Feeding on widespread fears among Germans of a possible conflict after President Trump’s recent exchange of tough talk with North Korea, Schulz ratcheted up his anti-nuclear weapons language at a campaign rally late Tuesday.
He called for the removal of about 20 U.S. nuclear warheads that according to German media reports are believed to be stationed in the western part of Germany — until now largely forgotten vestiges of the Cold War that ended nearly 30 years ago. Government officials have not confirmed the presence of nuclear warheads in Germany.
“As chancellor, I’d push for the ejection of nuclear weapons stored in Germany and if they’re stationed in this state of Rhineland-Palatinate, then for the removal of those weapons here,” Schulz told a campaign rally in the southwestern state, which has long been home to several large U.S. bases.
Schulz said Trump’s conflict with North Korea “shows us more than ever before how urgently we need to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and encourage disarmament.”
Schulz’s party is stuck some 14 percentage points behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union with just one month of campaigning before the Sept. 24 election.
The challenger’s antiwar language can go down exceptionally well among voters in Germany, where memories of the two world wars it started in the last century linger even generations later.
Other Social Democratic Party chancellors, from Willy Brandt, who won the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize for his Ostpolitik, to Gerhard Schroeder, who won reelection in 2002 against long odds with an anti-Iraq war campaign, have successfully tapped into that pacifist streak.
Merkel did not immediately comment on Schulz’s remarks this week. But a Merkel ally criticized Schulz for overly simplifying a complicated topic in the heat of an election campaign.
“I’d advise Martin Schulz against compromising Germany’s position in its carefully calibrated international security architecture for a play to the gallery,” Juergen Hardt, Merkel’s transatlantic policy coordinator, said in an interview. “A credible nuclear deterrent is a pivotal element of NATO’s defense posture. And Germany will remain a partner to that.”
Some political scientists said Schulz, frustrated by his party’s inability to narrow the gap with Merkel’s conservatives in polls, felt compelled to ramp up the rhetoric in a Hail Mary attempt to shake up the campaign.
They estimate his party, the SPD, currently the junior partner in Merkel’s grand coalition government, needs to at least halve the conservatives’ 39%-25% lead in polls to have a chance of keeping its seats in the next government after the election.
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