Do you feel safe knowing there are nuclear weapons? Chances are you don’t. US President Donald Trump will suspend an important nuclear weapons treaty – one that the peace movement fought hard for. What are the consequences of breaking this treaty?
Will it rekindle the arms race? Will Europe become a battlefield because some general wants to try out one of these weapons after all these years? Or does the termination of this one treaty mean that there is now room for a better treaty, one that offers more protection? Susi Snyder, nuclear weapons expert at PAX, explains.
Europe is targeted
“Maintaining the INF Convention is important because of the type of weapons that the treaty prohibits. The treaty prohibits the placement of medium-range nuclear weapons on European territory. If, after terminating the treaty, such weapons that can be launched at any moment are placed in European countries, this could provoke a retaliatory attack. I wrote a report about such a scenario, The Rotterdam Blast, a few years ago.”
“If a city like Rotterdam, with a port that is important for the entire European hinterland, were targeted, 60,000 to 70,000 people would be killed immediately. But the death toll would go way up in the years after the blast because of the radiation. “
How can you prevent further escalation?
“Maybe it sounds soft, but talking helps. When the INF treaty was agreed in 1987, US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did so after enormous public pressure from Europe. The mass demonstrations that brought half a million people to the streets in the Netherlands had an effect. The two Cold War superpowers started talking. And that led to the dismantling of thousands of nuclear weapons. “
“Today, European countries must once again take the lead in bringing Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to the table. Good things could happen. Ideally, they would make the treaty, which is currently a bilateral agreement between Russia and the United States, accessible to other nuclear weapon countries. Even better would be if other international treaties dealing with nuclear weapons were signed by all the states which have nuclear weapon. In July 2017, the United Nations adopted a legally binding treaty that forbids all nuclear weapons under all circumstances. One hundred and twenty countries voted to adopt this treaty. As soon as 50 countries have ratified it, a global ban on nuclear weapons will go into effect.”
ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 in part for preparing the way for the nuclear ban treaty. PAX is one of the driving forces behind ICAN, and Snyder attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in her role as board member of ICAN. An official replica of the Peace Prize stands in the PAX trophy cabinet.
Is any of this realistic? Aren’t these just pipe dreams?
“Diplomacy proceeds step by step. But in the long term diplomacy achieves more than reckless threats. We have been successful in curtailing the development of certain weapons. Think of landmines and cluster munitions. It once seemed inconceivable that producers would stop making money from these products, but now cluster munitions, for instance, are banned and there are very few manufacturers that still make them. We keep a close eye on the money going into the arms industry. We do this for cluster munitions and nuclear weapons, among others. My colleague Maaike Beenes and I are very closely involved in the The Don’t Bank on the Bomb project.”
“The fact that nuclear weapons have been ready to be used for so many years increases the chance that they actually will be used. The modernization of nuclear weapons is a real threat to peace. By developing new smaller and ‘usable’ nuclear weapons, you increase the risk of their being deployed.”
Also in the Netherlands?
“New weapons could be placed in The Netherlands. About twenty American nuclear weapons are stored at the Dutch air force base Volkel. These are outdated weapons that have no use, but are being modernized at the cost of billions of euros. The nuclear weapons in the Netherlands are a public secret: the government neither confirms nor denies their existence, although everyone knows they are there. “
What about North Korea? Or terrorist groups?
“The old system of nuclear deterrence doesn’t work if your opponent is unpredictable. That’s why it makes no sense to pursue nuclear parity. Even North Korea and terrorist groups will make concessions under political pressure. There is always talking going on behind the scenes. Former US President Barack Obama concluded nuclear deal with Iran in which that country reduced the production of enriched uranium and allowed inspections. Before it was announced, that had seemed totally unthinkable.”
“That’s why I say it’s dangerous that Trump wants to pull the plug from the INF treaty. Trump looks like he’s playing the chicken game. Imagine: two cars are driving toward each other on a narrow road. Someone has to get out of the way to avoid a collision. The first to move is the chicken. In the worst case scenario, neither driver moves and they have a head-on collision. You don’t want to be playing this game with nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons do not increase our safety because in the end escalation can only lead to one outcome: someone uses a nuclear weapon, with all the indescribable consequences. “
See also nonukes.nl