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Helmut Schmidt, Euromissiles, and the Peace Movement

  • Noel D. Cary (a1)


On February 1, 2019, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a landmark Cold War treaty: the agreement between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to ban intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. One day after Trump's announcement, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would also withdraw from the treaty. Allegations of Russian violations in recent years have thus led to actions that threaten to return Europe to some of the most frightening days of the Cold War.

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1 Frédéric Bozo in Euromissiles, 198.

2 US Defense Secretary Harold Brown informed his allies in June 1977, that the first deployment of SS-20s had already occurred (Jonathan Haslam in Euromissiles, 38). Oscar Bange writes that some missiles had already been deployed in 1976 (Nuclear Crisis, 73). By October 1983 (i.e., one month before the onset of Western counterdeployments of Cruise and Pershing II missiles), the Soviets had “roughly 250 SS-20s aimed at Western Europe,” along with 175 aimed at Asian countries. See Walter Pincus, “Soviets’ Posture Shifts As SS-20s Deployed,” Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1983. Each SS-20 could carry three individually targeted warheads.

3 Smyser, W. R., From Yalta to Berlin (New York: St. Martin's, 1999), 280.

4 Defense Minister Georg Leber (SPD), June 1976, quoted by William Burr in Euromissiles, 127.

5 Contemporaries employed an alphabet's soup of abbreviations for weapons whose range was less than intercontinental but more than battlefield-tactical. The designation TNF (Theater Nuclear Forces) originally referred to battlefield-tactical weapons, whose range was less than 100 kilometers. But “TNF modernization” was partly a response to Soviet deployment of mobile, multiple-warhead, “Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles” (IRBMs, also called INFs)—the SS-20s. The range of these missiles was 5,000 kilometers (Tim Geiger and Oliver Bange in Nuclear Crisis, 54, 58, 71). Ultimately, the Western “Euromissiles” were Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) and Pershing II missiles, whose range reached 2,500 kilometers (Bange in Nuclear Crisis, 72). It can be confusing that these weapons systems were sometimes called “Long-Range” (or “Long-Range TNF”) to distinguish them from “Short-Range Nuclear Forces” (SNF). On the Western side, the latter were known as Lance missiles, which had a range of circa 130 kilometers, and whose nuclear payload could have been the neutron bomb (discussed later). To avoid terminological confusion, the term long-range will not be used in this essay. Non-intercontinental missiles whose range matched European continental dimensions—Cruise missiles, Pershing IIs, SS-20s, and certain predecessors—will be referred to consistently as “Euromissiles” or “INFs.” Since SS-20s could be redeployed in Siberia to threaten Japan, their mobility further complicated any negotiations to remove them from the European theater.

6 The foundational work here is Herf, Jeffrey, War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance, and the Battle of the Euromissiles (New York: Free Press, 1991). Older work includes Risse-Kappen, Thomas, The Zero Option (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988); Rühl, Lothar, Mittelstreckenwaffen in Europa (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1987); Talbott, Strobe, Deadly Gambits (New York: Vintage, 1984). Besides the publications under review in this essay, recent work includes Gassert, Phillip, Geiger, Tim, and Wentker, Hermann, eds., Zweiter Kalter Krieg und Friedensbewegung: Der NATO-Doppelbeschluss in deutsch-deutscher und internationaler Perspektive (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011).

7 Schmidt, Helmut, “The 1977 Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture,” Survival 20, no. 1 (1978): 210.

8 For a lively overview, see Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin. Schwelien remains more skeptical of Reagan. Moving beyond leadership qualities and personality differences, Klaus Wiegrefe notes differences in the effects of the 1970s oil crisis on West Germany and the United States, the natural desire of a rising power for more latitude, and an inadequate American understanding of the changing West German political scene. See Wiegrefe, Klaus, Das Zerwürfnis: Helmut Schmidt, Jimmy Carter und die Krise der deutsch-amerikanischen Beziehungen (Berlin: Propyläen, 2005). See also Soell, Hartmut, Helmut Schmidt, 1969 bis heute: Macht und Verantwortung (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2006); Noack, Hans-Joachim, Helmut Schmidt: Die Biographie (Berlin: Rowohlt Berlin, 2008); Rupps, Martin, Helmut Schmidt: Ein Jahrhundertleben, 2nd ed. (Freiburg: Herder, 2013). Relevant memoirs include Schmidt, Helmut, Men and Powers: A Political Retrospective, trans. Hein, Ruth (New York: Random House, 1990); idem, Die deutschen und ihre Nachbarn: Menschen und Mächte II (Munich: Goldmann, 1992); Genscher, Hans-Dietrich, Erinnerungen (Berlin: Siedler, 1995); Strauss, Franz Josef, Die Erinnerungen (Berlin: Siedler, 1989); Carter, Jimmy, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (New York: Bantam, 1982); Brzezinski, Zbigniew, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977–1981 (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983); Vance, Cyrus, Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983). For an insider's defense of Carter's presidency, see also Eizenstat, Stuart, President Carter: The White House Years (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2018).

9 In addition to the publications under review, see Gassert et al., Zweiter Kalter Krieg; Conze, Eckart, Klimke, Martin, and Varon, Jeremy, eds., Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, and the Cold War of the 1980s (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Schulz, Matthias and Schwartz, Thomas A., eds., The Strained Alliance: U.S.-European Relations from Nixon to Carter (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

10 For detailed discussions of the enormous literature on Ostpolitik, see Dannenberg, Julia von, The Foundations of Ostpolitik (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Cary, Noel D., “Reassessing Germany's Ostpolitik: From Détente to Refreeze,” Central European History 33, no. 2 (2000): 235–62; idem, Reassessing Germany's Ostpolitik: From Refreeze to Reunification,” Central European History 33, no. 3 (2000): 369–90.

11 Der Spiegel, March 7, 1962, as quoted in Spohr, Global Chancellor, 42.

12 On the still contentious matter of why Schmidt's government fell, Herf's detailed analysis of the SPD's internal differences remains essential reading. See Herf, War by Other Means, esp. 113–63. “It became more and more clear to me,” Genscher wrote in his memoirs, “that NATO's Dual-Track Decision could no longer be realized with the SPD.” Genscher claimed further that Schmidt deliberately stoked budgetary differences with the FDP as red meat, in order to head off a revolt from his political base over the missiles. By contrast, Schmidt's major scholarly biographer, the Heidelberg historian and former SPD parliamentary deputy Hartmut Soell, argues that Genscher tried to generate a confrontation between Schmidt and the SPD in order to benefit the FDP. Of course, these positions are not mutually exclusive. In his own memoirs, Brandt flatly denied that the coalition had broken up because of “the Chancellor's own party failing him” in the missile dispute. Yet, he also reiterated his rejection of Schmidt's analysis of the threat posed by the SS-20s. See Genscher, Erinnerungen, 452–456 (quote on p. 456); Soell, Helmut Schmidt, 1969 bis heute, 861–62; Brandt, , My Life in Politics, trans. Bell, Anthea (New York: Viking, 1992), 320–33 (quote on p. 321).

13 See, e.g., Schmidt, Men and Powers, 72–95; Gorbachev, Mikhail, Memoirs, trans. Jobst, Wolf (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 444; Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin, 289–94; Jonathan Haslam, David Holloway, and Malcolm Byrne in Euromissiles, 40–44, 18–20, 109; Spohr, Global Chancellor, 103–6.

14 For the central role of the Dual-Track Decision in ending the Cold War, see, e.g., Gorbachev, Memoirs, 443–44; Genscher, , Rebuilding a House Divided: A Memoir by the Architect of Germany's Reunification, trans. Thornton, Thomas (New York: Broadway, 1998), 154, 164–65, 188–89; Kohl, Helmut, “Mauerfall und Wiedervereinigung,” Die politische Meinung 54, no. 479 (2009): 9, quoted by Tim Geiger in Nuclear Crisis, 52; idem, Vom Mauerfall zur Wiedervereinigung: Meine Erinnerungen (Munich: Droemer, 2009), 15; Charles Powell (Prime Minister Thatcher's private secretary) and Bryan Cartledge (overseas secretary to Prime Ministers James Callaghan and Thatcher, and then British ambassador to the Soviet Union), as quoted by Kristin Stoddard in Euromissiles, 191; Oliver Bange in Nuclear Crisis, 70, 83–84; Spohr, Global Chancellor, 135; Spohr's contribution to “Forum: In Memory of the Two Helmuts,” Central European History 51, no. 2 (2018): 282–309, 285–86; Pond, Elizabeth, Beyond the Wall: Germany's Road to Unification (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1993), 19, 2830; Herf, War by Other Means. For Brandt's rejection of this view, see Brandt, My Life, 321–23, 371.

15 Schwelien claims to have authored “the first independent, unauthorized” Schmidt biography, though one based primarily on numerous interviews with Schmidt. The book was prepared while both worked at the Hamburg news weekly Die Zeit, and the author notes that he and Schmidt co-autographed a portion of the original edition's Christmas stock. The new edition contains undocumented complaints of poaching by other Schmidt biographers, and personal attacks on several former Schmidt aides who had gone on to journalistic eminence at Die Zeit. The introduction is colored as well by faux-juicy claims that these eminences spread salacious gossip about Schmidt—claims that the author, posturing as taking the high road, vows not to explore. The conclusion revisits these claims and focuses more on the author's own travails (he was fired) rather than on Schmidt. See Schwelien, Helmut Schmidt, 1969 bis heute (quote on p. 395).

16 Bonner General-Anzeiger, quoted by Der Spiegel, Aug. 7, 1978, as quoted by Spohr, Global Chancellor, 30.

17 Schmidt spent thirty-two years at Die Zeit—“ten years longer,” the paper's former editor-in-chief and co-publisher Theo Sommer notes, “than he held public office.” See Theo Sommer, “Helmut Schmidt: A Life Lived for Germany,” Die Zeit, Nov. 10, 2015 (

19 Alison Smale, “Former Chancellor of Germany Retains Wit and Smoking Habit at 95,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 2013. Schmidt published the following books under his own name during the last four years of his life (some are article collections or dialogues with others): Verstehen Sie das, Herr Schmidt? (with Giovanni di Lorenzo) (Hamburg: Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 2012); Ein letzter Besuch: Begegnungen mit der Weltmacht China (Munich: Siedler, 2013); Mein Europa (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2013); Was ich noch sagen wollte (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2015). For Schmidt's high popularity in polls and interviews during his chancellorship, see also Spohr, Global Chancellor, 30, 112; Schwelien, Helmut Schmidt, 328.

20 See Schwarz, Hans-Peter, Adenauer: Der Staatsmann, 1952–1967 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1991), 185.

21 Spohr, Helmut Schmidt: Der Weltkanzler, trans. Roller, Werner (Darmstadt: Theiss Verlag, 2016).

22 Soell, Hartmut, Helmut Schmidt, 1918–1969: Vernunft und Leidenschaft (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2003); idem, Helmut Schmidt, 1969 bis heute.

23 “History played a dirty trick on Helmut Schmidt,” as he put it. See Kissinger, Henry, Years of Renewal (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 610–14 (quote on p. 610). On statesmanship more generally, see idem, White House Years (Boston: Little Brown, 1979), 5455. In his eulogy of November 23, 2015, Kissinger seemed to correct himself: “For a time after Helmut left office, it seemed as if destiny had been unkind to him. Political leaders operate under the shadow of transitoriness … Legacy, therefore, often depends on the accident of dramatic events. But, as the decades went by, Helmut came to epitomize the deeper meaning of legacy … We will be sustained for the rest of our lives by … the honor of having been contemporary of a great and good man.” See

24 Schmidt, Helmut, Verteidigung oder Vergeltung: Ein deutscher Beitrag zum strategischen Problem der NATO (Stuttgart: Seewald, 1961) [in translation as Defense or Retaliation: A German View, trans. Thomas, Edward (New York: Praeger, 1962)]; idem, Strategie des Gleichgewichts: Deutsche Friedenspolitik und die Westmächte (Stuttgart: Seewald, 1969) [formerly available in translation as The Balance of Power: Germany's Peace Policy and the Super Powers, trans. Thomas, Edward (London: William Kimber, 1971)]. Cf. Kissinger, Henry, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York: Harper, 1957); idem, The Necessity for Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper Collins, 1960).

25 Matthias Schulz, “The Reluctant European: Helmut Schmidt, the European Community, and Transatlantic Relations,” in Schulz and Schwartz, The Strained Alliance, 279–307.

26 Spohr does not make this comparison, but it is worth noting.

27 Or, as Clay Clemens puts it, Schmidt “anticipated globalization and prepared Western countries for it.” See his contribution to “Forum: In Memory of the Two Helmuts,” 288.

28 James, Harold, International Monetary Cooperation since Bretton Woods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 263, as quoted in Spohr, Kristina and Reynolds, David, “Bonn, Guadeloupe, and Vienna, 1978–9,” in Transcending the Cold War: Summits, Statecraft, and the Dissolution of Bipolarity in Europe, 1970–1990, ed. Spohr, Kristina and Reynolds, David (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 125.

29 Der Spiegel, Nov. 8 and Nov. 15, 1976, as quoted in Spohr, Global Chancellor, 32. Schmidt even used the term world power (quoted in Spohr, Global Chancellor, 17).

30 The title of Tompkins’s book comes from a film and book about the protest at the power plant in Wyhl: Lieber heute aktiv als morgen radioaktiv, dir. Nina Gladitz, 1976; Gladitz, Nina, Lieber aktiv als radioaktiv. Wyhler Bauern erzählen: Warum Kernkraftwerke schädlich sind. Wie man eine Bürgerinitiative macht und sich dabei verändert (Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 1976).

31 Conze et al. seem to demur; see the editors’ introduction to Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, 7. Silke Mende and Birgit Metzger see “fear” as inherent in the environmental movement “from its very inception,” but they do not specify fear of nuclear accidents (Nuclear Crisis, 130).

32 Hanshew, Karrin, Terror and Democracy in West Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 139–45, 160, 214–17.

33 Quoted in Schwelien, 293–94. On this so-called Buback Obituary, see also Hanshew, Terror and Democracy, 197–205; for the full text, see

34 This is a point that enjoys widespread agreement in the works under review. See Spohr, Global Chancellor, 82–83; Haslam, David Holloway, and Malcolm Byrne in Euromissiles, 40–44, 20–22, 108–9.

35 Haslam in Euromissiles, 37–41; cf. Schmidt, Men and Powers, 73–77, 184–87.

36 Quoted by Burr in Euromissiles, 127. See the definition of the crucial term decoupling in the introduction to this review essay.

37 Iklé, quoted by Burr in Euromissiles, 129; State Department memorandum quoting Pauls, Oct. 14, 1976, ibid., 129, 130; State Department memorandum, Nov. 10, 1976, ibid., 131.

38 Stoddard and Haslam in Euromissiles, 179, 38. Unlike the Pentagon's concept of “war-fighting” via the neutron bomb, British planners were focused entirely on deterrence. In the belief that even the use of only tactical nuclear weapons could not be prevented from escalating, they wanted weaponry that would communicate to any potential aggressor “a visible ladder of escalation with no rungs missing” (Fred Mulley to Harold Brown, Aug. 4, 1977, quoted by Stoddard in Euromissiles, 179). While “strategic nuclear forces” could not “in themselves directly deter” a lower-level attack, an aggressor needed to be in no doubt that each escalation risked “progressively … higher levels of Western capability right up to the strategic nuclear level” (Duff-Mason report, Nov. 1978, quoted by Stoddard in Euromissiles, 185).

39 Spohr in Euromissiles, 153; Geiger in Nuclear Crisis, 58.

40 Gorbachev, Memoirs, 444.

41 Geiger in Nuclear Crisis, 55; Haslam and Holloway in Euromissiles, 37, 12 (the latter offers a slightly different translation from the one in Gorbachev, Memoirs, 443–44).

42 Soviet diplomat Anatoly Adamishin was befuddled in 1979 about his country's “politically unjustified” weapons build-up in Europe (Haslam, Euromissiles, 39). Gorbachev was disgusted with the Soviets’ “unforgivable adventure” and “naïve” expectations about the peace movement; see Gorbachev, Memoirs, 443–44. Smyser attributes such expectations especially to Andrei Gromyko; see Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin, 289, 297.

43 Spohr, Global Chancellor, 124 (on Gromyko); Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin, 282, 284, 286 (again the word blackmail—this time used by Walther Stützle, a planning chief in the Ministry of Defense), 289–91, 296–300, 319.

44 Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin, 291.

45 Ibid., 225, 230–33, 237–40. According to Schmidt, Brezhnev himself later suggested that Carter go around Gromyko and communicate with Brezhnev via Schmidt: see Schmidt, Men and Powers, 185.

46 Spohr, Global Chancellor, 124; Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin, 282, 297.

47 But not too soon. Conveniently for the FDP, Genscher's realization (see note 12) came well after the Social-Liberal coalition's victory over Strauss in the election of October 1980.

48 Guasconi in Euromissiles, 276–77 (numbers for Bonn, London, Brussels); Conze et al., editors’ introduction to Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, 5 (Amsterdam); Nuti in Euromissiles, 239 (Rome); Becker-Schaum et al., editors’ introduction to Nuclear Crisis, 1 (West Germany, 1983); Fahlenbrach and Stapane in Nuclear Crisis, 222 (the chain). Nearly five million Western Europeans demonstrated against the Euromissiles in the fall of 1983. See Conze et al., editors’ introduction to Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, 5.

49 Cary, Noel D., review of Smyser, From Yalta to Berlin, in Central European History 39, no. 1 (2006): 164.

50 Semiannual polls by Eurobarometer are Guasconi's prime source. Depending on the consistency of the questioning, a single graph might have collected and displayed trends over time in all five countries.

51 The new Kohl government's interior minister, Friedrich Zimmermann of the CSU, had planned to walk back the Schmidt government's liberalization of the criminal law on demonstrations. Instead, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe used a case about demonstrations at the Brokdorf nuclear power plant to mandate clearer policing standards that strengthened the constitutional status of freedom of assembly (Sturm in Nuclear Crisis, 284–87).

52 “Helmut wir kommen, wenn's sein muß auch geschwommen!” Antimissile newsletter (1981), quoted by Suzanne Schregel in Nuclear Crisis, 173.

53 Conze, Klimke, and Varon argue that conventional discourses about “women's maternal identities as guardians of the species and the planet” mingled productively with feminist perspectives against “ego-driven militarism.” See Conze et al., editors’ introduction to Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, 7.

54 Fahlenbrach and Stapane in Nuclear Crisis, 225; Ingrid Krüger in 1982 (“fear”), quoted by Philipp Baur in Nuclear Crisis, 329.

55 Baur in Nuclear Crisis, 330–33. Enthralling but very different video performances of both songs are well worth watching: Ralph Siegel and Bernd Meinunger (composer and lyricist), “Ein bißchen Frieden” (; Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen and Carlo Karges (composer/pianist and lyricist/guitarist), “Neun-und-neunzig Luftballons” ( Nicole's margin of victory at Eurovision set a record that stood for twenty years.

56 Conze et al. also note such professionalization, but place it alongside the continuing explosion of grassroots activism; see Conze et al., editors’ introduction to Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, 7. On “court[ing] the media,” see also Fahlenbrach and Stapane in Nuclear Crisis, 229–32.

57 See also the introduction to Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, as well as Conze, “Missile Bases as Concentration Camps: The Role of National Socialism, the Second World War, and the Holocaust in the West German Discourse on Nuclear Armament,” in Conze et al., Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, 13–14, 79–88.

58 Bange and Eckert in Nuclear Crisis, 83–84, 210; Byrne in Euromissiles, 115–16.

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Helmut Schmidt, Euromissiles, and the Peace Movement

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