Nuclear weapons in a new geopolitical reality. An urgent need for new arms control initiatives

February 15, 2019 - nr.109


1.       The AIV recommends that the Netherlands submit a proposal to the General Assembly of the United Nations to the effect that an authoritative international commission – similar to the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), which published the report entitled ‘Our Common Future’ on global environmental threats and development issues – should outline the path towards agreements on controlling risks, quantities and types of weapons.

2.       The Netherlands and other European countries should speak out more forcefully in favour of preserving the INF Treaty. They can call on the two nuclear superpowers to continue working to that end over the next six months (withdrawal process). It is very much in Europe’s interests to make effective agreements to prevent an arms race involving intermediate-range weapons, and to involve states other than Russia, particularly China. Should Russia ultimately prove unwilling to negotiate on the removal of weapon systems banned under the INF Treaty, and should the United States subsequently withdraw definitively from the Treaty, NATO should consider further steps. In view of the importance of the INF Treaty for Europe’s stability and security, the European NATO member countries should take the lead on this. Through the EU as well, European leaders should make it clear to President Putin that Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty is seriously damaging relations with Russia and that such actions will not be without consequences. If required, the AIV is willing to advise on possible further steps if the INF Treaty collapses. 

3.       The AIV is of the opinion that within NATO the Netherlands should propose opening a strategic dialogue with Russia on shared interests in relation to controlling and reducing nuclear weapons, in order to gradually bring about multilateral nuclear disarmament. Initially, this would focus on confidence-building measures and nuclear risk reduction. A concerted effort to stop further proliferation of nuclear weapons is also key. Ideally, negotiations on the drastic mutual reduction of sub-strategic nuclear weapons should lead to their total elimination from Europe (including the European part of Russia). Within NATO, the Netherlands could take the lead in initiating these negotiations, but the talks must not jeopardise the security of our country or the Alliance.

4.       The Netherlands must fulfil its obligations as agreed within NATO concerning conventional military capabilities. The prevention of war is based on a balanced mix of diplomatic conflict management and deterrence. A substantial enhancement of NATO’s conventional capabilities in Europe and compliance with NATO obligations are crucial in order for Allied policy aimed at preventing war to be credible and effective. Balanced conventional capabilities in Europe reduce the risk of a military conflict between Russia and NATO and with it, the risk of nuclear weapons being used. A solid conventional defence not only raises the nuclear threshold but also provides opportunities for arms control and disarmament.

5.       Partly in the light of the United States’ current foreign policy, which is weakening the international multilateral order, there must be scope for discussion on greater European military self-reliance. Europe is dependent on the US military, both in conventional and nuclear terms. This is not expected to change in the near future. A strong security relationship with the United States therefore remains essential for Europe. The AIV would consider it highly undesirable for new nuclear-weapon states to emerge in Europe.       

6.       For military and, above all, political reasons, having only US nuclear assets that are not stationed in Europe to fall back on for the implementation of NATO’s nuclear policy is undesirable, not least due to the current state of relations within the Alliance. By making their fighter aircraft available for possible nuclear operations, European governments demonstrate their willingness to take on extra responsibility, which strengthens the credibility of NATO’s defence. Against that background, in the light of the international security situation and given the importance of continued Allied burden-sharing, the AIV recommends that the current nuclear task of the Dutch fighter aircraft (the DCA task) be maintained when the F-35 replaces the F-16. The AIV calls for as much information as possible to be made available in the decision-making process on the continuation of the nuclear task.

7.       The AIV considers it important for NATO to continue conducting thorough exercises for the procedures regarding nuclear weapons, using generic scenarios. This also applies to the procedures surrounding political decision-making and operational readiness. Regular procedural exercises are important in relation to not only the credibility of the deterrence but also risk reduction, with a view to avoiding unintentional deployment, for instance due to miscommunication between decision-makers or as the result of an accident.

8.       The modernisation of systems for nuclear decision-making and communication includes the use of digital technologies and possibly, in the future, artificial intelligence. To prevent the unintentional use of nuclear weapons, the AIV considers it essential that the states that possess nuclear weapons have access to direct and reliable means of communications (hotlines). Artificial intelligence can help speed up the creation of an accurate picture of the situation in a complex environment in which there is a lot of information to process, but it can also entail new risks. This underscores the importance of meaningful human intervention, assessment and decision-making in this respect.

9.       It is important to improve knowledge of and information sharing on NATO’s nuclear policy. NATO and the governments of its member countries should make a much greater effort to explain NATO’s nuclear and security policy and provide information about all the relevant facts.

10.     The AIV, aware of the Netherlands’ limited direct influence at global level, believes that continuation of the multilateral process of arms control, including non-proliferation, whether it be led by the United States or not, is of crucial importance, from both a global and national point of view. The Netherlands can contribute to this – particularly in the context of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – in a variety of ways: by using its good knowledge position to participate in a wide network within the global arms control community, by working with like-minded actors, by emphasising the importance of nuclear arms control in its bilateral contacts with the United States and other countries, by stressing the responsibility inherent in the protective, example-setting role of key countries, and – where it can operate as a bridge builder – by seizing every opportunity to facilitate dialogue as concretely as possible.

Advice request

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061                                                                                          
2500 EB The Hague

Date 15 March 2018

Re    Request for advice on the future role of nuclear weapons

Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

The shifting international situation requires us to reflect on the current and future role of nuclear weapons. Geopolitical and technological changes and changes in nuclear doctrine in particular impel us to rethink NATO’s current nuclear policy and the Netherlands’ policy as a member of the Alliance.

NATO is a nuclear alliance. Its Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (2012) states that its greatest responsibility is to protect and defend its territory and our populations against attack of any kind. The three nuclear powers in the Alliance – the US, the UK and France – play a central part in NATO nuclear policy, but every other NATO member has a contribution to make to this policy as well. At the same time, the Alliance states that the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. Nuclear non-proliferation also plays an important role in the achievement of the Alliance’s security objectives, and NATO is resolved to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.

As a member of NATO, the Netherlands has a nuclear mission. One squadron of Dutch F-16 fighter aircraft is charged with this mission, and the F-35s ordered to replace the F-16s are intended to take it over. In addition to meeting its NATO obligations, the Netherlands gives high priority to working on arms control and disarmament. A Dutch diplomat was for example the Chair in 2017 of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 (Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons). The Netherlands also plays an active role in the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV).

After the end of the Cold War, the number of nuclear weapons declined worldwide, and they came to play a subordinate role for NATO and Russia, both militarily and politically. During that same period, nuclear expertise, familiarity with nuclear issues, nuclear deterrence and nuclear arms control also declined. In recent years, however, more states have been trying to acquire nuclear arms, and nuclear weapon states have been modernising their arsenals. Moreover, in the defence doctrine Russia adopted in 2014 it assigns a major role to nuclear weapons, including in an offensive capacity. This can have consequences for the European security situation. In addition, there is a range of challenges around the world in the field of nuclear proliferation, with North Korea as the most obvious problem. The United States, a NATO ally, also once again assigns a greater role to nuclear weapons for its national security in its most recent Nuclear Posture Review (2018).

Against the backdrop of this shifting international landscape, the Dutch government needs a thorough analysis of the current and future role of nuclear weapons and of the appropriate role for NATO in general, and the Netherlands in particular, in this area. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Defence therefore request that the AIV issue an advisory report on this subject, with specific attention to the following questions:

What is the AIV’s assessment of NATO’s nuclear security situation, in the light of the       geopolitical and technological changes and changes in nuclear doctrine in the Euro-Atlantic   region and beyond? Specifically, how does it assess the consequences for NATO of nuclear and ballistic missile developments in Russia? Furthermore, what are the consequences of the nuclear aspirations of, and nuclear developments in, North Korea, Iran and possibly other countries as well? What role do non-state actors play in this security situation?

To what extent are NATO’s nuclear doctrine, nuclear policy and nuclear capabilities equal to these challenges? How can NATO ensure that its nuclear policy can be successfully implemented? What relation do NATO’s conventional defence policy and conventional capabilities bear to its nuclear policy and capabilities?

How does the AIV assess NATO’s role in the field of nuclear arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation? How closely does NATO’s nuclear policy correspond to its values and aims in this area? What practical opportunities are there to help create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons?

What part do the three nuclear weapon states play in NATO, and how do their national nuclear doctrines influence the overarching nuclear policy of the Alliance? What is the role in NATO nuclear policy of American sub-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe? What value should NATO place on the concept of burden sharing?

Like all other NATO member countries, the Netherlands has a nuclear mission as part of the Alliance. How can the Netherlands carry out this NATO mission properly? What value should the Netherlands place on the concept of burden sharing?

Preventing nuclear incidents and accidents and the use of nuclear weapons as a result of miscalculation or miscommunication promotes the security of the Alliance. How can NATO contribute to nuclear risk reduction?

This request for advice has been included in the AIV’s programme of work for 2017-2019. We look forward to receiving your report. We would be particularly pleased to receive it before the NATO Summit set for mid-July 2018.

Yours sincerely,

Stef Blok
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Ank Bijleveld-Schouten
Minister of Defence

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