2015: momentum for nuclear disarmament?
More than 16,000 nuclear warheads still exist in the world. With six EU Member States having nuclear weapons on their territory, the issue of nuclear disarmament must also be considered at EU level.
Nearly twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear deterrence still constitutes an integral part of the security doctrines and policies of some states. There are eight states in the world that have admitted possessing nuclear weapons, among them France and the United Kingdom. Moreover, several European states including Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands share, as NATO states, the responsibility for the deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons.
Despite reductions in the quantity of nuclear forces, qualitative disarmament has not yet been adequately addressed as the nuclear weapon states continue to modernise their remaining nuclear arsenals. The current events unfolding in the Middle East or in Ukraine may even reaffirm this trend.
And yet, the year 2015 might offer several moments for action concerning nuclear disarmament. In April-May 2015, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference to assess the implementation of the Treaty, will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York marking 45 years since the nuclear weapon states agreed to undertake good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. After failing to agree on a final document in 2005, the 2010 Review Conference produced an action plan that will now serve as the basis for review.
Furthermore, in the first half of 2015, in which the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings will be commemorated, a comprehensive agreement on Iran´s nuclear program is supposed to be reached after the failure to conclude a deal last November.
Church position on nuclear disarmament
As a party to the NPT, the Holy See has been a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation since Vatican Council II. In his statement ahead of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt as Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN reiterated that “nuclear weapons should have no place in a world community determined to achieve mutual security on a global scale”. At the same time, however, as the COMECE position paper of 2010 emphasises, until the overall goal of complete disarmament is reached, every single step must be examined “in order to ensure that these steps will serve to reduce the instability of the system as a whole in a lasting way” and not create new threats to the stability of mutual prevention against armed conflict. The military doctrine of nuclear deterrence used to justify the modernisation of existing nuclear arsenals is long outdated and morally no longer acceptable, let alone the diversion of significant economic resources which the maintenance of nuclear weapons implies; as well as their devastating humanitarian consequences. Pope Francis in his message to the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons last December called instead for an approach to providing security without relying on nuclear deterrence but being based on “justice, socio-economic development, freedom, respect for fundamental rights, the participation of all in public affairs and the building of trust between peoples”.
In order to spread the Church message on nuclear disarmament, several Catholic organisations, such as Pax Christi International and Justice and Peace Europe with their respective national commissions, have already taken up various initiatives on raising awareness on this issue, including publishing a book with concrete policy proposals on nuclear disarmament. Another initiative coordinated by the Italian organisation Comitato per una civiltà dell'amore advocates, under the project “Megatons to Development”, producing nuclear fuel from the disarming of nuclear warheads, and using the economic dividend for development of poor countries.
Nuclear disarmament at EU level
Currently, the EU´s policy on nuclear disarmament is based on the 2003 Security Strategy identifying nuclear proliferation as one of the main security threats; and they at the same time adopted the Strategy against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction whose implementation is subject to review by the Council every six months. Besides the “EU Non-Proliferation Consortium” created in 2010, the European Parliament constitutes another important institution of the EU - as the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2012 - to raising its voice in the nuclear disarmament discourse. Looking at a number of EP resolutions calling for effective action against nuclear proliferation adopted in previous years, mainly in connection with a NPT Review Conference, an important momentum would be missed if the European Parliament remained silent on this issue this year.
Furthermore, in view of the European Council to be held in June 2015, the EU´s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is required to work on a long-term vision of Europe’s security and defence policy. Given the existing involvement of several EU Member States in nuclear proliferation, it is crucial that the future strategic security framework takes account of the EU´s and its Member States’ non-proliferation responsibilities and contain a plausible policy oriented towards collective nuclear disarmament based on confidence-building measures.
COMECE/Justice and Peace Europe