By Wilbert van der Zeijden, Senior researcher, PAX, Netherlands
Note: I am grateful to Tom Sauer and Paolo Foradori for updates on Belgium and Italy, respectively.
In Italy, Federica Mogherini was inaugurated as Minister of Foreign Affairs on the 22 February. She is one of the few parliamentarians in Italy openly questioning the continued deployment of US B61 nuclear weapons in Europe. She organised several hearings and events on the matter in recent years in the Italian parliament and participated in anti-WMD events organised by others. Whether B61 withdrawal will be a priority issue for her in government remains to be seen, but her track record on the issue seems the best starting point possible.
In Belgium, the Flemish Socialist Party on the 22 February announced at their Party congress that the party will not be part of any government if the B61s stay in Belgium. Modernisation is out of the question. The Flemish Socialists are not a big party, but their Walloon counterparts are likely to follow suit and together they are a political bloc to reckon with.
In the Netherlands, debates and hearings in the parliament and the senate in the past few weeks produced a better picture of the positions and plans of the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs for the coming period. Minister Timmermans reiterated that he is committed to achieve the removal of the B61s from the Netherlands and Europe. In the senate, he stressed that he does not rule out the possibility that in the future the Netherlands will end its nuclear role without NATO consent. But for now, he wants to work with NATO allies to prepare proposals that lead to removal. He wants to work with concerned states (Baltic, Poland etc) on alternatives for the burden sharing / solidarity / posturing connected to the B61 deployments. He realises that finding alternatives is crucial to convincing these states to stop blocking the withdrawal of the B61. Timmermans also hinted that he is already working with a number of allies behind the scenes to move this debate in the right direction. He mentioned Germany ‘and other states’.
Conclusion: These developments support the idea that the discussions on the withdrawal of the B61s are not stifled by NATO’s Strategic Concept and Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR) lowest common denominator consensus. On the national level, the debate is very much alive and NATO runs the risk of losing control of the process of discussing the terms for withdrawal if it continues to sideline the demands and concerns of the host states in favour of the concerns and demands of some non-host states. This debate can only end with the removal of the B61 from the European theatre. The question allies need to answer is what they want to replace it with.