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Panel discussion "Nuclear Weapons in a New Geopolitical Reality"

On Tuesday 16 April, the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) of Leiden University and the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) organised a panel discussion on the recommendations of the report: ‘Nuclear weapons in a new geopolitical reality’. In this report the AIV recommends the Dutch government to take new initiatives in these areas, as well as to strengthen credible deterrence, maintain strategic stability and improve nuclear risk reduction. Underneath there will follow a brief overview of the arguments made with regards to the concerning policy during the panel discussion.

Mankind lives with the curse of having invented nuclear weapons

Chairman of the AIV Professor Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, former Secretary General of NATO and Professor at Leiden University, was the moderator of the debate and started by stating that the debate about nuclear weapons is highly needed.

Professor Joris Voorhoeve, chairman of the committee that prepared the AIV-report, introduced the report. “The worst thing that mankind can do to itself is starting a nuclear war. The question is: what can we do to prevent nuclear weapons from ever exploding again?” The world has now got 9 superpowers instead of 2 (as was the case during the Cold War), and since a superpower has the ability to destroy a nation with Nuclear Weapons: regulation is needed. Voorhoeve continued that mankind lives with the curse of having invented nuclear weapons and once a state uses nuclear weapons, other states will have to react and you will get into the most horrible scenarios. One of the recommendations the AIV comes with to prevent these scenarios from happening is the installation of an international commission. This commission should be appointed through the United Nations and will also have to include the states that threaten to use nuclear weapons. Besides that, the AIV thinks that it is important for The Netherlands to stay involved in the discussion concerning nuclear weapons in order to make a change.

Solving the Nuclear Paradox

After the introduction of the report Marc Vogelaar, International Affairs Consultant and former diplomat,reacted . “The report is highly commendable in some aspects, such as the fact that it has very explicitly underlined the tremendous risks the entire planet is now exposed to.” However, the report was a missed opportunity to solve the nuclear paradox. This means that as long as other states threaten us with nuclear weapons, we should do likewise. It is a necessary evil. Vogelaar is of the opinion that the AIV should have advocated the change of policy by NATO more thoroughly. He states that he supports the idea of a commission but wonders how realistic it is. As for the recommendation to the Dutch government, the Netherlands should be in favor of enforcing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) again so that it can be saved. Towards NATO he recommends that it is important to stop growing and start protecting its own member states.

The Netherlands as a bridge builder

Lastly, Sico van der Meer, a Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute started off by stating that the ‘nuclear weapons states’ trust The Netherlands as bridge builders because they know we understand them, as he has encountered himself multiple times. “This means that the Dutch position is very strong and we should use this position by bringing constructive but realistic ideas into the discussion.” From an ethical perspective, all nuclear weapons should immediately be removed, however, from a military perspective, it is important to keep them. According to van der Meer, they can help us in our work towards a nuclear-free world, removing them will help with nothing. His main criticism of the report was that this could have been emphasized more.

Afterwards, there was the opportunity for the audience to ask questions and participate in the discussion. This made sure for a very fruitful conversation which gave more insight in the possible actions The Netherlands could undertake with regards to reducing the amount of nuclear weapons and was very educational for the audience.

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