Guest editorial: A revolution has begun

By: Susi Snyder, PAX Netherlands

For more than 70 years the world and the world order, have been held hostage by the threat of nuclear weapons. The worst weapons of mass destruction ever created. The bomb designed to wipe out an entire city. The bomb that leaves a poisonous legacy for generations, the ones who have that bomb seek to have control over everyone and everything. But a revolution has begun and that bomb is about to be banned.

The recent vote in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on the resolution “Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” (L.41) was an opportunity to see exactly where most countries stand. Those that voted yes showed they believe nuclear weapons are illegitimate weapons, and must be abolished. Those voting no demonstrating they believe causing catastrophic intergenerational harm can be justified. The abstaining countries though, these are interesting. The Netherlands is one of the 16 countries that chose to abstain on this resolution setting up negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty next year.

There was tremendous pressure on the Dutch (by the US, among others) to join the rest of NATO and vote against this resolution, but there was also tremendous pressure from within the country to vote yes.

Earlier this year a debate was triggered in the Dutch parliament because of a citizen’s initiative to ban nuclear weapons in the Netherlands. More than 46,000 citizens signed a call on the parliament to debate a national nuclear ban- and a debate was held in April. While no national ban was adopted, several motions were agreed by parliamentary majority, including a call on the government to use the Geneva Open Ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, to call for a nuclear ban treaty, and to encourage other NATO members to do the same. This built on an earlier motion calling on the government to participate actively, without prejudging the outcome, in any treaty to negotiate a nuclear weapons prohibition or similar framework agreement.

Leading members of parliament that support the negotiations of a nuclear weapons prohibition, and sponsored motions to that effect, were not very excited by the Dutch abstaining on L.41. It was a failure of democracy, since there was clear support from the majority of political parties to support the start of nuclear ban negotiations. At the same time, it did take a bit of “Dutch courage” to break ranks with NATO and, at least, abstain.

We are now looking ahead towards the negotiations. We have a firm commitment from Dutch Foreign Minister Koenders that the Netherlands will participate in the negotiations process, but we also have a national election before those negotiations begin. As the foreign affairs leadership in almost every political party now support a nuclear ban treaty, democracy dictates Dutch participation in negotiations. However, as a nuclear ban treaty will likely outlaw the practice of nuclear sharing that the Dutch have engaged in for decades, it is unclear what this future participation might look like. Perhaps we will all need a shot or two of Dutch courage to give us the strength to continue this revolution and make sure it upholds the fundamental goal of delegitimizing nuclear weapons at all times, under all circumstances.


Susi Snyder is the Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager for Pax in the Netherlands. Susi is a primary author of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb: Global Report on the Financing of Nuclear Weapons Producers (2013, 2014, 2015) and has published numerous reports and articles, including the 2015 Dealing with a Ban & Escalating Tensions, the 2014 The Rotterdam Blast: The immediate humanitarian consequences of a 12 kiloton nuclear explosion; and the 2011 Withdrawal Issues: What NATO countries say about the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. She is an International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and a 2016 Nuclear Free Future Award laureate. Previously, Susi served as the International Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, where she monitored various issues under the aegis of the United Nations, including sustainable development, human rights, and disarmament.