Amsterdam workshop on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

On 7-8 June 2006, Pugwash meeting no. 320 was held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament – The Role of Europe

Report by Bob van der Zwaan

The International Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and the Dutch Pugwash Group co-organized, with financial support from the Netherlands Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, a two-day workshop on the general status and specific problems of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, with a particular focus on the role of Europe in mitigating the current crisis. The meeting was held on 7 and 8 June 2006 in the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, Trippenhuis) in Amsterdam, gathering 25 participants from 10 different countries. Three sessions were dedicated to, respectively, (I) the prospects and challenges of nuclear energy and the NPT, (II) the present situation in the Middle East and particularly Iran, and (III) the nuclear policy of NATO and nuclear weapons in Europe as well as its role in advancing the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. In a fourth session open to the press an ensemble of subjects were assessed related to the Iranian impasse and NPT compliance issues.



The global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament effort is experiencing one of its deepest crises to date. Despite intense IAEA inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities over the past few years and elaborate European diplomacy to convince the authorities in Teheran to temporarily suspend its uranium enrichment activities, important questions regarding its enrichment program remain. The international community cannot exclude the possibility that Iran is gradually working towards the expansion of its civil nuclear activities to the development of nuclear weapons. Continuing six-party talks have so far not succeeded in persuading the regime in North Korea that it is in the benefit of the People’s Republic to dismantle its military nuclear complex. Other nuclear proliferation concerns in especially the Middle East and South Asia add to the continuous nuclear threat the world faces today. While it is universally recognized that achieving full implementation of the 13 practical steps agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference is essential, virtually no progress has been booked since then nor at the 2005 NPT Review Conference. Ten years after its opening for signature, the CTBT has still not entered into force and negotiations on an FMCT are at a limbo, such that the future of both these treaties remains highly uncertain.

Also in the nuclear disarmament process progress has recently been practically absent. Over the past years, the US has shifted from its policy in which nuclear weapons were regarded as weapons of last resort to one in which it may use nuclear weapons for preemptive purposes. The likely development of a new generation of American nuclear weapons constitutes a menace to the non-proliferation regime. Strategic nuclear arms agreements between the Russian Federation and the US are at a standstill and reduced warheads and their delivery systems are not dismantled irreversibly in a transparent and verifiable manner, while remaining deployed Russian and US nuclear weapons systems are kept at high-alert operational status. The other official and de facto nuclear weapons states have no intention to reduce their nuclear arsenals, the 480 American nuclear gravity bombs deployed under NATO auspices in five European states are not subjected to plans for reduction or elimination, and the reduction of American and Russian tactical nuclear weapons remains excluded from any current disarmament negotiations. The process of improving worldwide the accounting and control of fissile materials remains largely insufficient. Given the present situation, the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime is urgently in need of a serious examination.

Prospects and challenges of nuclear energy and the NPT

While the future of nuclear power remains strongly affected by its five problematic features (waste, safety, proliferation, economics, and acceptance) there are at least three socio-economic and/or environmental concerns that it could contribute to alleviate (climate change, air pollution, energy security). The increasing attention to these concerns explains the current renewed interest in the civil use of nuclear energy for power production. The coming decades the installed nuclear capacity in Europe is unlikely to change significantly, while the relative benefits and drawbacks of nuclear power, as well as sustainability arguments related to all energy resources, will determine its prospects for the longer run. World-wide, until 2050, the contribution of nuclear energy to electricity generation is likely to remain between a lower bound of constant capacity (i.e. in absolute terms) and an upper bound of constant share (i.e. in relative terms). Given the intimacy between the civil, military, and terrorist applications of nuclear technology and materials, there will be even more reason than exists today for all countries to fulfill their NPT obligations, on the one hand, and engage in a gradually more stringent nuclear control system of fissile and radioactive materials, on the other hand. It has to be urgently analyzed to what extent a possible revival of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the associated construction of new nuclear power plants can be reconciled with the increasing worries world-wide over the proliferation and terrorist risks involved with the multiple stages (front-end and back-end) of the nuclear fuel cycle. Technology can play an important role in reducing the inherent and dynamic risks of nuclear energy, but techniques such as lifetime reduction and transmutation of radioactive waste and proliferation-risk reducing reactors with passive safety features can only be part of the solution. The establishment of institutions and the building of trust are essential elements in advancing the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda, while allowing the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Internationally a consensus is growing that a full internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle is desirable, including e.g. Internationally Monitored Waste Repositories (IMWR), international fuel banks, multi-nation enrichment plants and reprocessing facilities, in order to guarantee the civil use only of nuclear technologies and materials.

During the Cold War, global nuclear relations rested on two mutually supportive arrangements: the elaborate structure of nuclear deterrence and the non-proliferation regime. A rough equality of military power was measured in terms of assured mutual destruction, while an uneven distribution of military nuclear capabilities assured a rank ordering among nuclear weapon powers. This balance of terror created a semblance of order, based primarily on the unprecedented common interest of all states in avoiding a nuclear holocaust. Thanks to the NPT, nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states found a common ground in averting the spread of nuclear weapons with all undertaking respective obligations. During the past 15 years, this nuclear weapons control regime of which the NPT still constitutes the cornerstone, has been tested as never before, and has gone through at least three major crises (involving, respectively, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) none of which have been satisfactorily solved. While some modestly positive developments took place – as it was decided, for example, in 1995 to extend the NPT indefinitely – the challenges ahead to maintain and strengthen the NPT are large and multiple, relating to issues of consistency, commitment, jurisdiction, inspection, and enforcement. Among the long list of challenges figures also the evidence that the US today no longer sees nuclear arms control as an essential part of its nuclear policy and is instigating substantial changes in the nuclear non-proliferation regime, as exemplified by the recent nuclear deal between the US and India. Considerable unease also exists about combining the campaign against terrorism with preventive or preemptive counter-proliferation. With possibilities of a nuclear response to chemical or biological attack, a danger exists of an even further potential use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear war has been avoided so far because of the taboo against the military use of nuclear weapons during the nuclear era. Any such use in the future, accidental or deliberate, could destroy whatever remains of that taboo.

The Middle East and Iran

Even while a new package of incentives to solve the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program has just been proposed by the US, Europe, China, and Russia, there is not yet an apparent concrete settlement of the dispute in view. Article IV of the NPT as well as its negotiating history clearly indicate that uranium enrichment is not banned from any nuclear program as long as it is for peaceful purposes only. Hence, eventually the West will need to acquiesce in Iran’s right to enrich uranium according to the NPT, but this should not relieve it from a constant and thorough investigation of its current nuclear activities as well as of the period preceding 2003 when advanced Iranian uranium enrichment activities were revealed. While over the past few years the IAEA has undertaken more extensive inspections in Iran than it has probably ever done before regarding any other nuclear program, it has evidently not yet done so to full satisfaction. The IAEA should therefore be given the opportunity to continue far-reaching inspections, but insisting that Iran should stop or suspend enrichment indefinitely does not facilitate its task in its safeguards activities to render the Iranian nuclear program more transparent. Insistence on suspension could delay if not hamper the ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol. While it may be good as trust-building measure to temporarily suspend its enrichment technology development, in the longer run Iran cannot be denied the operation of domestic enrichment facilities. A solution could be to create requirements, in the case of Iran as elsewhere, that any future uranium enrichment activities may only take place in the context of international consortia, e.g. similar to the existing ones of URENCO and ABACC.

The initiative by the five nuclear weapons states and Germany to propose a package with a number of incentives in exchange for Iran accepting to temporarily renounce its enrichment program could be a development on the right track. It would allow building confidence, while it would not preclude recognizing Iran’s inalienable right to eventually possess the full nuclear full cycle as long as it is employed for peaceful purposes only. Especially an offer that would include European support for a NWFZ in the Middle East and a regional forum to discuss and reach regional security arrangements is interesting. The Iranian nuclear file cannot be discussed in isolation of the region’s political environment, security requirements, and threat perceptions. Indeed, the Iranian proliferation crisis can only be handled in the larger regional context, and should include the Arab perspective that has so far not been given due attention. In order to understand the reasons behind nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, one needs to examine the overall political and security landscape in the region with its complex dilemmas of conflicts and threat perceptions, including a variety of topics like the international non-proliferation situation and the NPT, the Israeli nuclear arsenal, the interests of external powers, and the position of Arab states regarding these issues. The Middle East problematique cannot be solved without addressing the Israeli nuclear-weapon capabilities and the need to bring Israel into a level playing field system that allows it to adhere to the NPT and support the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

NATO and the role of EuropeClear ambiguity exists in the NATO defense doctrine, since 23 of the 26 NATO member countries are defined as being ‘non-nuclear-weapon states’ that simultaneously belong to an alliance that regards nuclear deterrence as a key part of its military doctrine, while NATO condemns the adoption of a nuclear deterrent by any other state. This contradiction has long exerted a negative influence over attempts by the international community to take serious steps towards global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. With no real progress in nuclear disarmament in Russia and the US, and in the absence of a popular mass movement against nuclear weapons, pressure from within NATO may persuade the Alliance’s three nuclear-weapon states that the international control and reduction of nuclear arms is not only a viable option but is also more rational than attempts to impose unilaterally non-proliferation policies on other countries. In addition to NATO nuclear weapon states France and the United Kingdom, especially countries like Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands – that all four have American nuclear weapons on their soil – could become more vocal in favor of nuclear reform: their joint call for concrete nuclear weapons reduction may provide the best opportunity to advance the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda and thereby counter a renewal of the nuclear arms race in some parts of the world.

Since the European Council adopted in 2003 two key documents describing its major security strategies – the European Security Strategy (ESS) and the associated EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (referred to as the Non-Proliferation Strategy, NPS) – the European non-proliferation strategy has gained in coherence, but only conditionally in effectiveness. In dealing with the so far most difficult test cases, the NPT and Iran, the EU has maintained unity, and widely opposing views within the Union, like in the run-up to the Iraq conflict, could be avoided. Under the surface, however, internal differences remain, and notably on nuclear disarmament the approaches of different European states vary substantially. The largest obstacle for a stronger European engagement for a WMD-free world remains the contradiction between the “peace power” Europe as a whole and the policy of the nuclear powers France and the United Kingdom in particular. A discussion on the need of nuclear weapons for European security is overdue. Such a discussion would not only need to address the nuclear doctrines of France and the UK, but also the purpose of the approximately 480 US nuclear weapons still deployed in five European states in the framework of NATO.

With the difficult but steady development towards an increasingly binding Union between European states, the EU may well get into a position enabling it to launch a European initiative: using the British and French nuclear arsenals as a bargaining chip to help the NPT out of its current crisis. Such an initiative could, for example, relate nuclear weapons reductions in France and the United Kingdom to reductions in the third European nuclear weapon state, the Russian Federation, as well as the US. An important question remains how US and Russian tactical nuclear weapons can be included in future nuclear disarmament negotiations. Like in the context of NATO, also in the integrating European policy framework the four EU non-nuclear weapon states on whose territory US tactical nuclear weapons are deployed under NATO auspices could influence the negotiating process. The fact that today most of the European states still regard their security under a nuclear protective screen as better guaranteed than without nuclear weapons weakens the credibility of European demands for nuclear abstinence of other states like Iran. One of the fundamental reasons that the NPT is undergoing one of its biggest crises to date, is the fact that article VI on nuclear disarmament has not been obeyed sufficiently by the nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. Europe could contribute to resolving this crisis by reconsidering the necessity of the presence of nuclear weapons in both European nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states on the one hand, and by continuing its diplomatic role as negotiator in international disputes and conflict situations on the other hand.

Concluding remarks

The current regime designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons is in a crisis and the nuclear disarmament process has stagnated. Since the development and use of the first nuclear fission bombs over six decades ago, the global nuclear threat remains un-mitigated. This threat has recently even intensified, and the nuclear non-proliferation process today probably faces its greatest challenge since the end of the Cold War. Most apparent at present are the nuclear impasses related to Iran and North Korea, but other proliferation intricacies, in especially the Middle East and South Asia, add to the world’s nuclear concerns.

The participants of this workshop, key experts from around the world in the many aspects of the nuclear non-proliferation conundrum, discussed the general status and present problems of the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament process. The workshop constituted an independent forum for authoritative scientists and policy makers assessing and bringing forward solutions to the current crisis, as well as providing suggestions for adapting the current political and legal nuclear regime. In particular, the workshop has investigated what the role of European policies could be to advance the non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. Lessons have been brought forward regarding how the currently most pertinent nuclear proliferation problems could be mitigated, among which the case of Iran, and to what extent European initiatives can be undertaken embedded in the broader ongoing process of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. This process, both desirable and feasible, should and could ultimately lead towards the universal elimination and abolition of nuclear weapons.

Participant List

Prof. Wa’el N. Al-Assad, Head of the Disarmament Department, The Arab League, Cairo

Mr. Ranieri Argentini (Italy), PhD student in computational physics & chemistry, van’t Hoff Institute for Molecular Science, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amb. Sergey Batsanov, Director, Geneva Office of International Pugwash; Member, Pugwash CBW Steering Committee; Senior Consultant, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF)

Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell, Executive Director, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Washington, DC, USA; Member, Pugwash Executive Committee

Prof. Francesco Calogero, Member, Pugwash Council; Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy

Prof. Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary-General, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Member, Pugwash Executive Committee; Professor of Mathematical Physics, University of Milan, Italy; Director, Program on Disarmament and International  Security, Landau Network – Centro Volta, Como, Italy

Dr. Eric T. Ferguson, Secretary of Pugwash Netherlands; Consultant on Energy and Development, MacFergus bv, Zeist, Netherlands

Prof. Georg Frerks, Professor of Conflict Prevention and Conflict Management, Centre for Conflict Studies, Utrecht University, The Netherlands; Professor of Disaster Studies, Wageningen University; Chairman, Pugwash Nederland

Mr. Jörn Harry, Independent Adviser, Nuclear Safeguards and Non-Proliferation, Scheveningen, The Netherlands; Honorary Member of the European Safeguards Research and Development Association (ESARDA); Fellow of the Institute of Nuclear Material Management (INMM)

Dr. Berma Klein Goldewijk, Director, Cedar International, Center for Dignity and Rights, The Hague, The Netherlands

Dr. Johan van Klinken, formerly Researcher in Nuclear Physics, The Netherlands

Dr. Karel Koster, Coordinator, Netherlands Support Campaign Mayors for Peace, Project on European Nuclear Non-Proliferation/Netherlands; Executive, Middle Powers Initiative; European Coordinator, Parliamentarians Network for Nuclear Disarmament; Advisory Committee, IPPNW/Netherlands

Prof. Saideh Lotfian, Associate Professor of Political Science, and Associate Dean for Research, Faculty of Law and Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

Arend Meerburg, retired; Advisor to the Security Policy Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands; Member, Pugwash Netherlands; Member, Informal Expert Group on Global Security Matters

Dr. Steven Miller, Director, International Security Program, Center for Science & International Affairs (CSIA), Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; Editor-in-Chief, International Security; Member, Pugwash Council; Co-Chair, U.S. Pugwash Group

Dr. Götz Neuneck, Physicist, and Member, Pugwash Council; Project Leader, “Interdisciplinary Research Group Disarmament, Arms Control and New Technologies”, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH), Hamburg, Germany; Member, Council of the German Physical Society (DPG) and Chairman of their Working Group “Physics and Disarmament” in the Deutsche Physikalische Gesselschaft

Dr Arthur Petersen, Senior Policy Analyst and Director, Methodology & Modeling Program, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP), Bilthoven, The Netherlands; Treasurer, International Student/Young Pugwash; Treasurer, Pugwash Netherlands

Drs. Maaike Reijlink,  MA, Senior Policy Advisor, Principal Department of General Policy Affairs, Ministry of Defence, The Netherlands

Amb. Mohamed Shaker, Vice Chairman, Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA), Cairo; Chairman, Sawiris Foundation for Social Development; Chairman, Regional Information Technology Institute (RITI)

Dr. Bart van der Sijde, Member, Netherlands Pugwash Group; Adviser, Peace Center, Eindhoven University of Technology, and Editor of the Peace Center’s journal

Mr. Ted Whiteside, Head, WMD Centre, NATO HQ, Defence Policy and Planning Division, Brussels, Belgium

Amb. Paul Wilke, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands 

Amb. Bozorgmehr Ziaran, Delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the OPCW, The Hague, The Netherlands

Dr. Bob van der Zwaan, Senior Scientific Researcher, Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN), Amsterdam

Pugwash staff

Claudia Vaughn, Program Coordinator, Pugwash Conferences