Ex ministers urge NATO to scrap nuclear arms

Filed on February 19, 2010

BRUSSELS — NATO’s nuclear arms no longer serve a military purpose and encourage other nations to acquire atomic weapons, four former Belgian government ministers said in a joint statement Friday.

The four — including ex-foreign minister Willy Claes, who served as NATO secretary general in the 1990s — called on the Belgian government to press NATO to get rid of its nuclear weapons.

They noted in an opinion piece in the daily De Standaard that the Cold War is over but the nuclear club is growing — Pakistan, India and North Korea have recently joined the club and there is a good chance that Iran and other nations will follow suit, they said.

“We appeal to our government to take active steps in NATO to secure the quick removal of these nuclear arms,” said the four — Claes, ex-premiers Jean-Luc Dehaene and Guy Verhofstadt and former foreign minister Louis Michel.

Getting rid of nuclear arms, they said, can send “an extremely positive signal” to nonnuclear nations ahead of a May review conference of the Nonproliferation Treaty. They suggested NATO negotiate the removal of nuclear arms with Russia “so it achieves an equivalent reduction in Russian armaments.”

The four said the time seemed right, pointing to sentiments in the Obama administration that Washington will never get other countries to stop developing and testing nuclear arms if these weapons remain in NATO’s arsenal.

The United States maintains nuclear bombs at air bases in several European nations, including Belgium.

It began deploying the arms in Europe after World War II to deter the Soviet army from invading all of Europe. But since the demise of communism, their usefulness is increasingly questioned.

NATO is developing a new “Strategic Concept” — to be unveiled this year — that will likely redefine the role of alliance nuclear arms in the future.

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