Atom bombs in our countries undermine nuclear disarmament

14 April 2011

Atom bombs in our countries undermine nuclear disarmament

On 14th and 15th April NATO Foreign Ministers meet in Berlin. The operation in Libya, Unified Protector, will undoubtedly dominate a great deal of the discussion. But the implementation of the alliance’s new Strategic Concept is also on the agenda. This new Strategic Concept was approved in November 2010. It left, however, a number of crucial questions unanswered. These principally concern the further elaboration and the implementation of NATO’s nuclear policy: what to do with the American strategic nuclear weapons which continue to be stored in Western Europe and in Turkey, to mention only one of these questions.

Harry van Bommel (SP), Dirk Van der Maelen (SP.a), Jan van Aken (Die Linke), Ufak Uras (BDP)

An American diplomatic message on Wikileaks gives us more insight into what is going on behind the scenes. It is an account of a gathering on 10th November 2009 in the presence of the American ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy, the German national security advisor Cristoph Heusgen and the American Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Phil Gordon. One of Gordon’s remarks is summarised as follows:
“A withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany and perhaps from Belgium and the Netherlands could make it very difficult politically for Turkey to maintain its own stockpile, even though it was still convinced of the need to do so.”

This declaration is remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, because it confirms the presence of American nuclear weapons on European soil. This is despite the fact that, in keeping with official NATO policy, in reaction to dozens of questions in our parliaments nobody is willing either to confirm or deny this presence. In Germany, moreover, this policy is no longer taken seriously, since Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle clearly wants to see the American nuclear weapons removed from his country. Secondly, because it demonstrates that the continued storage of nuclear weapons has nothing to do with either utility or necessity, but everything to do with politically strategic reasons. That is with regard to Turkey, but not least with regard to Russia.

This conclusion unfortunately undermines the ambitious declarations regarding nuclear disarmament of President Obama, the aforementioned Guido Westerwelle, former Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen and outgoing Belgian Premier Yves Leterme. The NATO member states are at the very least accessory to the maintaining of the nuclear status quo through their failure, in reality, to take any steps towards the withdrawal of the strategic nuclear weapons. The Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was correct to point out during last year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that nuclear-armed states may not share their knowledge of nuclear-military technology with non-nuclear armed states, a proviso of the NPT. This was a clear nod to NATO’s nuclear policy and certainly no isolated standpoint, as he spoke on behalf of the 118 member states of the Organisation of Non-Aligned Countries. But at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010, paragraph 17 of the new Strategic Concept included the statement that ‘as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.’

Stored in five countries, the American tactical nuclear weapons represent an outmoded aspect of the NATO strategy, based in the main on the nuclear capacity of submarines belonging to the US, United Kingdom and France. Moreover, this element of the strategy forms part of an obsolete Cold War context. Rumour has it that the US Air Force regards the nuclear bombs as useless and would rather take them back to the States. But if the strategy as laid out by Assistant Secretary Gordon remains current, we could have a long wait.

There is, however, one further basic possibility to record some progress. This is to be found in a single line of the closing declaration of last November’s NATO summit, in which is mentioned a ‘comprehensive review’ of the nuclear policy, or, as the declaration has it, of ‘NATO’s overall posture’. It would be a fine thing if the NATO foreign ministers were to seize this chance, and at their meeting this week decide to take some concrete steps towards withdrawal . Recent research by the Dutch branch of the Christian peace group Pax Christi showed that the majority of the twenty-eight NATO member states are not opposed to the removal of the American tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. It’s time to put this intention into practice.

This article is by

Harry van Bommel (Member of the Parliament of the Netherlands for the SP, spokesman on foreign policy)

Dirk Van der Maelen (Member of the Belgian Parliament for the sp.a [Flemish Social Democrats], spokesman on foreign policy and Chair of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Prroliferation and Disarmament [PNND] working group)

Jan van Aken (Member of the German Bundestag for Die Linke [The Left])

Ufak Uras (Member of the Turkish Parliament for the BDP [Social Democrats])

This article first appeared (in Dutch) on 14th April, 2011, on the website Joop.nl

You are here