The European Union professes to advocate a world without nuclear weapons. Yet the number of weapons and their potency seem to be on the increase. So how can we explain the stalling of talks and postponement of real action towards nuclear disarmament, and what are the obstacles holding back the EU from being a leader by example?
The European Union strongly supports the idea of nuclear-weapons-free-zones (NWFZ) and has lent its support to efforts to make the Middle East a NWFZ. Yet this political support concerns only regions outside the EU, not the EU itself. There hasn’t been a single political debate on whether Europe should be a NWFZ. Even in the European Parliament there has been little discussion, even though two-thirds of MEPs signed the agreement about aspirations for a world without nuclear weapons, which even became the official position of the parliament in this matter.
In principle, everyone supports a world without nuclear weapons. NATO has a mission to create a basis for a future world without such weapons, while keeping up the status of a nuclear armed military alliance as long as there are still nuclear weapons in the world. Nuclear weapons though, show no signs of disappearing from the world at the moment.
Quite the opposite, nuclear weapons are currently being modernised. Both the United States and Russia are even developing new weapons. The U.S will in fact fund their nuclear weapons programs for the coming 30 years with more than 1.000 billion euros. The European figures are modest in comparison, but both France and the UK are modernising their weaponry, despite the fact that neither of them is under military threat. Not by nuclear weapons or in the traditional sense.
As far as France is concerned, the justification of having nuclear weapons cannot be brought into question.
The Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons
To speed up the process of nuclear disarmament, Norway and Austria together with the peace movement have tried to create a new point of view to the matter of disarmament. Their purpose is not to discuss so much about the figures or stability in power relations or even whether the weapons have military significance. Now they are discussing the nuclear explosions, whether planned or accidental; they are talking about their humanitarian consequences.
This approach has brought up completely different angles to the conversation. Those who have been targeted by nuclear tests get to speak in international conferences. Dangerous situations in the past have been researched and mapped. There have been conferences in Norway, Mexico and Austria on the theme of humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Over 100 countries have participated in these meetings and they have signed a claim for a world without nuclear weapons. The broad campaign of the civil organisations called ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons) is also trying to achieve a total ban on nuclear weapons.
The five official nuclear powers, the so called P5 countries (US, China, Russia, France and the UK) have so far boycotted the conversation about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. These countries have instead said that the catastrophic consequences are in fact the most important feature in this area of weaponry and that is why the fear factor works. Now, the unity of the P5 countries has recently been changed, both the US and the UK participated in the international summit in Austria held last December.
France is Swimming Upstream
The European Union has stayed silent about the question of nuclear weapons and the explanation for this is simply: France. France resists any discussion concerning nuclear disarmament. As far as France is concerned, the justification of having nuclear weapons cannot be brought into question. They are only strongly against widening the club of nuclear armed states.
The EU’s statements have showed us the reality, which is the disagreement between the nuclear armed nations and those without them. France and the UK don’t want to participate in nuclear disarmament.
After I was elected to the European parliament, I had conversations with my French colleagues about a Europe as a nuclear-weapons-free-zone. The last time this subject had been on table was right after the Second World War. For them though, the subject was a complete taboo. In France, the discussion cannot even be broached. Nor can the conversation about the relation between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The parliamentary network of representatives supporting global nuclear disarmament succeeded in bringing up a discussion in the French parliament that sought to address the question of “Whether we can have this conversation in the French parliament.” I was there, to witness an expert strongly advising a Finnish MEP: “You do understand that… nuclear weapons are part of French DNA.” France hasn’t even replied to any invitations to the international summits about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Recently I was at a European Parliament meeting, where France was criticised. The French representative answered that the purpose of these meetings was completely unclear, and that was why France refused to participate in them. The Austrian ambassador replied that the goal was very clear: A world without nuclear weapons. “That is exactly why we won’t participate,” the French representative answered.
2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review
Concerning nuclear weapons, the EU’s unified position is conveyed through its statements about the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Every five years, the treaty is reviewed and the EU makes up its common position towards the treaty.
The NPT was ratified in 1970, and is based on three principles:
- The five countries that successfully detonated a nuclear device before the year 1967 have the right to possess nuclear weapons. These countries are France, the UK, the US, Russia and China. According to the treaty all countries are tied to nuclear disarmament and their common goal is a world without nuclear weapons.
- Every other country that has signed the treaty, which is over 180 countries, agrees not to develop, manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons. This part of the treaty is supervised by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)
- The treaty guarantees that the countries that do not possess any nuclear weapons have a right to use nuclear technology to produce energy or to use it for medical purposes.
There are four countries that have not signed the treaty; they have instead developed unofficial nuclear weapons. These countries are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
There have been great difficulties in the implementation of the treaty. In practice, the treaty has only been working to stop nuclear arms from spreading. Any progress in nuclear disarmament hasn’t been made and the current weapons are being constantly modernized. Even a treaty to ban nuclear tests hasn’t been ratified. This situation causes tensions between the nuclear armed states and those who don’t have them. The treaty review summit is expected to be extremely difficult. The question of solving the situation in Iran has been postponed. In 2010 it was agreed that there will be a summit about the Middle East as a nuclear-weapons-free-zone. This meeting hasn’t been held. The countries without nuclear weapons are going to demand some evidence that nuclear disarmament is happening. They are going to demand scheduled actions instead of shaky promises.
The EU has always made a common statement for these meetings. They have always been vague general statements which say that the treaty is very important and that we demand that the rest of the countries in the world also join it. The EU’s statements have showed us the reality, which is the disagreement between the nuclear armed nations and those without them. France and the UK don’t want to participate in nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, Ireland and Sweden want strong agreements on nuclear disarmament. In NPT meetings, the EU has always been the silent one. In the upcoming summit in May 2015, the whole treaty stands on a knife-edge. The EU should get itself together, unite and make a concrete first move on how to start the nuclear disarmament. At the same time, we should start discussing Europe as a nuclear-weapons-free-zone and set an example to others. That is the same we demand from them, isn’t it?
This article was originally published on Vihreä Tuuma.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, IAEA/INFCIRC/140. April, 1976.
Report of Disarmament Commission. Annex I, Establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones on the basis of arrangement freely arrived at among the States of the Regions concerned. United Nations. New York, 1999.
EU General Statement, First Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference Vienna, 30 April-11 May 2012.
Cronberg T. 2010: Nuclear-Free Security. Refocusing Nuclear Disarmament and the Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.