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Nuclear Weapon Free Europe - A Utopian Pespective

29.8.2012

A Nuclear Weapon Free Europe- A Utopian Pespective

A Comment at the international conference “From Nuclear Test Ban to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World” Astana. Kazakstan, 27-29 August 2012

By Tarja Cronberg,
Member of the European Parliament


Nuclear technology is today easily available. Nuclear power plants produce raw material for nuclear weapons as a by-product. A country with nuclear energy capabilities is able, if it so decides, to produce nuclear weapons. The issue of nuclear safety is high on the international agenda as evidenced by the Washington and Soul conferences initiated by president Obama. Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorist groups is seen as one of the most serious threats to world security.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has not been able to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. In addition to the five original nuclear countries, which according to the NPT may have nuclear weapons, there are four additional countries which have access to nuclear weapons and which remain outside the NPT regime. The West also assumes that Iran is developing, if not nuclear weapons, at least nuclear weapon capabilities.

The role of nuclear weapons is changing. Their military importance is decreasing at the same time as the prestige attached to nuclear weapons is increasing. Nobody would take note of North Korea if it did not have nuclear weapons. Iran which at least not yet has developed nuclear weapons is under threat of a military strike while a nuclear weapon country Pakistan is not. Today the access to nuclear weapons seems to be the best way for a state to avoid military or other intervention in its internal affairs. This fact will no doubt increase the proliferation of nuclear weapons to totalitarian states, especially if they are isolated by the international community.

Inspite of proliferation risks over 100 states today belong to Nuclear Weapon Free zones, zones where states agree not to develop, produce, store or use nuclear weapons and where the nuclear weapon states agree not to use nuclear weapons against these states. These zones are an important front against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They should strengthen their profile as the main instrument against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The issue of nuclear weapons free Middle East has been on the UN agenda since 1974. Finally this December the UN is organizing a conference on this question in Finland. This is a very timely conference. If Israel conducts a military strike against Iran, Iran will be likely to go nuclear to protect itself in the future. Arab countries will follow- and access nuclear technology by the nuclear energy route. The planned conference should provide a start for a process towards a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East.

The European Union supports the idea of a nuclear weapon free Middle East. On the other hand the EU itself has nuclear weapons on its soil: the British and the French nuclear weapons as well as the Nato tactical nuclear weapons. The fate of the latter was discussed in Lisbon in 2010 in the context of the Nato Strategic Concept. Despite of many calls by former defence and foreign ministers and generals to remove these weapons Nato decided to remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist. At the same time it would commit itself to nuclear disarmament efforts.

The British and French nuclear weapons have hardly any military importance. None of these countries are under any military threat so deterrence is not the objective. Both belong to the EU which has created a security community and peace for the past 70 years. It is inconceivable that any third country would attack any of the EU member countries with nuclear weapons or even with conventional weapons.

The British would probably consider the removal of their nuclear weapons, which are to be modernized and consequently imply additional defence costs at a time of economic crisis. The British see their nuclear weapons much in the context of their Nato co-operation and transatlantic relations. France is probably the last country in the world to abolish their nuclear weapons. While these weapons are not directly related to any threat image, they have an important role as international prestige for France. In France nuclear weapons are seen as a guarantee for the country's independent decision making and consequently of sovereignty.

Due to the French position there is no discussion of EU as a nuclear weapon free zone A proposal was made after the second World War but since then no serious proposal has been put forward. Furthermore, there is not even any discussion about how EU could show its opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by becoming a zone free of these weapons. A debate is urgently needed. The European Parliament should be the initiating forum and Parliamentarians Against Nuclear Weapons the appropriate actor.

Source: Cronberg Tarja. NUCLEAR-FREE SECURITY. Refocusing Nuclear Disarmament and the Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Finnish Institute of International Affairs. FIIA REPORT 2010 21. Helsinki

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