This week, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme and former NATO Secretary General Willy Claes published a joint op-ed showing support for the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and called on the government to remove US nuclear weapons from Belgian soil. A translation of the op-ed is available below, and the original article can be found here.
Remove the bombs. Here and around the globe
ICAN, an organization that fights for a nuclear weapon-free world, received the Nobel Peace Prize. Now it is time to remove the nuclear weapons from Kleine Brogel, argue Willy Claes and Yves Leterme.
The nuclear threat is back in public debate. North Korea and the US are entangled in escalatory nuclear rhetoric and Donald Trump tries to get rid of the Iran nuclear deal. Meanwhile the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was set to 2,5 minutes before midnight. Since 1954 the Doomsday clock was never so close to midnight.
But there is also goods news from the nuclear front. In July 2017 122 UN countries adopted a new treaty that prohibits the development, possession, use and stationing of nuclear weapons. Additionally, offering assistance to any nuclear weapon activity is now prohibited. The treaty is supported by heavyweights such as former US Secretary of Defence William Perry and former IAEA-director Mohammed el-Baradei. Thousands of scientists are also supporting it.
The Nobel Peace Committee also sent a powerful signal in October 2017 by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN, an organization that fights for a nuclear weapon-free world. ICAN received its prize in Oslo during the past weekend.
The new UN ban treaty is not a revolution, and neither is it an act of daydreaming. The treaty increases pressure on all nuclear weapon states to take effective steps towards Global Zero. The nuclear weapon states are not asked to eliminate their nuclear arsenal overnight, but only to submit a verifiable and time-bound plan for total elimination of their nuclear arsenals (“join and destroy”).
Such plan is nothing more and nothing less than the concrete implementation of the promises the nuclear weapon states made in the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. In this 1970 treaty the nuclear weapon states promised total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. After 47 years, what are they waiting for to finally deliver on that promise?
No NATO excuses
Meanwhile US nuclear weapons are still stationed in Kleine Brogel. The Belgian government refuses to sign the UN ban treaty and argues that the treaty is incompatible with NATO membership.
An eventual Belgian signing of the ban treaty, however, would not mean that Belgium has to leave NATO. The Treaty of Washington, that founded NATO, does not mention nuclear weapons at all. The UN ban treaty does not include any language that would impact Belgian participation on joint NATO exercises, as long as nuclear weapons are not involved in these exercises.
A Belgian signature would not mean that Belgium cannot be a reliable NATO partner. Several NATO member states already have a national policy that limits participation in nuclear NATO activities. Denmark, Norway and Spain do not allow deployment of nuclear weapons on their soil in peacetime, while Iceland and Lithuania prohibit any deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory. Iceland, Denmark and Norway also prohibit the passage of nuclear marine ships through their ports. Such restraints do not mean that these countries are not contributing to NATO in other ways.
Get rid of the bombs
The American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe do not longer have any military importance. The remaining political advantage –as a symbol for the transatlantic relationship- is wildly insufficient as an argument to keep them in Europe. By continuing to have nuclear weapons in Europe, we are sending a signal to the world that nuclear weapons are “needed”. This actually increases the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons.
47 years after the entry into force of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and 34 years after the biggest manifestation ever organized in Belgium it is time for brave choices. “Weg die bommen, godverdomme”, the popular outcry during the 1980s, is more relevant today than ever before.
Now that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN, the Belgian government cannot longer only pay lip service to a nuclear weapon-free world. It is time for concrete action.