European churches call for NATO to end nuclear reliance

By staff writers
September 30, 2010

In a meeting with officials of NATO, European church representatives have advocated ending the role of tactical nuclear weapons in the alliance’s new 'strategic concept'.

On 24 September 2010, a delegation of the Church and Society Commission (CSC) of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) met with NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning, Dr Jiri Sedivy.

The CSC delegation included representatives of the World Council of Churches and the Dutch ecumenical peace organisation IKV Pax Christi.

The meeting resulted from an appeal addressed to NATO by the Church and Society Commission earlier this summer, in which NATO was asked to reconsider its nuclear policy in its new Strategic Concept, to be adopted at a NATO summit in November in Lisbon.

In its statement, which stresses the churches’ support for President Obama’s policy goal of a world without nuclear weapons and contains specific proposals for NATO, the CSC in particular urges the withdrawal of the last remaining 200 or so US tactical nuclear weapons from five non-nuclear NATO countries in Europe.

According to the Church and Society Commission, keeping these former ‘battlefield nuclear weapons’ still reflects a Cold War logic. Instead, NATO should rethink its deterrence concept and security cooperation in Europe, and decrease reliance on nuclear weapons as a contribution to their eventual elimination.

During the meeting, Assistant Secretary General Šedivý called the CSC statement “refreshing” and welcomed the opportunity for the two sides to discuss the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s future strategy. He also affirmed the new commitment of NATO to arms control and disarmament.

In a declaration adopted at its 60th anniversary in April last year, NATO committed itself to reinforcing arms control and promoting both nuclear and conventional disarmament.

However, whereas NATO does not see a paradigm change in world affairs which would require the Alliance to radically revisit its nuclear policy (with few changes since 1991), the churches hold a different view. They believe that two decades after the Cold War, a new policy is required as the world faces new nuclear threats, while at the same time a new political momentum has been provided by the US policy towards zero.

NATO should no longer stand with one leg in a Cold War attitude and the other in post-Cold War cooperation in Europe in which tactical nuclear weapons have become irrelevant, says the Church and Society Commission.

While sharing NATO’s concern about the larger number of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, the CSC delegation said that these are to be addressed in broader talks about Europe’s future security. It would be a disappointment if the Alliance would not match its new commitment to disarmament with ending its current nuclear sharing arrangements, either in the Strategic Concept or in more detailed follow-up plans.

The removal of the US tactical nuclear weapons from Europe would reduce the number of countries in the world with nuclear weapons on their territory from the current 14 to nine and thereby send a strong signal in support of the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime.

Representatives of both sides said the discussion was appreciated and is likely to be continued later this year.

For over a year, the Conference of European Churches and its Church and Society Commission have criticised institutions like the European Union and NATO for not sufficiently endorsing President Obama’s new policy.

Moreover, the churches are concerned that NATO’s attachment to nuclear weapons as a means of maintaining security, undermines its non-proliferation policy and may stimulate other countries to acquire nuclear weapons with a similar rationale.

NATO's Dr Jiri Sedivy was accompanied by Guy B. Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary for WMD Policy, and Robert F. Simmons, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security Cooperation and Partnership.

Full CEC Church and Society Commission statement (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document):

More information on NATO from NATO Watch:


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