Czech mayors say US Missile Defence in Europe is fueling a new nuclear arms race
August 6th 2007 marks the 62nd anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima in which over 100,000 people lost their lives. Like every year, this occasion reminds us of the use of nuclear weapons. Tadatoshi Akiba, the mayor of Hiroshima, will once again make an appeal to the world for a global ban on nuclear weapons. An estimated 27,000 nuclear warheads still exist, more than enough to blow up the earth dozens of times.
These appeals remain as relevant as ever, especially in Europe where little progress is being made in moving towards a world without nuclear weapons. London announced its modernisation of the Trident nuclear weapon programme; Paris is testing a new M-51 nuclear missile; and the planned components of the American national missile defence system (NMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic, in addition to causing increasingly tense relations with the Russian Federation, contradict the move towards a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, as agreed upon in Article VI of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. The construction of the NMD is addressing the symptom – protection against a possible nuclear attack – rather than the root cause of the problem – the existence of nuclear weapons.
History teaches us that it is extremely difficult to cancel the development of military programs once the defence industry and the government are on board. Unfortunately, NATO’s recent decision (June 14th 2007) to limit its probe into the process of integrating the NMD with the European defence and security is a striking example of this. This position is problematic, given the many obvious weaknesses of the NMD.
Neither North Korea nor Iran have the capacity to launch an intercontinental nuclear missile attack on the US. If an attack does take place, it is far more likely to use trucks, boats or planes as delivery mechanisms, rather than intercontinental missiles. No NMD will provide protection against these low-tech attacks.
Secondly, the shaky NMD flight test record has led many to express serious doubt about its potential effectiveness and reliability. Contrary to normal development, and largely because of political pressure to show positive results, NMD is being tested under increasingly scripted and unrealistic circumstances. The most recent successful test, even under those highly simplified conditions, dates back to September 2006. Despite millions of dollars invested in the project, hardly any progress is being made. The American Congress recently decided to cut funding for the development of the European sites and make further funding conditional on a formal endorsement by NATO and successful conclusion of negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic. Opposition to the NMD installations is on the rise in both Poland and the Czech republic. Over the past months, a series of referenda have been organised by several mayors in the Czech Republic. All of these have revealed a strong rejection of the system by the local population.
Third, the mere development of the system, incomplete as it may be, is already provoking a series of highly negative reactions. The strategic balance based on the doctrine of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is being destabilized. Even a system not aimed against the Russian Federation or China, weakens their capacity to respond to a first strike by the US. Few observers were surprised, therefore, when the Russian Under Secretary of Defence announced last May that Russia had tested a new intercontinental missile capable of circumventing any existing or future missile defence system. Similar efforts to adapt one’s nuclear arsenal may be expected from China.
The risk of a new arms race is aggravated by the fact that the international non-proliferation and arms control regime has been continuously weakened during the development of the Missile Defence System. In 2002, the US retreated from the ABM Treaty to allow precisely the development of the Missile Defence System. On July 14th, Russia notified NATO that it will suspend its application of the CFE Treaty. The current START agreement expires in 2009, and current tense relations between the US and Russia can be expected to compromise the chances of finding agreement on renewal or replacement.
The EU and NATO, as organisations owing their existence to the principle of collective security for their member states, are weakened as well by the current exchange. The US decision to pursue direct negotiation with the Polish and Czech governments rather than multilateral negotiations through the EU or NATO, has effectively sidelined these institutions. In addition, the NMD implies a purely military approach to the security issue, and as such is contrary to the traditional European approach in which diplomatic negotiations, multilateralism and positive confidence-building measures play a central part. The absence of a stronger signal from within the EU is hard to understand. NATO has recently become more active, but continues to ignore the essence by refusing to ask the ultimate question about the actual need for the US NMD installations in Europe, limiting itself to a short-sighted policy of damage control through participation in the American system under American political control.
The NMD thus appears to be a system of doubtful technical capability and reliability, which stands in stark contrast to such confirmed consequences as increased international tensions, weakened multilateral fora as well as obsolete international arm control agreements.
We urge all European states to play active roles in the debate. Our government needs to stand firm and convince its partners within NATO and the EU to oppose the deployment of the Missile Defence System in Eastern Europe. The only way to address nuclear insecurity is through an international regime that makes no room for weapons of mass destruction. Such a regime exists already with regard to biological and chemical weapons. We call on our country to show political courage and leadership and put a similar ban on nuclear weapons on the international agenda. This is not a matter of choice. It is a legal obligation, confirmed as such by the International Court of Justice in its ruling of July 8th 1996, based on article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Josef Hála, mayor van Jince , Czech Republic
Jan Neoral, mayor van Trokavec, Czech Republic
Luc Dehaene, mayor Vredesstad Ypres, Belgium
Pol D'Huyvetter & Arnaud Ghys, coordinators Abolition 2000 Belgium
Dr. Jef De Loof, Artsen voor Vrede (IPPNW)
Guy Magnus, Artsen voor Milieu en Maatschappij
David Heller, Friends of the Earth
Michel Vanhoorne, LEF
Carla Goffi, Mouvement Chrétien pour la Paix
Tim Bogaert, Pax Christi Vlaanderen
Pol De Vos, Stop USA
Hans Lammerant, Vredesactie
Ludo De Brabander, Vrede vzw
Prof. Henri Firket, Association Médicale pour la Prévention d'une Guerre Nucléaire (IPPNW)
Roland Antoine, Coordination luxembourgeois pour la paix
Jean-Pierre Brouhon, Hiroshima mon Souvenir
Thierry Delannoy, MIR-IRG
Katheline Toumpsin, Pax Christi Wallonie-Bruxelles
Friends of the Earth Flanders & Brussels (formerly For Mother Earth) is a member of Friends of the Earth International