The head of the Böll Foundation supports a call for nuclear participation. Anti-nuclear activist Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm finds it a scandal.
taz: Mr. Hoffmann-Axthelm, ICAN fought for years for the international nuclear weapons ban treaty. It came into force on Friday. How does it feel?
Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm: This is a historic moment. The nuclear weapon ban has long been a very abstract topic. And we are still grappling with the prejudice that it is simply impossible to ban nuclear weapons. The entry into force of the treaty will give us another wind in the sails when it comes to convincing other states to join. 122 states voted for the ban in 2017.
However, the entry into force is only a symbolic act. Far from all states have signed the treaty. The nuclear weapon states themselves are not included.
That’s only natural. In this respect I would be careful to speak of a merely symbolic step. First, because symbolism is extremely important, of course. Nuclear weapons are above all status symbols and not weapons that are used on a daily basis in the theater of war. Secondly, international law and politics are also very symbolic fields. If nuclear weapons are equated with banned weapons such as chemical and biological weapons, it will change the way we all think about nuclear weapons.
The anticipation of the entry into force was probably a little clouded: You have been on Twitter Zofft with the Böll Foundation, because its chairwoman Ellen Ueberschär has signed an appeal by supporting NATO’s nuclear participation and the US atomic bombs stationed in Germany. What exactly is your criticism of it?
First of all, it can be said that now that the ban is becoming a reality, we represent a much greater danger for all those states that cling to nuclear weapons and want to base their security policy on weapons of mass destruction in the future too. In this respect, it is perfectly normal for them to criticize us. And it is also normal for the parties and think tanks within Germany to clarify their position on this. This is a healthy process for the time being because everyone previously claimed to be working on a world free of nuclear weapons. But if everyone claims to be on the right side of the story, then something cannot be right, because something is wrong somewhere. In this respect, it is extremely helpful that we can now see who is only pretending to be in favor of nuclear disarmament but otherwise playing for time in order to adhere to the status quo.
And you would not have expected the latter from the ranks of the Böll Foundation?
That was very surprising for us. I would even say that we are outraged by the statement that the head of the Böll Foundation co-signed. It is extremely tough stuff that, of all things, the foundation close to the Green Party means that Germany has to hold on to nuclear weapons permanently, must continue to participate in nuclear participation and must also support the modernization of nuclear weapons-compatible fighter jets. This is completely incompatible with the Greens’ new basic program, which explicitly provides for Germany’s accession to the nuclear weapons ban.
Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm is a founding member of ICAN Germany as well as its EU and NATO representative in Brussels. ICAN advocates a ban on nuclear weapons, and in 2017 they received the Nobel Peace Prize for this.
However, as long as Russia has nuclear weapons, unilateral nuclear disarmament of the NATO states could actually create problems.
The Böll Foundation and the Greens do not want to give the impression that they are not in solidarity with the Eastern European NATO seeds. I can understand that well, that’s important. Only one must not instrumentalize solidarity with Eastern Europe in order to hold on to weapons of mass destruction. Instead, you have to enter into the honest debate that you need conventional skills to credibly participate in NATO.
So for you it would be okay: nuclear weapons out, but more tanks?
There is a difference between conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. As of today, nuclear weapons are prohibited under international law. Conventional weapons, on the other hand, are able to differentiate between combatants and civilians. It goes without saying that tanks are allowed and nuclear weapons are forbidden. This is now also anchored in international law.
The controversial appeal that we are talking about was signed by the Böll boss and promoted by the foundation. However, under the paper it is expressly stated: “All authors express their personal views here alone.” Can you really criticize the foundation as such?
You certainly cannot blame her for it directly. However, it is also very difficult to claim that it is just a personal opinion. Because if I am chairman of an organization, then I will hardly say anything publicly that is diametrically opposed to the position of that organization. We are very interested in what the real position of the Foundation is now.
In her Twitter dispute with the foundation, it was also about whether ICAN is still supported by the Böll Foundation. They say: no. The foundation says: yes. So what now?
The question is how do you define support? It is true that the Böll Foundation supported us financially for a long time as ICAN Germany, for which we are very grateful. That stopped two years ago. On Twitter, the Böll Foundation wanted to highlight that last year they supported a project by their colleagues at ICAN France financially and posted an opinion piece from us on their website. So you can say that we are still working with the Böll Foundation. But for a small NGO like us, “support” means above all financial support and not just posting a blog article.
How did the financial support end two years ago?
It is normal that you shouldn’t rely on a particular benefactor for too long and that you have to diversify your funding structure. Nor can we complain about how that happened back then: the Böll Foundation announced long in advance that the funds would be canceled. So we could adjust to it. Of course, I don’t know why the decision was made.
Regardless of the dispute with the Böll Foundation: How will your work continue after the prohibition contract comes into force?
First of all, we will try to back up the debate that is now going on all over the place in Germany with facts. We have the very difficult situation that the Federal Government and all other NATO countries want to hold on to nuclear deterrence and are not too good at making very strange arguments. That is why we have our hands full to dispel these long discredited arguments. At the same time, the prohibition treaty also provides clarity about who is in favor of nuclear disarmament and who is standing in the way of the process. That is very helpful, especially before the general election. 92% of German citizens support the ban on nuclear weapons in representative surveys.
And where do you see the federal government?
Last year the German government participated in the Stockholm Initiative. A dozen states published a list of things they want to do for nuclear disarmament. But if you look closely at this list, you can only grab your hair. Two thirds of the points are cheap appeals to nuclear weapon states. None of the points is something that Germany could implement itself. Not a word about whether Germany could campaign within NATO to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. We urgently have to overcome the time of such empty statements that do not change anything in reality. There is now an alternative: joining the UN Treaty on Nuclear Weapons, or AVV for short.