Harry van Bommel: Does Foreign Minister Koenders really want to get rid of nuclear weapons?

20 November 2014

Harry van Bommel: Does Foreign Minister Koenders really want to get rid of nuclear weapons?

Do you really want to get rid of nuclear weapons? I put this question this week to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders. I remember very well the backbench Member of Parliament Bert Koenders who advocated the removal of nuclear weapons from the whole of Europe and a change to NATO’s nuclear strategy. As an MP Koenders wanted to ensure that NATO would never be the first party to a conflict to use nuclear weapons, by means of what is known as a 'no first use declaration’. Now he himself sits at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he can make the difference.

I also put the nuclear strategy on the agenda as a result of an important call issued by New Zealand in the United Nations. Last month NZ asked the international community to abandon for all time the use of nuclear weapons and to eliminate them completely. As many as 155 countries supported the call, some thirty more than did so a year previously when a similar call was issued.

The recently appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs answered my question by making it clear once more that the Netherlands is a supporter of nuclear disarmament. He stated that the government’s policy is aimed at achieving the final goal of a world without nuclear weapons, Global Zero.

The government’s standpoint appears to be comparable to that of New Zealand, yet the Netherlands is not amongst the 155 countries which backed the country’s call in the UN. The reason for this is likely NATO policy. Koenders stated during the debate that NATO does not in rule out the use of nuclear weapons in all circumstances, and that a credible nuclear deterrent is in the end based on the recognition that deployment of this weapon of mass destruction cannot be completely excluded. That would be rather bending NZ’s statement.

Within NATO this is evidently seen differently by different member states, as Denmark and Norway have both signed the call. This places a major question mark on the argument that NATO policy represents an obstacle. This seems more like a lack of political courage.

For the moment it remains unclear as to whether the Minister is really prepared to go for nuclear disarmament. That’s why I hope to see Parliament voting next week to support my proposal that pressure be applied to have the Netherlands declare its support for New Zealand’s call.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on the website Joop.nl.

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