New security policy

08.04.2013 - Interview

On 9 April a meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) took place in The Hague. In this connection the German and Netherlands Foreign Ministers call on nuclear weapon states to bring their arsenals into line with the changing security environment.

Joint article by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his Netherlands counterpart Frans Timmermans ahead of the meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) taking place in The Hague on 9 April. Published in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 8 April 2013.


Ever since the world witnessed the catastrophic consequences of the first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people have yearned for a world free of nuclear weapons. It is an aspiration that has lost none of its relevance, as is clear from the threats and provocations emanating from North Korea. Today, more than 67 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it still remains unfulfilled.

At the height of the Cold War the world’s nuclear arsenals contained over 70,000 warheads. Despite significant reductions, they still number around 19,000, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Roughly 90% belong to Russia and the United States. We are still a long way from a world free of nuclear weapons.

Let us take a closer look at the current international situation. In his recent State of the Union address President Obama pledged to work with Russia to achieve further reductions in both countries’ nuclear arsenals. On the very same day North Korea carried out its third nuclear test. The international community is seriously concerned also about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. And what if nuclear weapons or material should fall into the wrong hands? It is vital to prevent nuclear terrorism. So there are no two ways about it: in today’s globalized world, disarmament and non-proliferation must go hand in hand.

This is the basic philosophy of the ten countries participating in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI). On 9 April they will be meeting in The Hague to discuss how to move forward in a balanced fashion on disarmament and non-proliferation. Germany and the Netherlands, both members of this Initiative, look forward to working with countries from around the world to devise practical steps in the direction of ‘global zero’.

How can we achieve a world free of nuclear weapons? In a few weeks the states parties to the pivotal Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will convene in Geneva to discuss the Treaty’s implementation. Under this Treaty nuclear weapon states have committed themselves to negotiate on nuclear disarmament and all states parties have committed themselves to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and to share the benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Today, with the Treaty under significant strain, a new dynamic is needed.

Here there are a number of things we should be clear about. During the Cold War military doctrines assigned nuclear weapons a key role. However, the new security threats we face today – asymmetrical wars, cyberwarfare, the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons – have changed the role and significance of nuclear weapons. We call on all nuclear weapon states to take concrete steps to bring their arsenals into line with the changing security environment.

From the moment it was launched, NPDI has been pressing for greater transparency on nuclear arsenals. Transparency generates trust and trust is essential if agreement is to be reached on further reductions in nuclear stockpiles and their eventual elimination. That is why NPDI members have proposed a Standard Reporting Form designed to shed more light on nuclear weapons arsenals.

In today’s security environment the prospect of nuclear weapons ever being used is – fortunately – fairly remote. So the logical next step would be reciprocal reductions that take the differences in the size of current stockpiles into account. NATO has offered the Russian Federation a dialogue on transparency measures with respect to non-strategic nuclear weapons. NPDI has welcomed this proposal and urged both sides to include such weapons in future disarmament talks. This has not happened to date.

As President Obama pointed out in his Prague speech, working towards ‘global zero’ is going to be a long haul. To be successful, we need a strong sense of purpose. Germany, the Netherlands and our NPDI partners are determined to stay the course. The journey ahead, we believe, should not take yet another 67 years.

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