While acknowledging many people would dismiss such a goal as “naive”, Westerwelle told the high-powered Munich Security Conference that nuclear weapons made no military sense in a 21st century with different security issues from the Cold War period.
“Of course disarmament would take time and effort, but why should it not be possible?” he said. “Vision isn't policy, but policy can't be formed without vision.”
The remaining US nuclear weapons in Germany were a “relic of the Cold War”, he said.
“They don't make military sense any more. Therefore the federal government is launching talks with our partners and allies to create the conditions for a draw down.”
Many people had once given up on German reunification and yet today it was a reality, he pointed out.
Westerwelle also spoke out in favour of a European army that was under control of the European Parliament. Europe needed its own way of dealing with crises, he said, while stressing this was not aimed at any other countries.
“The European Union has to embrace its role as a global player. It must be able to operate its own crisis management and be able to act quickly, flexibly and in close co-operation.”
The United States remained a firm friend of Europe, he said. The continent's partnership with Russia should also be expanded.
There are fears that the US, saddled with its own problems and having to deal with an increasingly assertive China, is growing distant from its traditional allies in Europe and that Europe, in turn, is losing its international relevance.
Leaders in Europe were dismayed recently when US President Barack Obama told them he would not attend an EU summit in May – a decision widely seen as a snub.
In an effort to counter this impression, Obama's National Security Adviser, James Jones, told the conference that the US aimed for closer co-operation with Europe going into Obama's second year as president. He also thanked the US's NATO allies for their help in Afghanistan.
A European army would reduce the continent's reliance on the US as an ally for dealing with security crises. However, there are also lingering doubts about the strength of the united European leadership at a time when the most powerful states, including Germany, are largely bogged down with domestic problems.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also backed a stronger Europe, saying Moscow wanted to help reach a common security policy and calling for a new era of mutual trust.