Over the past three years, the tone of discussions about tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in the Dutch parliament has changed. It is no longer a debate about the need for these weapons. It is now only a discussion about the best strategy to get rid of them. Governments have maintained for a couple of years now that the best strategy is through change within NATO. That way, all the nuclear deployments would end and the Netherlands would not pay the price of ‘defecting’. Most Dutch political parties, experts and NGO’s agreed with the government that it was at least worth the try to end the deployments through NATO decision making.
The Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) shows that this strategy has failed to deliver. The bombs are still deployed at Volkel Air Base and Dutch aircraft and pilots are still assigned nuclear tasks. Three years of discussions in NATO did not result in any change. Moreover, there is no plan coming from NATO that convincingly leads to even the eventual removal of nuclear weapons from the Netherlands. Instead, the DDPR throws up a number obstacles that will block progress. The DDPR links further reductions to Russia’s willingness to discuss reductions of their nuclear weapons. And the DDPR reconfirms that only if all countries agree to the removal of nuclear weapons, may it be considered.
In the Netherlands, the result of this disappointing turn of events is that a growing number of politicians, experts and civil society organisations are starting to openly question whether the issue should be left to NATO’s questionable decision making processes at all. Formally, no-one can stop the Dutch from dealing with the issue bilaterally with the U.S., much the same way Greece and the UK did when they negotiated the end of U.S. TNW deployments in their countries.
Even before the DDPR was made public, the GreenLeft Party and the Socialist Party proposed motions calling on the government to make it clear in NATO that if the DDPR would not come up with a time-bound plan for phasing out the TNW, the Dutch would retain the right to deal with the issue bilaterally. The motions were rejected, but by a very small margin. 69 voted in favour, where 76 were needed. With upcoming elections in September, polls show that a new parliament could very well support such motions. In addition, polls show a reasonable chance that a new coalition government may be dominated by political parties that support the early withdrawal of obsolete TNW and are willing to pay the political price of defying pressure from a few NATOmembers.
A quick tour of Election Programmes shows what political parties want to achieve in the next government period:
Socialist Party (SP): Nuclear Disarmament in Europe is prioritised. The Netherlands will send American nuclear weapons on Dutch soil back.
GreenLeft Party (GroenLinks): The Netherlands will start a political and diplomatic campaign for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons on our territory will be removed. The Netherlands will strive for an end to NATO nuclear sharing tasks.
Labour Party (PvdA): The Netherlands will actively strive within NATO for further reductions of tactical nuclear weapons and will take with other EU countries the initiative towards the U.S. about early removal of these weapons from the Netherlands.
Party for Animal Rights (PvdD): The Netherlands will aim for a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons. The remaining nuclear weapons will be removed from the Netherlands in the short run.
D66: We want the nuclear weapons removed from the Netherlands.
ChristianUnion (ChristenUnie): There are weapons that are not to be used. Such as […] nuclear weapons. We therefore strive for further reductions of these weapons, in particular in Europe.
The Christian Democrats (CDA) and the xenophobe Wilders Party (PVV) have no opinion on the matter. The neoliberal party VVD – currently the biggest party – will release its election programme later but no language on TNW is expected.
Finding a new consensus
Summing up, all progressive and left parties support the early removal of TNW from the Netherlands, without NATO consensus if need be. Centrist parties would not oppose early withdrawal but favour decision making through NATO. Conservative and right wing parties as well as the xenophobe party ignore the issue of foreign nuclear weapons on Dutch territory.
Looking at the latest polls, it seems likely that there will be a majority in parliament of parties that support the early withdrawal of TNW. How that translates to a new government policy is impossible to predict in the polarised Dutch multiparty system. Much depends on which party will be the biggest: The neoliberal party VVD or the Socialist Party (SP). If the SP leads the next government, it is to be expected that its long standing priority of removal of TNW will become government policy.
Good for the Dutch. The next government could very well arrange for the removal of TNW from the Netherlands – bilaterally with the U.S. if necessary. Looking at the recent past, countries that rid their territory of American nuclear weapons did not face significant repercussions. We believe the same would apply to the Netherlands. In addition, we believe that as soon as one of the host states clearly says it will no longer accept limits to the national prerogative to end the deployment of foreign nuclear weapons in non-nuclear weapon states, NATO will respond by facilitating a new consensus among the allies – one that allows for a time-bound removal of TNW.
Much depends on the election outcome and subsequent coalition negotiations, for the Netherlands, but also for the durability of the DDPR. An election outcome favouring parties that opt for a no-nonsense approach to obsolete military hardware could make the DDPR ripe for the shredder as early as October 2012.