Dutch Parliament to MFA: Make TNW removal a hard goal

On the last day before the winter break, the Dutch Parliament passed a motion calling for a more active pursuit of the removal of the last 20 U.S. tactical nuclear warheads (TNW) now stationed in the Netherlands. The motion – while watered down to please Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Frans Timmermans – is still a solid step in the right direction.

Motion 33 400, nr. 100 ”Omtzigt c.s. About the Removal of Tactical Nuclear Weapons from Europe”:

The Parliament,
Having heard the debate;
taking into account that tactical nuclear weapons no longer serve any military purpose;
noticing that the dialogue within NATO and with Russia has not or has hardly brought us any progress with regard to the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe;
noticing that the TNW present in Europe need to be modernised in 2017 and that this will be very expensive;
of the opinion that these resources should not be invested in these useless and dangerous weapons;
requests from the Government, to formulate as a hard goal the removal of TNW from Europe;
requests from Government in addition, to inform the Parliament about the message that will be rpesented by the [Dutch] delegation to the conference in Oslo early March next year;
and returns to the order of the day.

Quadruple good

What’s so good about this motion, is the acknowledgement that it’s a bad idea to wait for another round of fruitless debate within NATO or with Russia. Kudos for the Dutch Parliament that they picked up on the fact that these are not leading anyone closer to removing those pesky B61’s, Double good is that the motion turns against modernisation of B61’s. It’s the first time Parliament really discussed modernisation and immediately came to the right conclusion: Why invest 10 billion US$ in a weapon that is so obviously pointless and unwanted. Triple good is that the motion got through at all! For some of the parties in favour, it is the first time they put their weight behind the growing push for an end to B61 deployments in the Netherlands. Quadruple good is the call on the Government to make withdrawal of TNW part of the Dutch discourse for Oslo. I’ll believe it when I see it, a Dutch delegation stating that they would like to be nuclear weapon free while on record in Oslo, but hey, I’ll happily be surprised.

Twice bad

It’s politics, so it’s never as good as it should be. The repetitive use of the word ‘European’ was added only after Minister Timmermans had said that he will follow the line of the motion only if it indicates that not only the U.S. weapons but also Russian weapons should be removed. In the debate prior to the motion being accepted, Timmermans commented that “of course our goal is the removal of tactical or sub-strategic weapons from Europe, but always as the result of a negotiation. There are also quite a few nuclear weapons on the other side of Europe, and that’s an understatement.”

If this is Timmermans’ explanation of a motion that states literally that “dialogue with Russia has not or has hardly brought us any progress”, we clearly still have a job to do making clear to the minister that –despite what NATO staff tell you – negotiations with Russia will lead us nowhere. Ask the Russians, they will tell you. Again.

Also not good is that the document is a motion, not a so-called amendment. In Dutch politics, amendments are binding, motions are not.

The minister, recently inaugurated in October, has asked Parliament for a bit of time to consult the U.S. and other NATO-allies. This spring, he will present to Parliament a ‘policy paper’ explaining his goals and hopes with regard to nuclear weapons for the coming period. This motion will certainly help to stress that Parliament and population of the Netherlands demand a vision with a clear end goal: A country without American nuclear weapons.

In anticipation of Timmermans’ policy paper, IKV Pax Christi is undertaking several efforts:

We will present the ministry with 16 pages of unsolicited policy analysis and advice, arguing among other things  that all requirements (both sufficient and necessary) are met to negotiate the end of nuclear deployments in the Netherlands, bilaterally with the U.S.. Next to that, we’re preparing a similar document for Parliamentarians, to make sure they have all they need to keep the issue on the table. Finally, we’re preparing a public activity so that Dutch citizens and mayors can individually speak out in favour of withdrawal of B61’s – with or without the blessing of NATO allies..

To sum it all up: in a two steps forward, one step back reality, this was one forward.