Schmidt and the famous physicist: an epic debate on where to put nuclear missiles

Could a determined minority block the planned 1983 deployment of new nuclear weapons in West Germany? The peaceful antinuclear weapons demonstration by 60,000 young Lutherans in Hamburg June 20 and the month-long Copenhagen-to- Paris march for a nuclear-free Europe have just begun to spotlight this question -- and worry government officials in Bonn.

Carl-Friedrich von Weizsaecker, pioneer German nuclear physicist, philosopher , and peace thinker, is convinced that the strength of the minority opposition will, in fact, make deployment politically impossible. He points to the virtual moratorium on nuclear power plant construction over the past five years, resulting from the protests and court suits of primarily young opponents.

He fears that when demonstrators begin following the handy peace movement maps and march on the new nuclear sites by the tens of thousands, soldiers may be compelled to shoot -- a situation that would be intolerable. He therefore advocates moving the land-based NATO missiles, which are projected for 1983 deployment, out to sea.

Chancellor Helmut Schmidt rejects this conclusion. Although he initially advocated seabased missiles as NATO's response to the new Soviet mobile SS-20 missiles, he contends that any shift to sea-based weapons now would unnecessarily complicate his job of selling the NATO modernization to protesters and skeptics.

He has begun an active campaign to persuade the demonstrators (or at least the silent majority) that the new weapons are necessary and that easy protest marches in peaceful West German cities do little to promote real peace.He expresses confidence that he can persuade enough skeptics to keep his Social Democratic Party with him and weather the demonstrations.

Whether von Weizsaecker or Schmidt is correct may well be decided by the aftermath of the June 17-21 biennial Lutheran meeting in Hamburg and the drawing power of the Copenhagen-Paris peace march.

Until now the antinuclear weapons issue has not caught fire among largely apolitical German youths; it has not yet become the uniting cause of the disparate antiestablishment antinuclear power, prosquatter demonstrations. The cause got something of a push in this direction at the Lutheran gathering, however, and it may get more of a push from the European march.

The Lutheran gathering was small comfort to government officials who think new NATO weapons are essential to maintain an East-West military balance (and peace) in Europe.

To be sure, a cool but concerned Schmidt held his own for TV viewers against the passionate clerical and lay opponents of NATO nuclear weapons during the convention. The moderator of a session with Defense Minister Hans Apel did manage to stop the egg-throwing at Apel and dispense with the cordon of security men with plastic shields who leaped to the podium to protect the speakers.

And fewer of the 140,000 primarily young Lutheran conferees who went to Hamburg participated in the antinuclear weapons march than attended the daily open-air Bible study workshops.

The mood of those conferees who had views on the subject ran overwhelmingly against the NATO nuclear modernization, however. One young member of parliament from Schmidt's Social Democratic Party (SPD) encountered not a single person in favor of the modernization in a full day of intensive talks with the young Lutherans.

Moreover, the West German antinuclear weapons movement, which previously was rather modest, is being bolstered by the much more effective Dutch and other Northern European peace movements.

One especially successul move to generate a European groundswell for the cause came at the June convention in Vienna of the Socialist Youth Internationale. Typically, even the Austrian Young Socialists rejected Austrian Social Democratic Chancellor Bruno Kreisky's analogy that if Austria had resisted Hitler's takeover in 1938 even for "five hours," it would not have had to suffer seven years of "occupation."

Scorning Kreisky, the Austrian Young Socialists sided with every other delegation (with the exception of a few Trotskyite critics of Moscow) to condemn NATO's projected but currently nonexistent medium-range missiles and ignore Moscow's already deployed and weekly increasing medium-range missiles targeted on Europe.

The Young Socialists further applauded calls for future protest marches from depot to depot in West Germany; endorsed cooperation with the Communists in such anti-NATO nuclear campaigns as the Krefeld appeal, which already has 1 million signatures in West Germany; chanted "out with Schmidt, out with Schmidt" at a torchlight procession; and in at least one case sarcastically referred to the West German foreign minister as "US Foreign Minister Genscher."

The protesters' clear goal -- both because popular antiweapons movements are not possible in the Soviet bloc and because such a nuclear-free zone would still leave the Europe-targeted Soviet SS-20s in place on Soviet soil -- is a unilateral renunciation by the West of NATO's planned new nuclear weapons.

Under these circumstances the determining factor will be staying power.This means, first, the staying power of the scattered protest groups, which so far are nowhere near as united as the leftist university demonstrators of the late ' 60s. But it also means the staying power of the "government wing" of the West German SPD.

One SPD insider guesses that if the 1979 NATO "two-track" decision of deploy-and-negotiate were put to a vote at a party convention today, it would still pass, probably by a 60-40 split rather than the 85-to-15 vote Schmidt won in 1979.

Schmidt's advisers expect a long, hot summer -- and winter -- before the key SPD convention meets again next spring.

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