Future role of nuclear weapons

June 27, 2018

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061                                                                                          
2500 EB The Hague

Date 15 March 2018

Re    Request for advice on the future role of nuclear weapons

Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

The shifting international situation requires us to reflect on the current and future role of nuclear weapons. Geopolitical and technological changes and changes in nuclear doctrine in particular impel us to rethink NATO’s current nuclear policy and the Netherlands’ policy as a member of the Alliance.

NATO is a nuclear alliance. Its Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (2012) states that its greatest responsibility is to protect and defend its territory and our populations against attack of any kind. The three nuclear powers in the Alliance – the US, the UK and France – play a central part in NATO nuclear policy, but every other NATO member has a contribution to make to this policy as well. At the same time, the Alliance states that the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. Nuclear non-proliferation also plays an important role in the achievement of the Alliance’s security objectives, and NATO is resolved to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.

As a member of NATO, the Netherlands has a nuclear mission. One squadron of Dutch F-16 fighter aircraft is charged with this mission, and the F-35s ordered to replace the F-16s are intended to take it over. In addition to meeting its NATO obligations, the Netherlands gives high priority to working on arms control and disarmament. A Dutch diplomat was for example the Chair in 2017 of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 (Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons). The Netherlands also plays an active role in the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV).

After the end of the Cold War, the number of nuclear weapons declined worldwide, and they came to play a subordinate role for NATO and Russia, both militarily and politically. During that same period, nuclear expertise, familiarity with nuclear issues, nuclear deterrence and nuclear arms control also declined. In recent years, however, more states have been trying to acquire nuclear arms, and nuclear weapon states have been modernising their arsenals. Moreover, in the defence doctrine Russia adopted in 2014 it assigns a major role to nuclear weapons, including in an offensive capacity. This can have consequences for the European security situation. In addition, there is a range of challenges around the world in the field of nuclear proliferation, with North Korea as the most obvious problem. The United States, a NATO ally, also once again assigns a greater role to nuclear weapons for its national security in its most recent Nuclear Posture Review (2018).

Against the backdrop of this shifting international landscape, the Dutch government needs a thorough analysis of the current and future role of nuclear weapons and of the appropriate role for NATO in general, and the Netherlands in particular, in this area. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Defence therefore request that the AIV issue an advisory report on this subject, with specific attention to the following questions:

  1. What is the AIV’s assessment of NATO’s nuclear security situation, in the light of the       geopolitical and technological changes and changes in nuclear doctrine in the Euro-Atlantic   region and beyond? Specifically, how does it assess the consequences for NATO of nuclear and ballistic missile developments in Russia? Furthermore, what are the consequences of the nuclear aspirations of, and nuclear developments in, North Korea, Iran and possibly other countries as well? What role do non-state actors play in this security situation?
  2. To what extent are NATO’s nuclear doctrine, nuclear policy and nuclear capabilities equal to these challenges? How can NATO ensure that its nuclear policy can be successfully implemented? What relation do NATO’s conventional defence policy and conventional capabilities bear to its nuclear policy and capabilities?
  3. How does the AIV assess NATO’s role in the field of nuclear arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation? How closely does NATO’s nuclear policy correspond to its values and aims in this area? What practical opportunities are there to help create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons?
  4. What part do the three nuclear weapon states play in NATO, and how do their national nuclear doctrines influence the overarching nuclear policy of the Alliance? What is the role in NATO nuclear policy of American sub-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe? What value should NATO place on the concept of burden sharing?
  5. Like all other NATO member countries, the Netherlands has a nuclear mission as part of the Alliance. How can the Netherlands carry out this NATO mission properly? What value should the Netherlands place on the concept of burden sharing?
  6. Preventing nuclear incidents and accidents and the use of nuclear weapons as a result of miscalculation or miscommunication promotes the security of the Alliance. How can NATO contribute to nuclear risk reduction?

This request for advice has been included in the AIV’s programme of work for 2017-2019. We look forward to receiving your report. We would be particularly pleased to receive it before the NATO Summit set for mid-July 2018.

Yours sincerely,

Stef Blok
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Ank Bijleveld-Schouten
Minister of Defence