” Only one third of Germans believe that "war is sometimes necessary to achieve justice." In contrast, 60% of Dutch and 90% of U.S. citizens believe that war is sometimes "necessary to achieve justice," according to a 2003 poll by Transatlantic Trends cited in the German military’s survey. Studies by the German military have also found that a majority of Germans prefer their taxes to be spent on social security, education, and other benefits. Germany spends only 1.5 percent of gross national product on the military compared with the 4.1percent spent by the U.S. Other polls have found that a majority of Germans would like all German troops withdrawn from Afghanistan.
German voters have to some extent demonstrated these pacifist views in recent elections. The Left Party, founded in 2007, with a platform calling for immediate withdrawal of all German forces from Afghanistan and criticizing the U.S. military presence in Germany, is growing rapidly and is now the fourth largest parliamentary party in Germany. Nevertheless, in September 2009, German voters elected a "center-right" coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Liberal Democrats (FDP) that will likely block anti-military initiatives in the German parliament in the coming years.
However, there is also a strong tradition of challenging the U.S. military via grassroots social and political opposition "outside the parliament" (called the "Ausserparlamentarische Opposition" or "APO"). Beginning in the mid-1960s, after the western Allies demanded that the then occupied Federal Republic of Germany pass emergency laws to ensure the security of Allied troops, a spirited APO movement grew rapidly in West Germany and in West Berlin. To a large extent driven by the 1968 generation of students, the APO movement made the U.S. bases in Germany a key theme of protest. Some 60,000 GIs received orders to deploy from Germany to Vietnam during the course of the war, and the APO helped several thousand of them desert to Sweden.
In December 12, 1979, it was announced that, as part of a NATO "modernization" plan supported by the German government, the U.S. would station108 Pershing II land-based missiles and 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles in Germany if disarmament talks between the U.S. and USSR failed. Tomahawks were also to be stationed in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, and Italy. This announcement unleashed the largest movement against the U.S. military presence so far seen in Germany. Building on roots in the anti-rearmament movement of the 1950s, the student movement of the 1960s, the growing environmental movement (the German Green Party was founded in 1979), women's initiatives, churches, and unions, the campaign to stop the Pershing II missiles and prevent a "Schlachtfeld Europa" ("Battlefield Europe") engaged millions in protests that included blockades in 1982 of about 50 U.S. military bases Germany and at the U.S. Army bases at Bitburg and Mutlangen in 1983.
The central organizing document for the anti-Pershing II campaign was the 1980 "Krefeld
Appeal," a petition with the slogan "Nuclear death threatens us all – no nuclear missiles in Europe!" By 1983 the petition had received over four million signatures demanding that the West German government withdraw consent for stationing the U.S. NATO missiles in Germany. The protest had significant impact within Germany and internationally, with supporters including Gunter Grass, Heinrich Boll, Daniel Ellsberg, and Philip Berrigan. Even Willy Brandt said the U.S. was treating Germany "like a colony." Nevertheless, in the fall of 1983, the West German parliament voted to allow the basing of the Pershings on German soil, and after some further civil
disobedience, the protest subsided.
In 2003, the U.S. bases again became a focal point of protest in Germany as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq. A large majority of Germans opposed the invasion. On February 15, 2003, 500,000 people came from more than 300 German cities to demonstrate in Berlin, joining a coalition that may have been broader than that of the 1980s. In February and March of 2003, there were also blockades at Rhine-Main Air Base near Frankfurt. Though the coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens claimed to oppose the Iraq invasion, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder seems never to have seriously considered prohibiting the use of German air space, which might have actually prevented the war.
The question of whether Germany should allow the U.S. to use the military bases for a war that had neither a U.N. nor a NATO mandate was hotly debated in the media and in the parliament. The debate reached the highest levels of German jurisprudence in 2003 when a German major, Florian Pfaff, refused German military orders to supply German logistics software for the invasion. Pfaff was demoted, but he was ultimately exonerated by Germany’s highest administrative court. The decision states that it may even have been Germany's duty under international law to use German military force to prevent the U.S. from utilizing bases in Germany for the Iraq war, including detaining U.S. soldiers returning to Germany from Iraq.
A nationwide German demonstration was held at Ramstein on the first anniversary of the Iraq war. Led by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and a coalition of peace organizations, the demonstration demanded that the 130 nuclear weapons be removed from Ramstein. In 2005, the U.S. reportedly did remove them. But there have been no subsequent large-scale national demonstrations at U.S. military bases.
Instead, German citizen initiatives ("Bürgerinitiative") have grown up near U.S. and NATO bases such as Ramstein, Ansbach, and Spangdahlem, as well as near the civilian airports used for military transports, like Leipzig and Hahn. Often the initial complaint has been the disturbing noise of aerial combat practice and of nighttime military transport flights that frequently continue into the wee hours. Monitoring combat practice and transport flights and making complaints to U.S. and German authorities is a frequent activity, along with protests against environmental
Yet anti-war demands are also a strong theme in many local citizens' protests. Inspired by the 1980s "Krefeld Appeal," the "Citizen's Initiative Against Flight Noise, Ground Noise and Environmental Pollution" in Kaiserslautern, near Ramstein, in 2006 launched a new petition, the "Ramstein Appeal." So far about 7000 signatures have been received calling on the parliament "to forbid the use of military bases on our territory, including the air space of the Federal Republic of Germany, for the preparation and conduct of illegal and unconstitutional wars of aggression, as is mandated by Article 26 of German Basic Law." Like Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and Article 11 of the Italian Constitution, which prohibit war making, Article 26 was initially imposed
by the Allies at the end of World War II. Peace activists argue that the U.S. is now itself violating and undermining the international principles it then sought to establish, especially the Nuremberg principle against wars of aggression.
In Ansbach, a citizens' initiative opposing the expansion of a combat helicopter base into an MOB has engaged a broad local coalition that includes churches, environmentalists, and the local organizations of all the German parliamentary parties. The initiative has also launched the "Ansbach Appeal," modeled on the "Ramstein Appeal," and has reached out to the GI resistance movement. André Shepherd, a GI who was stationed in Ansbach, is currently seeking asylum in Germany, the first such case. The Ansbach struggle has similarities to the struggle in Vicenza; however, while the national Italian peace movement took up the cause of Vicenza and made it internationally known, the national German peace movement has yet to fully engage with the struggle in Ansbach.
At present the anti-base movement in Germany rests almost entirely on the efforts of activists living near the bases. Some strategically important U.S. bases, like Grafenwöhr, are not near German communities large enough to support much protest. Local groups struggling against foreign bases, but also against German bases, communicate loosely with one another through "NeMA," the "Network Against Military Bases and Their Consequences." Afull account of the recent struggles against German bases is outside the scope of this article, but these have been among the most successful in recent years: the struggle at the "German" base in Büchel, site of the only known remaining nuclear weapons in Germany, and at the "Bombodrom," a former Soviet military training grounds near Wittstock, just north of Berlin, that was used for bombing practice and war games during the Cold War. After the Soviets left, the German military wanted
to continue usingthe huge site, but now for German, NATO and EU bombing practice and war exercises. Howeverlocal citizens insisted that the "Bombodrom" instead be converted into a tourist and recreation area. After a seventeen-year struggle that included civil disobedience, court challenges, and extensive lobbying, the anti-militarists won a key victory in July 2009, when the Minister of Defense announced that "the German military will forego using Wittstock as an aerial-ground firing range."
In reviewing this history, it may seem paradoxical that, while western Germans under occupation developed strong movements against the U.S. military, now that Germany has achieved full sovereignty and actually could challenge the U.S., there is no such national movement actively opposing the U.S. bases here. The answer to this paradox likely has deep roots in how Germans have confronted their history. "Nie wieder Krieg" ("Never Again War") means, to most Germans, that Germany should never again engage in war or make itself guilty of war crimes. The U.S. is still quite widely seen as a liberator and benefactor of Germany, though much more so in the West than in the East. Moreover, in long-standing U.S. military communities like Kaiserslautern and Heidelberg, there is significant economic dependence on the U.S. military, along with a good deal of interaction, traditions of "German-American friendship" and a high intermarriage rate.
But in 2009 the national German peace movement did help lead an international initiative that includes U.S.-NATO bases as a theme: the "No-To-NATO, No to War" campaign. Initiated by French peace activists after President Sarkozy's announcement that France would again join NATO, with German activists as equal partners, the campaign was supported by activists from many other countries, including Japan and the U.S. For the gala 60- year anniversary celebration of NATO on April 4th, 2009, the international campaign organized a large demonstration in Strasbourg, France, and just across the Rhine River in Kehl, Germany. These critics of NATO argue that the alliance no longer serves its Cold War supposedly "defensive" purpose, and that it should be dissolved, because it is being transformed into an instrument for "out-of-area"
aggressive wars and occupations, as in Afghanistan.
German elites seek a renewed acceptance of German militarism under cover of supposedly
acceptable international institutions like NATO, the European Union, and even the U.N. Ever mindful of the burden of German history, the national German peace movement sees challenging German and European militarism, rather than U.S. imperialism, as its main responsibility. There is even some fear that a strong challenge to the U.S. military on German soil might attract many right-wingers and neo-Nazis and promote a new phase of German nationalism. In today's Germany, a strong challenge against U.S. bases will likely emerge only if embedded within and supported by an international peace movement that encourages such a challenge.
This is a preprint of an article whose final and definitive form has been published under the title PROTESTING U.S. MILITARY BASES IN GERMANY in Peace Review 2010 (copyright Taylor & Francis). Peace Review is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp