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Bundestag Debate on Nuclear Arms Buildup (October 10, 1981)

The Bundestag debate on the deployment of additional nuclear arms revealed, once again, the range of positions within the SPD. It compelled Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to vehemently defend his armaments policy in a direct appeal to demonstrators.

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Schmidt: The Youth should also take the Worries of our Generation Seriously
Warnings about ‘Dodgy’ Demonstrators in Bonn / Kohl: Two Different Worlds within the SPD

In a largely impressive debate on Friday, the Bundestag dealt with the so-called peace demonstration scheduled to take place on Saturday in Bonn, where more than 200,000 people want to protest the NATO dual-track decision. A speech by the federal chancellor greatly influenced the discussion in parliament; with a resoluteness not seen from him in a long time he expressed his commitment to his political view, stressing that the Soviet arms buildup was the trigger for NATO to build up its arms in response. He directed a question to demonstrators, whose ranks include prominent Social Democrats, asking if they intended to hinder the continuation of his policies by letting his domestic policy foundation “crumble.” Schmidt condemned the coming together of Social Democrats and Communists, accusing them of having made themselves “willing tools” of another country. Federal foreign minister [Hans-Dietrich] Genscher thanked the chancellor for his speech and assured him of FDP support. The motion by the coalition parties was passed in the Bundestag with 271 yeas to 218 nays, with two abstentions. It regards the dual-track decision as valid, welcomes the commencement of arms control talks, and assures that peaceful demonstrators would be treated with respect.

Schmidt’s speech stood in clear contrast to the comments made earlier by SPD chairman [Willy] Brandt. Brandt repeated his remark that he could not be worried about demonstrations for peace, because he had experienced far worse things in Germany than young people taking to the streets for peace. The SPD chairman confirmed both the ongoing validity of the resolution, declaring that party membership was incompatible with cooperation with communist groups [Unvereinbarkeitsbeschluß] and the SPD’s rejection of “action units” with communists. He felt, however, that this should be distinguished from participating in a demonstration that also included “a few communists.” Brandt spoke out against the use of violence and welcomed the statement by Social Democrats and Christian groups participating in the demonstration that assured of their commitment to a peaceful course of events. “We cannot want to push that responsibility onto the backs of police officers,” said Brandt. He respects the demonstrators’ desire for peace, he said, and the job of the SPD was to turn that desire for peace into policy.

Opposition leader [Helmut] Kohl started his speech by referring to differences in the political assessments coming from within the SPD leadership. The two speeches, Schmidt’s and Brandt’s, reflected two different worlds, according to Kohl. He said that Brandt has set out for a “new political shore” in German and international politics, which was the reason for the disquiet within the party. Kohl felt that a lot of what Schmidt said was no longer supported by a substantial segment of the SPD and that it was no coincidence that various passages in his speech were in fact applauded by the CDU. The tried-and-true among the in-party adversaries in the SPD party caucus, on the other hand, did not applaud. What happened here was nothing less than evidence that Schmidt no longer had a majority behind him in decisive policy issues.

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