Report: Webinar, March 29 2021
The first webinar on the “Roadmap to end nuclear sharing” on March 29, 2021, was a real success, with 87 people from all over Europe, and some from other continents, taking part. Our aim was to develop interactive connections and a common strategy for European peace and disarmament activists to approach governments.
Tom Sauer, Professor in International Politics, Universiteit Antwerpen stated at the beginning of his overview that nuclear weapons are illegal under international law since January 22nd. We peace activists now expect the nuclear weapons states to pledge to take nuclear arms elimination under Art. VI NPT seriously. Europe is over-armed with nuclear weapons, there are not only three nuclear weapons states (F, UK and RUS), but it also hosts US nuclear weapons in five countries (B, D, I, NL, Turkey) and 20 European countries are NATO members. As Tom Sauer pointed out, NATO and its dogma of nuclear deterrence policy is the key obstacle for NATO countries in Europe preventing them from signing the TPNW.
How can peace activists in NATO countries proceed? Tom Sauer proposes: Tackle NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy and increase pressure on the nuclear sharing countries Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. We can do this by arguing that there are five NATO countries that already refuse to allow nuclear weapons to be deployed on their territory: Denmark, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, and Spain. Policies can be changed since the majority of people is opposed to any kind of nuclear deterrence. We can put forward concrete steps to join the TNPW. If all four nuclear sharing countries act together, other countries, like Poland, whose governments currently declare that they want nuclear weapons deployed on their territory, will have difficulty justifying this stance to their population. This will be the beginning of a change in deterrence policy, initiated by civil society.
Tom Sauer proposed a mixed policy approach: lobbying, protesting at US military bases and systematic media work. In particular, international protests at military bases in the four nuclear host countries could address either modernisation policies or ask to withdraw the bombs and send them back to the US.
The strategies and action levels presently used in the four nuclear host countries are good, but not enough, when one compares it with the fact that 70–80 % of the public want their governments to sign the TPNW. This message has not yet been delivered to our governments. Joining the TPNW and shifting the NATO paradigm of nuclear deterrence will be the focus of our work.
What are constructive steps that could be taken in the short term? A. Stop the dismissive tone used towards TPNW advocates and make that clear at the upcoming NPT review conference. B. Do not vote against the TPNW in the UN General Assembly in future. C. Take part in the first state meeting of TPNW as an observer next year in Vienna.
The following peace groups work on TPNW in Belgium: Vrede, Pax Christi Flanders and CNAPD in the French speaking part of Belgium. Protests will be held on the September 26th at the US military airbase in Kleine Brogel. Although 77 % of the Belgian public is in favour of joining the TPNW, the Belgian government does not care – yet. However, the Belgian government coalition agreement does not dismiss the TPNW out of hand, rather seeks to find ways to engage with TPNW parties. Only the Greens and Dutch speaking Socialists agree with joining the TPNW.
Peter Buijs, chair NVMP/IPPNW Netherlands, pointed out how medical and humanitarian arguments helped to revitalise the nuclear weapons debate in Dutch politics, brought forward by allies and ourselves separately and united by the civil society coalition “Balieberaad for a nuclear weapon free world”, initiated in 2016 by the NVMP. This meanwhile includes the Dutch Council of Churches, Red Cross, Mayors for Peace, Dutch Humanists, Pugwash, Greenpeace, PAX, IALANA and the NVMP. In 2017 our common pressure resulted in a premiere: after the elections: for the first time a coalition agreement mentioned nuclear weapons: “This government actively pursues a nuclear weapon-free world”, completed by the right wing liberal party VVD (from PM Rutte) by the ‘disclosure’: “… , within the framework of alliance obligations,…”, meaning of course NATO. This regards a centre-right wing government (Rutte-III).
In order to improve this paragraph after the next elections (17-3-2021), NVMP invited the Balieberaad-partners early last summer to draft six urgent recommendations for the election programmes of the political parties. Together we finally issued a statement in July 2020, that said The Netherlands should:
1. further intensify its active pursuit of a nuclear weapon-free world;
2. intensify its role as an initiator and bridge-builder in and outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, with emphasis on the disarmament obligations of the nuclear weapons states (Art. VI);
3. end nuclear sharing: phase out the remaining Dutch nuclear task, i.e. the (approx. 20) US nuclear B61 bombs at the Dutch airbase Volkel;
4. start discussion within NATO about alternatives to nuclear deterrence;
5. sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW;
6. advance a paradigm shift from spending on weapons to diplomacy and combatting root causes of war like hunger, inequality and climate change
From the 27 political parties running for parliament, nine – mostly on the centre-left side – did incorporate (partly) these recommendations in their political programmes, especially about joining the TPNW and ending nuclear sharing. Two young NVMP-board members developed a Nuclear Weapon Election Compass for the Balieberaad, used intensively on social media.
All these nine parties were elected to parliament, but none have a majority (see Susi Snyder’s: https://nonukes.nl/march-2021-dutch-election-outcomes-and-nuclear-weapons/ ). Again, there were heavy losses on the left, just as in 2017, and the biggest party, the ruling right-wing liberal VVD from PM Rutte, won again. Fortunately, the second strongest party – the winning D66 (centre-left liberal democrats) has for decades a quite positive paragraph on nuclear weapons, including signing the TPNW, and making sure that the new Dutch fighter jets are not capable of dropping nuclear weapons, in their election programme. Together with the Social Democrats, D66 is also the party behind the resolution that got the former Dutch government (Rutte-II) to participate in TPNW negotiations in 2017. But Mark Rutte, the expected new Prime Minister, is in favour of nuclear sharing.
On 13-4-2021, the Balieberaad will convene online to decide how to influence the making of a new government, resulting in a new coalition agreement, that will go beyond the one from 2017, and also beyond the recent Belgium one from 30-9-2020, which will explore “… how the TPNW can stimulate multilateral nuclear disarmament”. Peter’s conclusion: civil society should start a European Appeal to NATO to end its policy of ‘credible nuclear deterrence’, e.g. by gathering signatures from well-known European writers, physicians, scientists, religious leaders, and others, stating that we Europeans don’t want to be defended any longer by weapons that any moment can mean our own destruction and that of the rest of the world.
Lisa Clark, Co-President of IPB and Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo, Italy
Lisa Clark agrees with Peter’s idea of creating some sort of a European Russell-Einstein Appeal to put an end to the NATO dogma of nuclear deterrence. No Italian government, either centre-left or centre-right, has ever wanted US nuclear weapons to be removed from Italian soil, although in some cases they paid lip service to “a world without nuclear weapons”. The civil society campaign in favour of removing them started a long time ago, but lobbying gained momentum in 2016, when Italy voted against the convening a conference in 2017 to discuss a ban treaty. Italy has a long tradition of supporting disarmament agreements, but not in this case. The campaign concentrated on education/information on the TPNW, on the ethical and legal issues. Up to now more than 200 cities have approved council resolutions demanding that Italy sign the ban treaty. In many cases, approval was unanimous, proving that the stigma is already having effect – no one dares to speak in favour of nuclear weapons in public. Opinion polls on nuclear weapons in 2019 showed that 70% were in favour of joining the TPNW, in 2020 it was 87 %, showing that the campaign has reached a lot of people.
The coalition has grown: the Bishops of the 7 Catholic dioceses near the USAF base at Aviano endorsed activities celebrating the entry into force of the TPNW on January 22nd. In the province of Brescia, where the Ghedi nuclear base is located, 165 grassroot NGOs also endorsed celebrations for entry into force, alongside 56 local government authorities. Throughout Italy many more cities printed the campaign’s poster, informing their citizens of the entry into force of the TPNW: it was displayed in city hall’s public spaces.
A resolution was passed in parliament in 2017 requiring the government to commission research into the legal consequences of Italy joining the ban treaty. Though this resolution was passed, nothing has ever been done. This year the campaign is pressing for another resolution on this issue, which will also ask for Italy to be present at the first TPNW States Parties meeting in Vienna in January 2022.
Johannes Oehler, ICAN Germany
Johannes Oehler gave an overview of the history of nuclear sharing in Germany since 1958. At that time, the Social Democrats said that nuclear sharing should not be connected to NATO membership.
Büchel airbase today: the current CDU/SPD government decided to renew the airbase and construction is taking place right now in preparation for the new B61-12 nuclear weapons. This is in opposition to the will of the population to end nuclear sharing. We activists should continue to remind that nuclear deterrence is useless.
German groups launched the campaign: “Atombomber, nein danke” (nuclear bomber, no thanks), responding to the fact that the updated B61-12 will need new aircraft to transport these bombs. The campaign contacted many parliamentarians and thus put pressure on government policy. The Social Democrats decided that the decision to buy a new aircraft from the US for nuclear sharing should be postponed until after the German general election in September 2021.
On the future of nuclear sharing in Germany: A study of the scientific board of the German parliament stated that joining the TPNW does not conflict with either NATO or with NPT membership.
On the election on September 26th in Germany:
The Social Democrats support participating as an observer at TPNW conference in 2021 or 2022 and urge the nuclear weapons states, US and Russia, to start talks on nuclear disarmament.
The Greens will support signing TPNW but without giving any timeline. In the current draft of their election programme, there is no mention of refusing to buy nuclear aircraft or opposition to the deployment of the updated B61-12 nuclear weapons.
The Left Party is in favour of signing, ratifying the TPNW, and ending nuclear sharing.
Johannes invites everyone to join IPPNW and ICAN’s action days in July 2021 at the Büchel airbase: https://buechel.nuclearban.de/
Susi Snyder, Pax Netherlands
We need support for concrete steps to implementation, for instance the member states of TPNW are obliged under the treaty to call on others to join- this is something they can do in many multilateral forums.
Last year, a letter signed by more than 50 former ministers from our countries called on our governments to join the treaty – https://www.icanw.org/56_former_leaders. A similar type of action could take place again, and if so, it should be brief and focused.
There’s been great success engaging Mayors and municipalities, including with Mayors for Peace. There is an opportunity to go back to these cities, and raise the profile of the motions or resolutions that were passed earlier. Now that the TPNW is in force, we can raise the stakes, for example by going back and asking them to make sure that the city doesn’t do business with nuclear weapon producing companies, that the city pension funds are not invested in companies that are complicit in keeping nuclear weapons around. There’s a city guide for divestment tool kit which might be useful: https://www.dontbankonthebomb.com/city-guide/
Prohibited behaviour will be stigmatised since nuclear weapons are illegal. Be loud and proud. It’s not our job to equivocate about the fact that all WMD are prohibited -its those who refuse to make the worse weapons illegal that should be forced to explain the differences.
There is an opportunity with B61-12 modernisation: the old bombs will be sent back to the US to allow the new Boeing tail-kits and other parts to be added, and this is a moment to make sure that the new nuclear bombs cannot return to Europe.
We can also use the annual exercises with nuclear weapons for stigmatisation, for instance the “Snowcat” or “Steadfast Noon” exercises. (17 countries involved). The timing is usually September/ October, which gives us enough time to get former military people from several SNOWCAT countries to publish a joint op-ed in multiple outlets that stigmatise nuclear weapons.
We should continuously use our arguments on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. There is no way that nuclear weapons can be used without causing a humanitarian catastrophe. There is no help if they are used. The Red Cross will not show up, there will be no soup, no blankets, just destruction, suffering which for some will last for decades. There is no arguing this, but still, lots of people don’t know. By keeping focused to this message in our outreach last year, and giving HOPE that the ban treaty offers, we were able to increase support for the Dutch joining the TPNW by more than 15%, to now being over 75%. Here’s a link on the surveys across Europe: https://www.icanw.org/nato_poll_2021
Important links from Susi Snyder:
Join ICAN: https://www.icanw.org/partners
More than 50 ministers call for the Ban: https://www.icanw.org/56_former_leaders
ICAN City appeal: https://cities.icanw.org/
Here’s some tips for getting your city to divest: https://www.dontbankonthebomb.com/city-guide/
Get GREAT PHOTOS: https://www.icanw.org/webinar_lets_talk_about_photos
Here’s a link on the surveys across Europe: https://www.icanw.org/nato_poll_2021
A brief synopsis of the recent Dutch election outcomes: https://nonukes.nl/march-2021-dutch-election-outcomes-and-nuclear-weapons/