Speech by Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, at the occasion of Fifty years NVMP, Peace Palace, The Hague
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I’d like to welcome all of you who have travelled to the Netherlands for this important meeting. And to offer a special welcome to:
- Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, who has come here from UN headquarters in New York.
- And most of all to the hosts of this meeting from the NVMP/IPPNW. I’d like to congratulate them on their organisation’s 50th anniversary and on the success of their recent anniversary conference.
These are the words of 88-year-old former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a recent interview with the BBC.
Translated, it means: ‘colossal danger’.
Gorbachev used these words to sound the alarm about the ongoing risk to the world posed by nuclear weapons.
And he is not alone.
UN Secretary-General Guterres, fears that the progress that had been made in reducing the danger of nuclear weapons has ‘come to a halt’.
And that we are even going backwards, having lost ‘an invaluable brake on nuclear war’.
Why these alarming messages?
The architecture of nuclear arms control is under serious pressure. And geopolitical tensions are spiking in Europe, in the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent, and in East Asia.
To be more specific:
The two countries that have the most nuclear weapons do not seem to be making any further progress on nuclear disarmament.
In fact the opposite. A treaty on limiting nuclear missiles – the INF treaty, the one the Secretary-General called ‘an invaluable break’ – has been abandoned, following violations by the Russian Federation.
And a year after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Iran is taking more steps to produce enriched uranium, which could be used for weapons.
Moreover, North Korea has been expanding its nuclear weapons programme. To the point that experts think its missiles could possibly hit the US West Coast.
And on top of that, India and Pakistan are still at odds, and came close to armed conflict earlier this year.
The threats we are currently seeing to the international architecture of nuclear arms control, are a sign of the times.
Times when multilateralism as a whole is under pressure.
Geopolitics is shifting towards zero-sum thinking, and away from a search for shared interests.
There is a shift towards rivalry and competition, away from cooperation.
And towards conflict, away from dialogue.
If we think of nuclear disarmament as a marathon - I’m a runner myself - we could say that today we are facing strong headwinds.
Especially when we think of the enormous impact a nuclear weapon would have.
The first atomic bomb ever dropped, had an explosive yield equivalent to 12,500 tonnes of TNT.
And later today we will hear someone bear witness, about what that meant for the survivors in 1945…
But five years later, in the 1950s, nuclear weapon test explosions reached the megaton range. The equivalent of one million tons of TNT.
Roughly one thousand times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
One thousand times….
And that’s the destructive capacity of just one nuclear weapon.
Imagine there are more of them.
And there are.
Enough to destroy the world. Many times over.
With technologies of our own making.
Luckily however, ladies and gentlemen, we have something that could potentially prevent the destruction of humanity.
It’s a treaty, a strategic bargain, resulting from decades of painstaking diplomacy.
In this Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 185 countries promised to give up – forever – the nuclear bomb, the most powerful weapon ever devised.
And five countries – out of the nine current nuclear weapon states – who do possess this weapon, agreed to ultimately eliminate their own nuclear weapons. And to share peaceful nuclear technology with all treaty-compliant states.
That would make possible an eighty per cent reduction of the global stockpile of nuclear weapons from Cold War levels. Worldwide.
This reduction, enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, makes it the bedrock of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
And yet, as I made clear earlier, we find ourselves in a uniquely dangerous period in the atomic age.
So it’s a good thing that the NPT will have its tenth review conference next year in New York.
These conferences are crucial ways for countries like mine – the Netherlands – to exert pressure on the nuclear weapon states.
And also crucial forums for discussing new proposals and ideas, and lobbying for new initiatives, to move towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
I believe the Netherlands is well positioned to do this.
Our ambassador for the NPT, Marjolijn van Deelen, will chair one of the main committees at the review conference, and be one of the conference vice-presidents.
Of course I try to contribute to nuclear disarmament as well, whenever possible.
For example, I was recently at a ministerial conference on the CTBT, where I called on states that have not yet ratified it to do so.
Just last Saturday, in Japan, I was talking to my counterparts in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative about how to move forward on nuclear disarmament.
I proposed there that the Netherlands host a follow-up ministerial meeting of this diverse group of twelve countries from all over the world.
We’ll have a very clear message for this meeting: the NPT review conference must be a success.
And we must demand that the nuclear weapon states take action to implement NPT Article six.
And of course I mean to attend the review conference myself, focusing on reaffirming our joint commitments to the NPT.
Including on nuclear disarmament.
The Netherlands is dedicated to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, in a safe, secure and stable way.
We know that the NPT is the only credible instrument that can move us towards that goal.
Other attempts - like the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty -are neither effective nor enforceable.
Because they cannot be verified, and have no support from any states possessing nuclear weapons.
We have to be honest about this.
We all know that achieving a world without nuclear weapons requires patience and hard work.
It’s a huge task, and there are limits to what the Netherlands can do.
We cannot simply tell the nuclear weapon states what to do. I wish it was that easy.
This is why the Netherlands has chosen to play a leading role on disarmament by forging partnerships and focusing on international cooperation.
Together with like-minded states, we are pressing for a treaty eliminating fissile materials, that can be used to produce nuclear weapons. And for the comprehensive test ban treaty to enter into force.
We are also trying to find ways to verify nuclear disarmament agreements.
We are encouraging restraint in the formulation of nuclear doctrines. And we are asking the nuclear weapon states to be as transparent as possible, in order to build confidence and facilitate steps towards disarmament.
Meanwhile, we are involved in international talks on how to create an international political environment that stimulates – rather than complicates – the disarmament process.
And we always work in groups.
Sometimes with countries that think the way we do, but also with countries with different political views.
Just as we work both with our EU partners and with other countries from all over the world, in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative.
Last but not least, we fully support the disarmament agenda put forward by the UN Secretary-General.
Madam High Representative,
I can assure you of the Netherlands’ full cooperation. I commend both you and the entire UN for all your efforts.
We too are doing everything we can to use our international position to de-escalate nuclear tensions.
That includes our position as a NATO ally of three nuclear weapon states.
After all, the Netherlands is a founding member of NATO; An alliance that is dedicated to making the planet safer, and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.
We believe that even though friendship may not be on the table between all countries right now, diplomacy and dialogue should be.
At the start of this speech, I compared nuclear disarmament to a marathon.
It is not a sprint.
Despite the headwinds we face, it is important for us to keep running. Heading in the right direction.
And ensuring that no accidents happen along the way. This is even more important than speed.
So I sincerely hope this meeting will help us keep our eyes on the prize.
I hope all of us here in the Peace Palace in The Hague, will use this momentum to look for new and innovative solutions.
Let’s look ahead. And pool our different backgrounds and views, to craft new ideas.
Not just for us. Not just for Europe.
But for all of humanity.
So that no government or political leader ever considers giving an order to use nuclear weapons, ever again.
Or even better, as Mr Gorbachev so wisely said to the BBC last month:
‘All nations should declare that nuclear weapons must be destroyed.
This is to save ourselves, and our planet.’