By Tarik Soliman Osman*
Last Wednesday, April 11th, our PAX delegation visited the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a lecture and a Q&A session at their ‘Political Affairs: Security Policy’ department. Representatives of the non-proliferation, disarmament and nuclear affairs section provided us with very helpful insights into the praxis of the Dutch government and its tireless work of promoting a nuclear-free world, abroad. It especially provided us with useful insights into how very well diplomats and government officials are trained to be grilled by 14 critical students.
To some of us, perhaps the Dutch nationals amongst us to be precise, it is frustrating to realize that part of our tax money is allocated to sustain an organization that was set up in 1949 to ‘inspire hopes for peace, solidarity and shared values’, yet has thus far decided to ‘remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist’. It is through NATO that we are actively and pro-actively engaging in a new nuclear arms race, acquiring new F35s with nuclear capabilities. In addition, there is the public secret of the Netherlands hosting US (under bilateral agreements) tactical nuclear weapons on our very own soil, ever since the Cold War. For the Dutch government to be strongly promoting nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation abroad when at the same time it is actively and consciously taking political decisions to maintain and preserve those same weapons of mass destruction on our own grounds, might seem rather paradoxical to the common layperson, like myself.
The Dutch government actively engages in NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) conferences, a platform for discussion towards global non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. They view it as the ‘cornerstone treaty’, one that provides them with a basis for further negotiations and talks. However, when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was drafted last year—a treaty that legally binds all member-states to dispose of their nuclear arsenal—the Netherlands decided to vote against it. Even though all other NATO-states and nuclear weapon states decided to refrain from participation in the negotiations all together, 122 nation-states voted in favour of the legally binding treaty. The treaty will enter into force after 50 states have formally ratified it.
The reasons the Dutch officials formulated to justify their decision to not sign can be found online, with perhaps the most prominent one being that as a NATO-member state the Netherlands is obliged to share in some of NATO’s ‘nuclear burden’—a framing that calls for further dissection. ‘Nuclear burden sharing’ presumes that the nuclear capabilities of NATO are a static given, rather than an active choice made by nation-states with agency. For example, Spain and Greece were NATO-host nations too—that is to say that they were passively hosting US nuclear weapons on their soils, during and since the Cold War. However, they have given them back, pulling out of the agreements.
To conclude, we, engaged, future-minded students, peace activists, Dutch – and global citizens demand of our national governments to do better. We do not want to grow up in an age that sees public outcry over children who barely survive the chemical attacks in Syria when we are actively hosting weapons of mass destruction that could have perhaps even more horrific effects, on real people in real geographies. After our session at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I mainly want to stress the importance of the realization of active agency, because, in Foucault’s words, we aren’t mere ‘docile bodies’ in this world system. We ought not to forget that the Netherlands has taken progressive and controversial stances before. We have seen the Dutch government talk the talk, and now we strongly urge them to walk the walk.
We would all benefit.
*Tarik Soliman Osman is participating in the PAX Nuclear Diplomacy Crash Course 2018 amongst 14 other participants. He is currently pursuing his BA degree in International Studies at Leiden University, specializing in the regions of the Middle East and the European Union, taking a keen interest in Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies.