Former West Germany’s chemical weapons programme comes to light

EPA/PETER STEFFEN

A pyrotechnician of the Society for the disposal of chemical agents and military waste (GEKA) wears a protection mask during a media event in Munster, Germany. The GEKA was founded in 1997 and is the only company in Germany licensed to take care of the disposal of chemical agents.

Former West Germany’s chemical weapons programme comes to light


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The Cold War-era Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, had plans to develop a chemical weapons programme during the 1960s with the cooperation of its NATO allies.

The arsenal was to be used in retaliation to a chemical weapons first strike by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact countries, according to information leaked to the German Press.

According to the regional public broadcasters NDR and WDR and the national daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, West Germany’s Defense Minister Kai-Uwe von Hasse sought and secured the cooperation of Washington for the development of a chemical weapons programme in 1963.

According to US military historian Reid Kirby, the Pentagon cooperated, although the US State Department expressed deep reservations about the prospect of the West German military being armed with chemical weapons. In 1966, Washington abandoned the programme and refused to transfer the chemical agents needed to make the .

The West German Army, or Bundeswehr, had laid the ground for a chemical weapons delivery system that would utilise artillery shells and ordinance dropped from warplanes. A group of Bavarian Army officers based in the town of Sonthofen, conducted war games code-named “Damocles” in 1967 where VX nerve agents were tested.

This is the first time that West Germany’s chemical weapons programme has come to light, as successive German governments and the modern-day Bundeswehr have denied that a programme ever existed.

A spokesman for the German Ministry of Defence reacted to the revelation by saying that no chemical weapons programme currently exists, but refused to confirm or deny its existence in the past.

A report on West Germany’s chemical weapons programme did emerge from East Germany in 1968 but was denied at the time. The story later re-emerged in West Germany’s Konkret magazine in 1969 and 1970, as well as the public broadcaster ARD.

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