Dutch parliament to hear from disarmament experts

Today, 26 June, the Dutch Foreign Affairs committee will hear from a panel of experts on possibilities for Dutch activity to achieve nuclear disarmament. PAX, along with ICAN, the Dutch Red Cross, Pugwash and others will be presenting to the committee.

Susi Snyder will speak for PAX during the session, basing her remarks on the briefing paper below.  (You can also download the Dutch version here)


Round table discussion PAX | June 26, 2019 Position Paper PAX: Roundtable Cabinet response to AIV advice on nuclear weapons – Susi Snyder

The Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) published advice on 31 January 2019, called “Nuclear weapons in a new geopolitical reality.” The PAX and Dutch Red Cross reaction to the initial advice can be found on the PAX No Nukes website (in Dutch).  After several months, the Dutch government responded to the AIV advice. This roundtable was designed to provide a forum for experts to present their views on the Dutch government reaction, as well as on the AIV advice itself. PAX will focus its remarks on three points that could bring meaningful change to the Netherlands. Firstly, the Dutch government suggestion that deployment of new American nuclear weapons in the Netherlands is a good moment to end the Dutch nuclear task. Secondly not to give Russia a veto over Dutch disarmament policy and, finally joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

  1. The deployment of new nuclear weapons in the Netherlands and the purchase of new fighter aircraft offer possibilities for modernizing the existing agreements with the US and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our security policy

The AIV report itself has not offered any new insights or ideas for how the Netherlands can decrease the role of nuclear weapons in its security policies and doctrines, or how, within NATO, more realistic and more practical forms of deterrence and burden sharing could take place. However, the government response provides an appropriate timeline to achieve this shift- namely the deployment of new nuclear weapons to Europe, currently scheduled to take place around 2024.

  • Reaffirm that nuclear war cannot be won and therefore must never be fought: The idea that you can not win a nuclear war and therefore should never be fought was generally accepted for years, but is now under pressure again. The Netherlands should advocate for this language to be included in any agreed outcome from the 2020 NPT Review Conference.
  • No nuclear weapons task for the F-35: This cabinet should develop a timetable to end the Dutch nuclear task in the next few years. This shows that the Netherlands is serious about fulfilling its promise to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its security strategies.
  • New B61 nuclear weapons are not welcome in the Netherlands: Before 2024, the current American B61 nuclear weapons at Volkel must be returned to the US to be replaced by the newer versions (B61-12). This new weapon will also have new capabilities, including a Boeing produced guided tail kit. This is the opportunity the government highlighted as a deadline to end its hosting arrangement. As there are already existing plans to safely transport the current nuclear weapons to the US there is no reason they need to make a return journey. To bolster confidence, and build on the verification capabilities the government is investing in so heavily, it can also consider inviting external representatives (from the IAEA or from other governments) to the hosting facilities (bunkers) and let them confirm that the nuclear weapons have been removed. This would be a confidence-building measure, would help to reduce nuclear risks and would a good example of effective transparency in the field of nuclear weapons.
  • Work together with allies to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in NATO security strategies and doctrines: Attempts to eliminate nuclear weapons will fail as long as these weapons are seen as crucial to security. Joining a new nuclear arms race is dangerous and can even lead to a nuclear conflict. The Netherlands must not contribute to the emergence of a nuclear arms race, but try to break it. The more logical route is to examine alternative approaches and work from a perspective of shared interests to build a security infrastructure that does not rely on nuclear weapons.
  1. Don’t let Russia take the disarmament policy of NATO and the Netherlands hostage

The government unintentionally gives Russia a veto over its nuclear policy. This does it by suggesting that disarmament steps are not possible as long as Russia does not disarm. It is hardly realistic for the Netherlands or even NATO to allow Russia an informal veto in NATO decision making. The idea of ​​reciprocal reduction of nuclear weapons is based on the assumption that Russia wants to get rid of U.S. nuclear weapons from Western Europe, just as we would like to get rid of Russia’s nuclear weapons.  However, this assumption may not hold true. The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Northern, Western and Southern Europe is no real military threat to Russia due to the limited flight range of the fighter planes certified to drop them, but does offer Russia a perfect political excuse not to have to discuss any changes in their own nuclear arsenal. Instead of giving Russia a veto over Dutch nuclear policy, it would be more effective to engage in a dialogue with geographically diverse group of countries including Russia outside the NATO context. Such a dialogue could seek to bridge differences and restore communications and build confidence. Involving China, US and others could also be seen as a way to build some confidence and, at a minimum, agree to some basic risk reduction efforts (early warning, transparency in exercise planning, hotlines, etc).  This might be a consideration of the “Brundtland” commission like group that the Netherlands is communicating with allies about putting together.

However, this ignores a serious concern about the utility of nuclear arsenals at all. With the massive advantages of the Chinese on quantum computing, and the massive expertise demonstrated by Russia on information manipulation/ warfare-  why isn’t the Netherlands taking the forward looking approach that recognises nuclear weapons rhetoric is designed to intimidate allies towards designating limited resources to unusable systems- and create a diversion to the more insidious capabilities under production. It is unclear why the Netherlands seems to accept that old way of nuclear deterrence thinking could still be a useful framing in the new geo-political reality. A realistic approach would reduce resource allocation towards anything to do with nuclear weapons and would instead focus on addressing emerging threats to the core values and principles that unite the alliance of democracies.

  1. Delegitimization of nuclear weapons is necessary for nuclear disarmament: sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The government continues to make the false claim that the TPNW undermines the NPT. There is no legal basis for this allegation. The TPNW and the NPT explicitly pursues the same goal, namely to achieve a nuclear-free world disarmament. All parties to the NPT have, under Article VI of the Convention, the responsibility to negotiate nuclear disarmament. The TPNW reconfirms this responsibility in its preamble and also reconfirms that “full and effective implementation” of the NPT plays a vital role in promoting international peace and security.

Given that the government stated clearly on 30 January that there is no legal barrier to joining the TPNW existing within current Dutch law, and that all treaties when ratified by the Netherlands are part of the law, where is the legal agreement that requires the government to continue to allocate resources to training, storage, deployment, stationing and use of WMD?

The TPNW, the NPT, the CTBT, the FMCT and the different nuclear-weapon-free zones are all part of the global nuclear disarmament regime. The CTBT is not yet officially in force, but because parliaments and governments, including the Netherlands, have invested heavily in this treaty, there is a strong global norm against conducting nuclear tests. To develop a clear norm against nuclear weapons and to create conditions for the total elimination of nuclear arsenals, it is a logical step for the Netherlands to also join the TPNW.

As the AIV and the government acknowledge, the rule-based system of international law stands under pressure. It is precisely for this reason that it is necessary to create a culture involving multilateral agreements are fulfilled and the disarmament promises under the NPT are met. By normative change it is possible to create the right political and security conditions to facilitate disarmament. Every state has the right and responsibility to create these conditions. To do this, nuclear weapons can no longer be accepted as a legitimate option for security policy. Instead, these weapons must be designed to be unimaginably human cause suffering, to be rejected once and for all.