Nuclear disarmament: steps must be taken which inspire confidence

27 October 2009

Nuclear disarmament: steps must be taken which inspire confidence

The discussion regarding nuclear weapons in Europe has found particularly acute expression in the Dutch parliament. This is to be celebrated, in the opinion of SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel, in view of the fact that NATO is on the eve of holding its own debate on the alliance's new strategy. Nuclear weapons should no longer form the cornerstone of NATO policy.

Harry van BommelThe Netherlands has never formally acknowledged the presence of nuclear weapons at the Volkel airforce base. In Germany and Belgium, the presence of such weapons is openly acknowledged and openly opposed. The German Foreign Minister has publicly stated that in his opinion American nuclear bombs should be removed. The Belgian Parliament, meanwhile, is set to debate a proposal that would declare nuclear weapons illegal. This legislative proposal is in line with a decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, which in 1996 described the threat to use or actual use of such weapons as being in conflict with international law. It would do credit to our own government and to our parliament were they to make similar declarations in regard to nuclear armaments in the Netherlands.

Both President Obama and our own Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen have declared their support for a world free of nuclear weapons. Yet Verhagen refuses to offer support to those, such as the Labour Party (PvdA) and the SP, who propose calling upon Obama to remove nuclear weapons from the Netherlands. Verhagen sees the Netherlands' central task as forming part of NATO's nuclear strategy, viewing the removal of nuclear weapons as part of a bilateral disarmament strategy between NATO and Russia.

In my view, he fails in this to do justice to the fact that the last few decades have seen more and more states acquiring nuclear weapons.

In addition to countries recognised as such, India, Pakistan and Israel have become nuclear-armed states. Given the enormous stocks of nuclear weapons in the hands of both NATO and of Russia, there can surely be no objection should NATO take the first steps capable of inspiring confidence in the process of nuclear disarmament.

This would involve no security risk. The US and its allies in NATO have at their disposal sufficiently advanced conventional weapons to act as an effective deterrence and, should it come to that, reprisal.

The Netherlands is one of many countries which have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This means that our country has pledged itself not only to oppose the spread of nuclear weapons, but also to work with others towards nuclear disarmament.

This pledge would be fulfilled were we to follow the German and Belgian examples and speak openly about the presence of nuclear weapons, expressing the desire to see these removed. In addition, NATO's nuclear strategy should be opened for discussion and concrete steps taken to scale down the enormous stocks of nuclear weapons at the alliance's disposal. The Netherlands will suffer a serious loss of credibility should we claim to be a nuclear weapon-free state while the presence of these weapons at the Volkel air base is an open secret.

The discussion within NATO and the UN over the role of nuclear weapons in security policy is now getting into its stride. In the Netherlands too, this discussion must be conducted on a broad basis, because security is something which concerns everyone.

The management of weapons and nuclear disarmament are in this respect of crucial significance., not only as part of a global nuclear disarmament process much to be desired, but also as an important signal to countries which aspire to become nuclear states themselves.

Otherwise there will be a danger that all of these fine speeches about disarmament will never result in concrete steps on the road to a world free of nuclear weapons.

This article first appeared in Dutch on 23 October 2009 in the Nederlands Dagblad, a Christian daily newspaper.

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