Dutch Policy Letter on Nuclear Weapons

After almost 11 months, Minister Timmermans sent Parliament a letter on the Dutch nuclear weapons policies.  This is the English translation as provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Letter of 24 October 2013 from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence to the House of Representatives on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation

In accordance with my earlier undertaking I hereby submit to you, in my own capacity and on behalf of the Minister of Defence, the government’s policy strategy on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.


On 21 March 1963, the then US President John F. Kennedy expressed the fear that by the 1970s there might be 15, 20 or even 25 nuclear-weapon states in the world. Thanks in part to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), things have not come to that. However, as Iran and North Korea make clear, the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons has by no means receded. Although much has been achieved in the field of disarmament, there is still a long way to go. With the end of the Cold War and the signing of various disarmament treaties, the number of American and Russian nuclear weapons has decreased substantially; yet according to open sources there are still over 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world, most of them with a destructive power many times greater than the bombs that reduced Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ashes.

In a speech he made in Berlin in June of this year, just over 50 years after his predecessor, President Obama again spoke of the danger posed by nuclear weapons. He said he sought a world without nuclear weapons, for ‘so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe’. He stated that he wanted to take new steps towards disarmament with the Russians in the field of strategic nuclear weapons and, together with NATO allies, achieve ‘bold’ reductions in the numbers of American and Russian non-strategic weapons in Europe. The Dutch government fully endorses this aim and wishes to pursue an active policy in this area.

As stated in the International Security Strategy (ISS) ‘A Secure Netherlands in a Secure World’ (see the letter to parliament dated 21 June 2013, Parliamentary Paper 33 694, no. 1), the ultimate aim of Dutch policy is a world without nuclear weapons. In signing the NPT the Netherlands has also made a treaty commitment to this goal.

The government aims to reduce the number of conventional weapons in the world and ban chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. This policy letter discusses how the Netherlands hopes to achieve the ideal of complete nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. In view of this specific focus, conventional, chemical and biological weapons will not be discussed here.

The Netherlands’ policy goals
One of the main policy goals in the ISS is disarmament, including nuclear disarmament. In addition, the Netherlands of course remains committed to non-proliferation. Both disarmament and non-proliferation require our unremitting attention, now and in the future.

It will take time to achieve the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The path towards it will involve lengthy, complex negotiations. Although the Netherlands is not directly involved in the negotiations between the United States and Russia, it is both able and willing to play an active role as an initiator and bridge-builder in various forums and organisations.

The focus of the Netherlands’ efforts is on:
promoting the international legal order;
preventing nuclear terrorism;
promoting compliance with and enforcement of international standards and legislation; and
encouraging international negotiations on disarmament and non-proliferation.

1. Promoting the international legal order

The 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the cornerstone of the global disarmament and non-proliferation architecture. The treaty is the foundation of Dutch policy, and rests on three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation and the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy. Central to this is the promise by the five recognised nuclear-weapon states to aim for complete disarmament and the undertaking by the non-nuclear-weapon states not to pursue the development or possession of nuclear weapons, in return for the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The NPT has so far functioned adequately, but is under pressure owing to its lack of universality, non-compliance with safeguards requirements and the perception that disarmament is not making sufficient progress. This has undermined the credibility of the treaty – a dangerous development, particularly because countries may conclude from the perceived weakening of the treaty that the way to developing their own nuclear capabilities now lies open.

The Netherlands therefore aims for universalisation of the NPT, and calls upon all states that have not yet done so to sign the treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states.

Despite decades of partial progress on the NPT, there are still fundamental holes in the international legal structure regarding nuclear matters. For instance, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not yet entered into force and no agreement has yet been reached on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

One of the ways in which the Netherlands is actively endeavouring to strengthen the international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture is through its membership of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI). This group of 12 countries (Poland, Australia, Chile, Japan, the UAE, Turkey, Germany, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria and the Philippines) is attempting to implement the 2010 NPT Review Conference action plan in a practical and pragmatic manner. The NPDI also intends to encourage international discussions on disarmament and non-proliferation in the relevant forums and help draw up their agendas.

As is known, the Netherlands (see Parliamentary Paper 33 400 V, no. 129) hosted and chaired the ministerial NPDI meeting in The Hague on 9 April 2013. The meeting drew up the NPDI’s policy strategy and input for the preparatory meeting in Geneva (held a few weeks later) for the 2015 NPT Review Conference. The NPDI contribution in Geneva included initiating a debate on the reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines, the need to include all categories of nuclear weapons (including non-strategic ones) in subsequent rounds of negotiations, and focusing on the importance of nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world. The NPDI also contributed to the debate on the CTBT, export controls and broader application of IAEA safeguards. The NPDI strongly advocates universalisation of the IAEA Additional Protocol (AP), a key instrument in enabling the agency to fulfil its role in verifying non-proliferation (see below). Finally, not only at its plenary session but also, in particular, in contacts with the five recognised nuclear-weapon states and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the NPDI meeting in Geneva highlighted the importance of transparency and disarmament. The Netherlands and the NPDI will also continue to focus on these issues in the remainder of the NPT Review Cycle.

A key part of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is the nuclear test ban, which makes it much harder for countries without nuclear weapons to produce them and for countries that do have them to develop new, more sophisticated ones. It also prevents harm to people and the environment. That is why in 1996 the Netherlands played a leading role in drawing up the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has since then made efforts to ensure it enters into force. From the outset the Netherlands has been a member of the Friends of the CTBT, a small group of countries that seek to keep rapid ratification of the treaty on the international agenda, among other things by holding a biennial conference on the subject under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

The CTBT has been signed and ratified by many states and has established a standard that is observed worldwide – except by North Korea. However, the treaty has not yet entered into force. It can only do so once it has been ratified by the last eight of the ‘nuclear-capable states’ (the 44 countries listed in Annex 2 to the CTBT. In anticipation of this, the Netherlands has made active efforts to help set up the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna. Dutch experts are closely involved in establishing the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS), among other things as chair of the working group responsible for setting it up. The Netherlands is also funding this work, as well as participation in the working group by experts from developing countries. The IMS has detected all three of North Korea’s nuclear tests (in 2006, 2009 and 2013). In conjunction with the established standard this has had a deterrent effect, for there have been no more nuclear tests, except in North Korea. However, this cannot of course be a substitute for the entry into force of the treaty. The Netherlands will therefore continue to press for the entry into force of the CTBT.

Another important step on the way to a world without nuclear weapons is a ban on the production of fissile materials – enriched uranium and plutonium – for use in nuclear weapons. A Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) should not only put an end to production of new fissile materials, but can also – depending on what the parties to the treaty decide – require existing stocks to be placed under a verification regime, or reduced.

Like many other countries, the Netherlands considers that negotiations on such a treaty should have started years ago. However, the Geneva Conference on Disarmament (CD) – which is where such a treaty should normally be negotiated – has been in an impasse for over 15 years. This is because the CD’s programme of work has been held up for years by a number of countries. Over the years the Netherlands has always advocated the start of negotiations on an FMCT and has attempted to keep the debate on the subject alive, among other things by organising meetings of experts, ancillary activities during NPT meetings and financial support for think tanks such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials. The Netherlands will continue to press for the start of negotiations on an FMCT and contribute to the preparatory technical work required for this purpose.

The impasse in the CD has also led several countries to initiate the establishment of an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) in order to make progress with multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. The Netherlands provides political support for this initiative, and has contributed to it.

Partly thanks to Dutch efforts, the 67th meeting of the UNGA adopted Resolution 67/53, proposing that a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) will examine elements of an FMCT in 2014. The Netherlands would like to be part of the GGE, and is funding support for the group by Dutch officials. The United Nations Secretary-General has yet to decide which countries will be members of the GGE.

2. Preventing nuclear terrorism

Especially since 9/11, the international community has been increasingly concerned about the potential consequences of nuclear terrorism involving stolen nuclear weapons or nuclear weapon material, as well as ‘dirty bombs’. The Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process focuses on combating nuclear terrorism by improving the security of nuclear sources. The process began in 2010 with a summit in Washington DC, initiated by President Obama, and was followed by a second summit in Seoul. The heads of state and government of 53 countries have been invited to the third summit in The Hague in March 2014, with the heads of four international organisations (the UN, the IAEA, the EU and Interpol) as observers.

The Netherlands’ aim for the 2014 summit is to enhance the physical security of fissile materials that can be used in nuclear weapons, reduce the use of such materials and tighten up the international-law regime on the security of nuclear materials. An important instrument here is the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM). The Netherlands has ratified this convention and is already working to implement it in its domestic legislation. As chair of the NSS, the Netherlands is also working to ensure that the amendment enters into force, among other things by funding IAEA workshops, making bilateral démarches and setting up an informal ‘group of friends’ based in Vienna. Another 30 ratifications are still needed before the amendment can enter into force. Early this year the Netherlands approached over 60 countries in order to speed up these ratifications, and it hopes to see the convention in force by 2014. The Netherlands is also pressing for more effective interaction between the public and private sectors and is encouraging businesses to make proposals for the strengthening and optimum implementation of nuclear security measures.

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) was launched by the United States and Russia in 2006. The 85 countries that are part of the GICNT are working with the IAEA to combat smuggling of nuclear material and improve security at nuclear installations. The Netherlands is actively involved in the initiative, and in 2009 a plenary meeting of the GICNT was held in The Hague. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) chairs one of the three GICNT working groups, the working group on nuclear detection. Within the GICNT, the Netherlands has pressed for practical cooperation on thematic and regional lines to ensure that the instrument remains relevant to the Netherlands and our international partners.

The aim of the Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (GP), set up in 2002 on the initiative of the G8, is to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially for terrorist purposes. It focuses on the physical security and disposal of nuclear, radiological and chemical material. After the Cold War ended and much of the Soviet nuclear arsenal was dismantled, large quantities of this proliferation-sensitive material became available. Through practical intervention under the GP, over USD 20 billion have been spent on programmes to secure, dispose of and render harmless this material so that it cannot fall into terrorist hands. As of 2008 the GP has been active worldwide. The Netherlands is an active member and supports the GP by funding such activities as the detection and securing of nuclear and radiological sources in Kazakhstan. It will make over €1.6 million available for this purpose between now and 2015.

The UN Security Council (UNSC), as a protector of peace and security, also plays a key role in efforts to combat nuclear terrorism. On 28 April 2004, the Security Council adopted UNSC Resolution 1540 in response to the growing threat from non-state actors. Under the terms of this resolution, states must prevent nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and technology from falling into the hands of non-state actors. A specially established 1540 Committee is working to promote implementation of the resolution, and the Netherlands offers support to countries that encounter problems in implementing it.

3. Promoting compliance with and enforcement of international standards and legislation

The Netherlands strongly advocates a robust verification system and an appropriate international response in cases where non-compliance with international non-proliferation agreements is detected or there is reasonable doubt as to their enforcement, since non-compliance undermines the integrity and credibility of the NPT. As a central player, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for carrying out robust nuclear inspections and reporting on the findings. The Netherlands is endeavouring to ensure that the IAEA can perform its verification role. A well-equipped IAEA with sufficient capabilities and resources, in conjunction with a robust international non-proliferation system, will minimise the likelihood of non-compliance with obligations by member states. The Netherlands also actively advocates the ‘state-level concept’ and ‘integrated safeguards’ that will enable the IAEA to determine the inspection pressure in a given country on the basis of a broader analysis.

To ensure that as thorough a check as possible can be carried out, the Additional Protocol (AP) was drawn up in 1997. This gives the IAEA a broad mandate to verify that there is no unreported nuclear material in a given country. It is thus a highly important verification instrument that greatly enhances the effect of the bilateral Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs) signed with the IAEA. CSAs enable the IAEA to verify the accuracy of national statements on the presence of nuclear material; the agency can also use an AP to verify whether the statements are complete. A CSA, in conjunction with the AP, thus provides the accurate, complete picture that is required in order to draw a ‘broader conclusion’.

However, APs are not yet in force for all countries. Together with the other members of the NPDI and the Vienna-based ‘Friends of the AP’, the Netherlands is pressing for universalisation of the instrument. It also supports the IAEA, among other things with a voluntary contribution of €100,000 to help organise training courses and provide technical support concerning the Additional Protocol.

For some years the Netherlands has also made a biennial contribution in support of the IAEA’s Member State Support Programme, which provides expertise and material that is needed for the implementation of the safeguards programme. The contribution for 2013-2014 is €254,000.

Another way in which the Netherlands directly contributes to non-proliferation is by strengthening the system of robust export controls. The EU Dual-Use Regulation and the Dutch General Customs Act and Strategic Goods Decree prescribe that nuclear materials (uranium and plutonium) and goods that can be used to manufacture such materials must be licensed. Goods that can contribute to the development and production of nuclear weapons or their delivery systems are also subject to export controls.

In view of all this, the Netherlands will remain an active member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of 48 countries that seek to prevent the export of goods, technology or software from contributing to the development or manufacture of nuclear weapons. NSG agreements as to which goods are relevant and which conditions govern their supply are politically, but not legally, binding.

The basic principles of the Netherlands’ export control policy on dual-use goods, including nuclear goods, are set out in the government’s response1 to the European Commission’s Dual-Use Green Paper and the report on the written consultations on the subject,2 as adopted on 21 October 2011. At EU level, through the Council Working Party on Dual-Use Goods and the Council Working Group on Non-Proliferation (CONOP), the Netherlands has been pressing for clear, strict agreements on and implementation of export controls. This involves striking a balance between (a) implementing effective, balanced controls to prevent the export from the Netherlands of goods that are a threat to peace and security and (b) ensuring that the private sector is not unnecessarily hampered in its ability to do business on a level European playing field.

Another international initiative designed to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which the Netherlands joined when it was first launched. The main purpose of this American initiative is to halt the illegal sale and transport of weapons of mass destruction and related products to states and non-state actors that pose a proliferation risk. The PSI focuses on fostering and enhancing cooperation between customs authorities, intelligence and security services and investigative bodies. A good example of practical international cooperation is the Container Security Initiative, whereby shipping containers are subject to pre-shipment inspection at their ports of origin for materials that could be used for terrorist purposes.

4. Encouraging international negotiations
The government notes that the greatest opportunities for disarmament lie in further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Russian Federation. These arsenals are many times larger than those of the other recognised nuclear-weapon states (the United Kingdom, France and China) put together. According to open sources, the United States and Russia possess 16,200 of the world’s 17,325 nuclear weapons. These figures already take account of the now largely completed reductions under the latest (2011) bilateral US-Russian treaty on nuclear arms reduction, known as New START. The government therefore believes that Dutch efforts should mainly focus on creating conditions to facilitate further negotiations between the two countries, taking both deployed and non-deployed strategic and tactical nuclear weapons into account.

It is by no means clear to what extent Russia is prepared to consider this. The initial Russian responses to President Obama’s proposal, made in his Berlin speech on 19 June 2013, to reduce the numbers of deployed strategic weapons on both sides by as much as a third, have not been encouraging. Russia has indicated that it intends to maintain its arsenal rather than reduce it. A major contributing factor to the inflexible Russian stance so far has been the development of America’s Missile Defense programme. Although this system is not aimed at Russia, and moreover would not be effective against large numbers of Russian nuclear weapons, Russia believes that it would upset the balance of strategic deterrence and reduce the effectiveness of Russian nuclear weapons. Russia also makes a direct link between nuclear and conventional disarmament, which complicates negotiations on a new arms treaty following on from New START.

The Netherlands will continue to emphasise the need for tangible progress on nuclear disarmament. At the same time, it is keen to help create the right climate for negotiations between the United States and Russia and the improvement in mutual understanding and trust that this will require – for example, by pressing for increased transparency in such areas as Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons (NSNWs), reduction in the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines, and reduction in the operational readiness of nuclear weapons. The Netherlands wishes to play an active role here as an initiator and bridge-builder, according to the circumstances and bodies involved.

One of the organisations in which nuclear policy is discussed is NATO. Nuclear weapons are an integral part of NATO’s military doctrine, as set out in the Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR) adopted at the 2012 Chicago summit. The Dutch government believes that the DDPR strikes the right balance between deterrence and protection of the alliance and minimising the likelihood that nuclear weapons will ever actually be used. NATO is endeavouring to bring about an eventual complete ban on nuclear weapons, and states that ‘the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote’. However, the DDPR states that ‘as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance’. Membership of NATO also gives the Netherlands an opportunity to help the security organisation focus more of its attention on disarmament and non-proliferation. At NATO level the Netherlands and a number of other countries have specifically raised the issues of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the role of nuclear weapons within the alliance.

In recent years, partly at the instigation of the Netherlands, NATO has increasingly debated such matters as the role of nuclear weapons, including non-strategic ones, in the NATO doctrine, as well as NATO’s explicit support for disarmament, transparency and trust-building measures. Dutch efforts have also helped create various openings in the DDPR for possible action on disarmament. The DDPR has committed NATO to creating conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the goals of the NPT. This is in line with the Netherlands’ wish to take pragmatic, concrete steps towards systematic reduction of all nuclear weapons, in a gradual, step-by-step process – the ultimate goal being to abolish them altogether. Furthermore, at the insistence of the Netherlands in particular, the DDPR has become a public document so that a transparent, public debate can take place.

Non-strategic nuclear weapons
A topic that has drawn increasing attention in recent years is Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons (NSNWs), also known as tactical nuclear weapons.

At the height of the Cold War there were thousands of such weapons in Europe, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. At least on the NATO side, this number has been greatly reduced by successive reductions during the 1990s under the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs). There has also been a reduction in such weapons on the Russian side, but it is not clear how many NSNWs the Russian Federation currently possesses. What is clear is that Russia has far more NSNWs than NATO now has in Europe.

At NATO level the Netherlands is pressing for the reduction and eventual elimination of NSNWs throughout Europe, on the basis of negotiation and reciprocity. Partly at the instigation of the Netherlands and other NATO member states that are pursuing the same goals, the DDPR states that NATO is willing to consider further reductions in these weapons on the basis of reciprocity with Russia, and taking account of Russia’s considerably larger numbers of NSNWs in Europe.

NATO’s willingness to consider further reductions in the number of NSNWs was explicitly confirmed in President Obama’s recent speech in Berlin. He stated that the United States, together with its NATO allies, will aim for ‘bold’ reductions in the number of American and Russian NSNWs in Europe.

Mindful of the Omtzigt motion (Parliamentary Paper 33 400 V of 20 December 2012), I specifically mentioned the reduction of NSNWs stationed in Europe during a recent conversation with my American counterpart John Kerry. On that occasion I emphasised that the role of NSNWs has changed drastically in recent years, and that the Netherlands supports further nuclear reduction. The Netherlands seeks the elimination of all NSNWs throughout Europe, including Russia. With reference to President Obama’s disarmament agenda, which is fully endorsed by the Netherlands, I made clear that this country hopes for greater flexibility as regards transparency, of course in cooperation with its NATO allies. Mr Kerry replied that the United States is still aiming for further reductions in nuclear weapons, including NSNWs, but that the discussions on the subject that the US administration has for some time been attempting to hold with Russia are unfortunately making little headway. The United States and the Netherlands are in agreement that further action on NSNWs will depend on progress in the negotiations with Russia, as well as agreement within NATO.

Various allies have called for American NSNWs to be kept in Europe, and emphasise that these weapons strengthen ties with the United States. To some NATO allies, NSNWs are an essential political and symbolic link between Europe and the United States, and a number of them also see the nuclear weapons in Europe as a valuable counterweight to a perceived Russian threat. Since NATO decisions are taken by consensus, NATO must reach unanimity on this before discussions with Russia on the reduction or elimination of NSNWs in Europe can begin. The Netherlands’ main focus within NATO will therefore be on efforts to allow the reduction of nuclear weapons and the eventual elimination of NSNWs throughout Europe.

Fostering transparency and mutual trust
The Netherlands wishes to pursue its efforts within NATO to foster transparency, including on NSNWs.

It is known that American nuclear weapons are stationed in Europe. For security reasons, under legally binding agreements within the alliance, no information can be given about where these weapons are, or how many of them there are at each location. All the NATO allies subscribe to this need for secrecy. For this and other reasons, the government always replies to questions about the possible presence of American nuclear weapons on Dutch territory by saying that, because of obligations to the alliance, no information can be provided on the subject.

Subject to the constraints of secrecy within NATO, the Netherlands works to see greater openness about nuclear weapons in Europe. This requires agreement within the alliance, as well as similar openness on the part of the Russian Federation about its own arsenal. Russia’s response to this has so far been negative, and so a breakthrough currently seems unlikely.

NATO recently set up a Special Advisory and Consultative Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Committee (ACDN) to examine specific – albeit more limited – proposals aimed at fostering transparency and trust between NATO and the Russian Federation. The Netherlands is actively involved in the work of the committee. Possible elements include further exchange of information on nuclear doctrines, as well as exchange of information on security procedures and numbers of dismantled NSNWs. Once agreement has been reached on this within the ACDN, these transparency proposals can be discussed with Russia. This debate will build on proposals made by the Netherlands and other NATO allies back in 2011. The essence of these proposals was that NATO and Russia should at least exchange information on numbers of NSNWs and perhaps later on their locations, operational status and security, to lay the foundations for mutual reduction of these weapons.

In late June 2013 the Netherlands hosted a NATO-Russia Council (NRC) Seminar on Nuclear Doctrines and Strategy, at which senior American, British, French and Russian officials provided details of their countries’ nuclear policies. The hosting of this seminar illustrates the importance the Dutch government attaches to the Netherlands’ role as a bridge-builder in fostering transparency, mutual understanding and trust, including in cooperation between NATO and the Russian Federation.

The role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines
Besides transparency, the government believes that attention should also be paid to reducing the importance of nuclear weapons in the military doctrines of nuclear-weapon states and NATO as a whole. To allow future reductions in nuclear weapons it is necessary to think about reduction in the role of such weapons – not only in the NATO-Russia context, but worldwide. The Netherlands is doing what it can to encourage this debate at both NATO and NPT level – an example being the aforementioned NRC seminar. This is one reason why the NPDI held a seminar on the subject during the NPT meeting in Geneva this spring and submitted a discussion paper.

In a sense, reducing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons is part and parcel of reducing in their role in military doctrines. During the Cold War many nuclear weapons were on full alert, which effectively meant they could be launched at the press of a button. Although the number of nuclear weapons on full alert has now decreased substantially, the system still exists. A resolution designed to change this, entitled ‘decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems’, has been submitted to the UN General Assembly every other year since 2007. The Dutch government believes that reducing the operational readiness of such weapons will contribute to world security.

Dutch disarmament and non-proliferation policy is based not only on considerations of international security and stability, but also on the realisation that a nuclear explosion would have a catastrophic impact on humanity, nature and the environment. The government believes that more attention should be paid to this humanitarian aspect. That is one reason why the Netherlands attended the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons held in Oslo in March 2013 (see Parliamentary Paper 33 400, no. 140, dated 14 June 2013). The Netherlands also plans to attend similar follow-up meetings. The guiding principle here is that attention to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should not merely become a discussion about banning and outlawing them. The government does not consider that this is the way to achieve a lasting reduction in nuclear weapons and eventually their complete elimination. As this policy letter has made clear, the government believes that disarmament must be the result of a process of negotiation based on mutual understanding and trust – a process it wishes to contribute to.

Since the end of the Cold War there has been considerable progress on disarmament and non-proliferation – not always so conspicuous, not to everyone’s entire satisfaction and certainly not always with the desired ideal end result, but progress nonetheless. Yet there is clearly no reason for complacency. The disarmament and non-proliferation challenges now facing the world are very numerous, and will continue to demand our undivided attention in the decades to come.

The Netherlands intends to play a proactive role in this process. Nuclear weapons still exist, and will not disappear any time soon. Yet this should not distract us from the ultimate goal that the Netherlands and a growing number of countries have set themselves: a world without nuclear weapons, a ‘Global Zero’ world.