Published on December 6th, 2013 | by Wilbert van der Zeijden


The end of ambiguity, the beginning of transparency?

In a National Geographic documentary on the cold war, former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers broke the cone of silence surrounding the U.S. nuclear weapons stored at the Volkel air base in the Netherlands.

For decades, the Netherlands (along with most other NATO allies) have kept a policy of ambiguity around the presence of these weapons on their territories. The Germans, in their government coalition agreement of 2009, first broke the silence on this. Now the former Dutch head of state is following suit.

The news has made quite a stir on twitter this morning already. With two Dutch members of parliament- Sjoerd W. Sjoerdsma (D66) and Raymond Knops (CDA) tweeting reactions and support for the removal of these weapons.

The timing couldn’t be better, with American debates taking place this week about the budget for modernisation of these weapons – hopefully American lawmakers will hear the (old) news: The Dutch don’t want your bombs!

This has been the stated position of parliament for several years. A parliamentary resolution in 2010 called on then Dutch government to inform the United States that its nuclear weapons were no longer required for Dutch security. The message was reaffirmed in a parliamentary motion at the end of 2012, when Dutch MPs called on the government to act to have the weapons removed from Europe, and to recommend the US not continue its planned modernisation programme.

In response to a parliamentary request for new Dutch policy on nuclear weapons, the current Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans is expected to release an outline of his policy in the coming few weeks (before 21 June). IKV Pax Christi issued a publication at the beginning of the year encouraging greater transparency, among other things, in Dutch policy. This revelation by Ruud Lubbers lifts the official secrecy veil and offers Mr. Timmermans the opportunity to acknowledge the presence of the nuclear weapons and outline how the Netherlands will uphold its commitments to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons in its national security policy.

The US B61 bombs currently stored in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey are scheduled to be modernised in the coming years. This modernisation will, as Hans Kristensen (Federation of American Scientists) reports, “increase the accuracy and boost the target kill capability to one similar to the 360-kiloton strategic B61-7 bomb”. The cost for the tail kit alone is expected to be around $1 billion.

Since the 1950s, the United States has forward deployed nuclear weapons in several European countries. At the height of the cold war, there were around 7,000 of these weapons in Europe. Since the 1990s, there have been reductions and relocations of the sub-strategic, or tactical nuclear weapons deployed. Two countries have ended their hosting responsibilities for these US bombs- the UK and Greece. In the lead up to the 2010 NATO Strategic Doctrine update, several other host states (notably Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands) encouraged NATO to change its nuclear sharing policy. However, an overwhelming desire to do so (see Withdrawal Issues, which demonstrated that a large majority of NATO allies supported the withdrawal of these weapons), a few hold-out countries were able to use consensus to maintain NATO’s nuclear status quo.

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About the Author

Wilbert van der Zeijden is the senior researcher of the Security and DIsarmament team of PAX. Wilbert currently focusses on getting US nuclear weapons out of Europe; WMD out of the Middle East and your savings out of nuclear weapons producing companies. He graduated at the Vrije University in Amsterdam and previously worked for about nine years for the think-tank Transnational Institute, as their Peace and Security Programme coordinator. Wilbert’s research interests include humanitarian disarmament, NATO and European security, toxic legacies of war and developments in international military infrastructure.

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