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NATO summit: Nuclear weapons in Europe

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit urges the NATO to “lead by example” and withdraw nuclear weapons still deployed in Europe.

15 May 2012

A public statement by the general secretary of the World Council of Churches.

The NATO summit in Chicago on 20-21 May 2012 is likely to do precisely what many independent voices in civil society have warned against – postpone important actions and make its progress dependent on Russian actions.

As churches who seek peace, we regret that this armed alliance of democracies will not be taking a widely supported and long-overdue decision in Chicago, namely, to stop sharing U.S. nuclear weapons with five non-nuclear-weapon states in Europe and remove the approximately 200 US nuclear bombs still based in Europe over two decades after the end of the Cold War.

In the three years leading up to the summit, the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the Canadian Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches of Christ of the U.S.A. sent letters to NATO leaders and met with senior NATO staff.  We urged the alliance to send its shared nuclear weapons back to their U.S. owners, freeing increasingly reluctant European allies from keeping and being ready to use a weapon that must never be used.

But that important action apparently still lies ahead.  In Chicago, NATO is set to postpone this and other important decisions.

Rather than taking action, advance reports indicate that the summit will make the removal of NATO’s nuclear arms from Europe and other confidence-building measures dependent on Russian reciprocity.  Our letters warned that the expectation of such reciprocity is a recipe for deadlock.  We also urged the Russian Federation to reduce, relocate and eventually eliminate its own tactical nuclear weapons without making NATO’s withdrawals a pre-condition.

NATO bears significant responsibilities for international peace and security and should lead by example.  In 2010 all NATO states agreed to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in their security strategies.  If the Chicago summit fails to live up to this promise, NATO must take up the issue again immediately afterwards.

We would also ask NATO to make public its new Defense and Deterrence Posture Review, to recognize international and civil society concerns about NATO policies, and to indicate a willingness to engage in greater public discussion of the same.

Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches


Editor’s note:  Relevant points from WCC policy

Withdrawing NATO’s remaining tactical nuclear weapons and ending NATO’s policy of nuclear sharing would be politically significant:

  1. NATO would make an important contribution to President Obama’s call for a world without nuclear weapons, because the number of countries with nuclear weapons on their territory would drop to nine from the current 14 countries.
  2. NATO would end doubts about its members’ compliance with Articles I and II of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which prohibit any transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states.
  3. NATO would set a standard for other countries that may be tempted to have nuclear weapons deployed on their territory without ‘going nuclear’ themselves.
  4. Removing the tactical nuclear weapons from NATO bases in five countries would address concerns about theft, accidents and acts of terrorism.
  5. The presence of US nuclear weapons in Europe would no longer serve as an excuse for the Russian Federation to avoid similar positive steps of its own.