Wednesday 20. October 2021
COMECE Press 20/11/2009


Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons :

Europe free of nuclear weapons by 2015


Text of the presentation of Fr. Paul Lansu, Pax Christi International


In the past year, positive developments have returned nuclear weapons and disarmament to the international political stage. The new momentum and political climate around nuclear disarmament are exemplified by the positive outcome in May 2009 of the last Preparatory Committee before next year's Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. There is a window of opportunity!


Last week, the entire world celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the most prominent symbol of the Cold War. Sadly, however, the world still lives under the threat of nuclear weapons, another prominent outgrowth of the Cold War. The promise made by the world's nuclear powers in the 1968 NPT to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons has yet to be fulfilled. Some 23.000 nuclear weapons still exist, many of them ready to be launched within minutes.


Today, the risk of a nuclear confrontation between two superpowers is small. However, the number of nuclear states has grown and may grow further. The chance that nuclear weapons and nuclear material might fall into the hands of terrorist groups is increasing. Therefore, the chance of a nuclear nightmare, albeit one different from the scenario previously imagined, is growing.


Nuclear disarmament is primarily a question of political will. Fortunately, there are new opportunities for that will to be exerted. In 2009 and 2010, three important events will take place that could bring us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. These are (1) the extension and renewal of the treaty on reduction of strategic arms between the USA and Russia; (2) the review of NATO's Strategic Concept, and (3) the NPT Review Conference. Here I choose to focus on the importance of the NPT Review Conference in May next year.


The 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is the basic instrument aimed at containing the spread of nuclear weapons. As a side note for understanding the basic provisions of the treaty, one must understand that the treaty makes a distinction between nuclear-weapon States (NWS), or those states which conducted a nuclear test before 1967, and all the other States, which are classified as non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS).


The Treaty has three basic pillars:


1. The Principle of Non-Proliferation: Non-nuclear-weapon States agree to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons or from seeking the control of nuclear weapons - under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), - while the nuclear-weapon States agree to not transfer nuclear weapons or any weapons components to others. All Parties agree to refrain from transferring un-safeguarded fissile material to non-nuclear-weapon States.

2. The Principle of Disarmament: Parties to the Treaty, particularly the nuclear-weapon States, commit themselves to negotiations in good faith aimed at the cessation of the nuclear arms race and at nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under international control.

3. The Principle of Access to Peaceful Nuclear Technology: All Parties to the NPT have the right to develop and be assisted in the development of nuclear energy for civilian purposes under supervision of the IAEA.


In 1995, the NPT was extended indefinitely, contributing to what then seemed to be a bright prospect for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. After that the prospects became less bright. Nevertheless in 2000 at the review conference 13 promises were made to strengthen the NPT. Among them the promise by the NWS to make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, as the Vatican had asked for in the UN in 1997 and 1998. By the time of the next review conference in 2005 few of these promises were realised and many feared that the NPT would come to an end.


Since 2007 a different climate is growing. An impressive number of former politicians, national security advisors and diplomats (the "Gangs of Four") started to advocate nuclear disarmament. The actions supported are not small steps to reduce the massive number of nuclear weapons, but major steps to completely eliminate them. These initiatives are in the meantime present in the US, the UK, Russia, Japan, Germany, Italy, Norway, France and Poland. Experts and scientists - among them the present NATO- ambassador of the US, Daalder -  started research how realise the road to zero and concluded that complete nuclear disarmament is possible.


As Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States, stated in his speech to the UN Security Council, "Today's world demands a courageous leadership in reducing those arsenals to a complete zero."[1] Nuclear proliferation can only be prevented by the so called "zero-option," or the total elimination of nuclear weapons secured by a robust international regime and appropriate safeguards. Church teaching supports preventing proliferation of these horrific weapons and ultimately eliminating them. Also the World Council of Churches, as well as their member churches worldwide, is urging governments to make the world free of nuclear weapons.[2]

Support for the "zero-option" has recently gained political momentum. In 2009, United States' President Barack Obama made clear that he had listened to these calls and consequently made total nuclear disarmament one of the main priorities of his government.


At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, there must be a very clear message that the three basic pillars of the NPT will be rigorously respected and strengthened or, if not, the non-proliferation regime would be endangered. This means that we should urge that disarmament should be closely connected to the enforcement of non-proliferation. In addition, it would involve an agreement that assistance in the development of nuclear energy should be provided within a fair and honest framework of serious and effective monitoring and control.


The entire international community should take steps to preserve the essence of the NPT, and make it more effective and stable, as President Obama suggested in his April 2009 speech in Prague. In that speech the President spoke out in favour of "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." "And as a nuclear power - as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon - the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavour alone, but we can lead it."[3]


Those Nuclear-weapon States that are not signatories to the NPT, namely India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea should be induced to take steps to reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons, to sign all arms control agreements compatible with their status as non-NPT members, to enforce strict control of nuclear material, to respect all relevant agreements with the IAEA, and to ultimately join the NPT.


The potential use of nuclear weapons by terrorists has been discussed for some time. The proper strategy for addressing potential nuclear terrorism is to control all fissile material with strict safeguards and to eliminate excess fissile material from dismantled weapons. The international community is lagging behind on both counts.


There is a need for the 2010 NPT Review Conference to strengthen the three pillars of the treaty I previously discussed. Nuclear disarmament should be pursued by all nuclear-weapon States. Fair and effective monitoring systems should be improved for all civilian nuclear activities.


US Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW's) in Europe


In a related matter, we must examine the status of nuclear weapons-sharing in Europe.  Currently, only US nuclear weapons are deployed in other countries.  The states that currently host US nuclear weapons are Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Approximately 200 B-61 free fall bombs are located on US Air Force bases in Italy and Turkey and on national air force bases in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. US nuclear weapons are reported to have been silently withdrawn from Greece in 2001, from the German base Ramstein in 2007, and from the British base Lakenheath in 2008. Some 3.800 TNW's are still deployed in Russia. Unilateral reductions like the US and Russia realised in the early 90s are the best solution.


Analysts see no real commitment from the main European institutions to a radically new nuclear weapons policy.[4] In NATO and in the EU, the current debate fails to recognize the new political atmosphere in the USA.  EU statements do not explicitly endorse the new "zero" policy, but instead call for reductions. The EU will need to agree about a new Common Position[5] for the NPT Review in 2010 which will be a new opportunity for seriously responding to the new dynamics in the nuclear debate.


With regards to nuclear weapons-sharing, American and European leaders have apparently reached a stalemate, with each side waiting for appropriate signals from the other before initiating changes. In October, however, the new German coalition government took a major step towards breaking this stalemate by asking the US government to remove US nuclear weapons from German soil. We should urge the other countries mentioned to follow this initiative of Germany.


The following actions could be taken by the EU and our own governments in order to indicate visible progress before the NPT Conference:

  • Ending the current stalemate by clearly expressing to the US that nuclear weapons are obsolete and that European and North American security is sufficiently linked by which the presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe is no longer required.[6]
  • Advocating for a successful outcome of the NPT Review Conference in May 2010 and advancing support for the development of a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
  • Advocating for a strong new EU Common Position, with equal attention to the three pillars of the NPT.
  • Advocating for an end to the role of nuclear weapons in NATO's new Strategic Concept.
  • Speaking out in favour of a Europe free of nuclear weapons by 2015, the next review of the NPT after 2010.
  • Stating their support for a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020.

These actions would strengthen the international momentum needed for a world free of nuclear weapons and show progress prior to the NPT Review Conference. With regards to TNW's in our own countries, states cannot afford to wait for the new NATO Strategic Concept review process, in which NATO's nuclear task will be discussed, since that process will not be finished before 2011.


We must act now, during this time of promise and opportunity, to advocate for radical new steps towards disarmament and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The window of opportunity should not be lost!


Brussels, COMECE, 20 November 2009.


Paul Jozef Marie LANSU was born on 14 March 1951. He is currently a Roman Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Antwerp, Belgium. He has a Masters Degree of Arts in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, United Kingdom.

From 1982 to 1989, Fr. Paul served as a Political Secretary for Pax Christi Flanders in Belgium. Since 1990, Fr. Paul Lansu is a staff member at the International Secretariat of Pax Christi in Brussels, Belgium. He serves as a Senior Policy Advisor for Advocacy on Security and Human Rights. He also coordinates the development of the network in Latin America, Asia & Pacific and the Middle East. Fr Paul takes care for the programmes dealing with security and disarmament, human rights, peace building, peace spirituality, theology and interreligious dialogue.


[1] Archbishop Mamberti (2009), Nuclear Weapons Assault... the Planet Itself, Archbishop Mamberti to UN Security Council (24 September 2009).

[2] Read latest statements of Pax Christi International on nuclear disarmament at and

[3] Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic (Apr. 5, 2009), available at

[4] See Laurens Hogebrink in "Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons" at

[5] The EU could take the lead and initiate a nuclear-free-zone on the Pacific region model. Such a move would send a strong signal to the rest of the world.

[6] In Alliance Reborn, by the Atlantic Council of the US, on the future of NATO: "Historically, the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe has been a preeminent symbol coupling European and North American security. For this reason, a unilateral U.S. decision to withdraw its nuclear weapons could be seen in Europe as a U.S. effort to decouple its security from that of its allies and thus question the very premise of the Atlantic Alliance. If such a step is to be considered, the initiative should come from Europe; the U.S. is unlikely to object to their removal."


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