Cold War is still not over

7 August 2013

Cold War is still not over

Today and next Friday will see the commemoration, for the eighty-first time, of the only use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction; against an urban population by the United States Air Force, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a result of the bombings an estimate of nearly 200,000 civilians died in the following four months. The commemoration is still necessary in view of the fact that the Cold War, as far as nuclear terror is concerned, has never ended.

Karel Koster is a foreign policy specialist for the SP research department.

The immense build-up of the nuclear weapons arsenal on the part of the Great Powers since 1945 has resulted in a world balancing on the edge of the abyss and which, despite major reductions in numbers, continues to do so. It wasn’t the mistrust between the nuclear powers which brought hundreds of thousands of people on to the street in the 1980s, but the simple fact that the next world war would be the last. It was a matter of the absurd existential situation to which this weapon had brought humanity.

This this was no exaggeration was proved by at least three incidents as a result of which the nuclear-armed powers came close to launching nuclear weapons: the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, a NATO nuclear exercise in 1983 which was seen by the Soviet Union as the first step towards a surprise attack, and a third case in 1995 when a meteorological rocket launched from the North Sea almost resulted in a Russian nuclear strike. The last incident is important because it took place after the end of the Cold War.

At the moment - twenty four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – there are still thousands of nuclear weapons ready for launching inside a quarter-hour. At a time of newly rising tensions between the nuclear powers, such as now around Syria or surrounding the erection of the rocket shield, the existence of such a situation of terror presents an existential danger to the world.

It goes without saying that the proliferation of nuclear weapons to states other than their original possessors presents a huge danger. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has failed to delay or end this process. Three countries – Israel, India and Pakistan – refuse to sign the NPT. North Korea has deratified the Treaty and carried out nuclear tests, while serious doubts exist over Iranian nuclear aims. The Indian position was strengthened by the signing of a treaty with the US in 2005 for the supply of advanced nuclear technology. Pakistan is working to get a similar treaty with China.

In this way the original aim of the NPT has been undermined. That was after all an agreement not only to strive to put a stop to the proliferation of military nuclear technology but also towards nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately little of this has, as things stand, come to pass. The US, for example, plans during the coming budgetary year to spend almost eight billion dollars on nuclear weapons, more than the amount spent by President Reagan at the height of the Cold War. For Russia, nuclear weapons form an intrinsic part of their Cold War machine. Both Britain and France are renewing their nuclear strike force and China is building up its arsenal.

The treaties that have been signed, such as the New START signed in 2010 by Russia and the US, are intended to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons, not to abolish them, Because the nuclear-armed states are in no hurry to achieve nuclear disarmament, the NPT is being undermined.

The participation of the Netherlands in the NATO nuclear alliance is extremely relevant. It’s a matter not only of the worrying preparedness, as a non-nuclear state, nevertheless to deploy nuclear weapons. A crucial aspect is that the alliance itself has a nuclear doctrine which puts its members in an exceptional position. The question for these other signatories to the NPT is staring them in the face: who does have a nuclear strike force, and who does not?

Who, at a time when ceremonies of remembrance are being held in Japan, has any difficulty with the slogan ‘all nuclear weapons out of the world’? It’s true that the know-how to make nuclear weapons cannot be abolished, but agreements could be made to make access to and application of this knowledge harder, for example by means of a treaty aimed at complete abolition. In the meantime serious steps towards nuclear disarmament are needed. The unilateral removal of the nuclear bombs at Volkel and the abolition of NATO’s nuclear force would represent such steps.

This article first appeared in the original Dutch on 6th August 2013 in the Dutch national newspaper Trouw.

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