Dutch nuclear weapons: the end of ambiguity

June 20, 2013

By Susi Snyder and Wilbert van der Zeijden, IKV Pax Christi

Word is out, finally, on the American nuclear weapons in Holland. After decades of maintaining an Israeli style policy of ambiguity no less than three former Dutch ministers confirmed there are nuclear weapons in the Netherlands. Two former Prime Ministers- Ruud Lubbers (1982-1994) and Dries van Agt (1977- 1982), as well as former defence minister Bram Stemerdink (1977) have on radio, and on television, confirmed that yes, nuclear weapons were stored at Volkel since at least the 1960s.

The government policy to keep this a public secret has limited advocacy attempts for decades. Hiding behind a questionable interpretation of NATO policy, consecutive governments have obstructed open debate on what has become the worst kept public secret of the Netherlands. Without transparency, no accountability. So parliamentary motions, statements, and official policy actions could never directly address the nuclear weapons stored at the Volkel air base. Instead, parliamentary motions have called for the removal of (tactical) nuclear weapons ‘from Europe’.

This was most pronounced during budget discussions in December 2012, when Christian democrat spokesperson Omtzigt proposed a motion to make the removal of US weapons from the Netherlands a ‘hard goal’ for the government. Foreign Minister Timmermans explained that he would not be able implement a policy directive from parliament on something that is not officially recognised and successfully urged Omtzigt to modify the motion , to read “from Europe” instead “from the Netherlands”.

Every action has its reaction, the nuclear disclosures coming out of the three former statesmen is no different. The Attorney General’s Office announced it will investigate whether the statements made are in violation of Article 272 of the Dutch Penal Code which states specifically that former government functionaries are forbidden to share state secrets. An actual indictment would seem to be the surest way to draw more attention to the statements. More likely, the ‘investigation’ is meant as a polite warning to others to think twice about copying the actions of Lubbers, van Agt and Stemerdink.

This high-level confirmation of nuclear weapons in the Netherlands adds considerably to the pressure on the Dutch government to talk less and do more for a nuclear weapons free world. The current national disarmament priority- a fissile materials treaty would not make the slightest difference to the nuclear weapons stored in the Netherlands. The Dutch government needs to start acting on the very clear and direct Parliamentary motions calling for the removal of nuclear weapons to be a hard policy goal. Once the Dutch dare to take that small step, it opens the door to a larger and less hypocritical role for the Dutch in efforts to ban these weapons- delegitimizing them, and thereby forcing changes in national security policies or military alliance doctrines.

The current wave of attention for the Volkel bombs is a victory for Dutch campaigners who have worked relentless since the 1980’s to have these weapons removed on the way towards creating a nuclear weapons free world. A popular Dutch slogan in the 1980s said “Kernwapens de wereld uit, om te beginnen uit Nederland”, or: “Eradicate nuclear weapons, start with the Netherlands”. Today, the campaign to get rid of the last nuclear weapons is alive as ever: Here’s a couple of examples: 30 singers performing an anti-nuclear opera in front of the Parliament; students organising a ‘nuclear pub-quiz’ in the Hague; three research reports in one year encouraging financial institutions to divest from nuclear weapons producers.

The public and political attention for the subject warrants that the Dutch government holds true to its values as a democratic society that discusses important issues transparently. The removal of those ‘silly bombs’, as Ruud Lubbers called them will allow the Dutch to follow the wish of over 80% of its population and call for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons- outlawing the only weapon of mass destruction not yet globally prohibited.

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