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Digital Archive International History Declassified

June 09, 1976

LETTER FROM A.J. MEERBURG TO MIENT JAN FABER OF THE INTERCHURCH PEACE COUNCIL

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    Diplomat A.J. Meerburg writes to activist Mient Jan Faber about nuclear proliferation and disarmament issues, illustrating the amiable relations that developed between social activists and national security professionals and activists in the Netherlands.
    "Letter from A.J. Meerburg to Mient Jan Faber of the Interchurch Peace Council," June 09, 1976, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, International Institute for Social History, Amersterdam, Archief Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad, Notulen en Vergaderstukken 1976, Box 12. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/122400
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IKV/1976/57

Geneva, 9 June 1976

Permanent Representation of the

Kingdom of the Netherlands at the

Office of the United Nations and

Other International Organizations

      in Geneva

MSc A.J. Meerburg

Dear Mr. Faber,

First of all, my apologies that I only now respond to your letter of 18 February 1976. Until now, it was impossible for me to find time between all other matters for your letter.

To go into your specific questions, the following. Firstly, we here in Geneva do not deal with issues such as the West European nuclear force. The Geneva Disarmament Committee only deals with multilateral, i.e. worldwide disarmament issues. Our knowledge about a possible West European nuclear force therefore is not greater or possibly even less than what you have at your disposal in the Netherlands as an open source. Personally, however, I think that a West European nuclear force is a remote prospect. One would need, after all, a central body (or person) able to take decisions in a very brief time-frame concerning the use of such a nuclear force. I believe that we in Western Europe are very far removed from a situation in which the countries would want to hand over such powers. This does of course not mean that certain forms of nuclear cooperation, like for example a kind of “nuclear planning group” for the French of British nuclear forces would be impossible, but I do not consider this a European nuclear force.

I do not know if one could speak of a hardening of positions at the disarmament talks. Publicly, it may seem that way, because earlier proposals in the fifties and early sixties went much further than what nowadays is being put forward. One should not forget, however, that a lot of proposals at that time were made for propagandistic reasons, in the certainty that the other side would not accept them anyway. Now that it becomes “for real,” one becomes considerably more cautious indeed, but the proposals perhaps get more value. Concerning the nuclear weapons-free zones and the ‘no-first-use’ declarations in Europe, there is in my view indeed a noticeable change visible in the Russian thinking. Yet, one must not forget that the Rapacki-proposals[1] to a great extent were inspired by the desire to keep tactical nuclear weapons out of Germany. Personally, I still think the West lost a big opportunity then for an improvement of the situation in Europe, but in that time Cold War thinking was still predominant. In my personal opinion these ideas could very well be picked up again. In this respect, I would also like to point to a 1974 D’66[2] report of about European security, which shows a way to come to a nuclear weapons-free zone in Central Europe.

Regarding the proliferation of nuclear weapons, a lot of industrialized countries, but especially the United States, in my opinion make the gigantic mistake in thinking that the proliferation of nuclear weapons can be prevented by a restriction of the export of nuclear materials, equipment and know-how. Of course these kind of measures will help in the short term, like ten or fifteen years, but the proliferation of nuclear weapons is much more a political problem than a technical one. Every sizable country can easily build up a small nuclear force (see India, Israel). If one wants a couple of key countries here to ratify the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the major nuclear weapons countries should enter into a serious dialogue with those countries and, moreover, make significant moves themselves in nuclear weapons reduction. The most important in this seems that by possessing nuclear weapons one does not obtain an exceptional political status in international relations. That is why the ratification of the NPT by Japan is actually important. I think the Netherlands, together with a couple of friendly countries should wage a well-aimed campaign to get as many countries as possible to ratify the NPT, by means of well-planned demarches, pressure via development aid etc. In that way, one could perhaps pull some countries across the line, resulting in a politically more and more isolated position of the more important countries that are still outside the NPT. Possibly, the IKV could some time suggest something of the kind.

I believe that the rise of China indeed has some consequences for the disarmament talks, namely to the extent that the Soviet Union has become even more cautious to enter into any commitments because of the conflict with China. The rise of the Third World, especially of the rich countries in the Middle East, undoubtedly complicates possible limitations on, and the trade in, conventional weapons. But conventional arms control in my opinion is still better suited for a regional approach (cf. MBFR, ANDES-talks). So far, the CCD[3] and MBFR talks relatively have had little influence on the armament processes. The most important “feat of arms” of the CCD is the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which until now has only partly succeeded. The MBFR talks move very slowly and, moreover, have objectives that do not nearly go far enough. Except for the ABM Treaty, up to now the SALT talks probably have resulted more in armament than in disarmament. But the fact that all these talks are going on could eventually result in a security increase because one gets more insight into each other’s aims and fears. A very frightening issue, however, is that the U.S. and the S.U. are already having such a difficult time in their mutual negotiations, and in the internal battle between the different factions and ministries,  that they never analyze the consequences of their arms race for the rest of the world. It is exactly this problem which could lead to a further proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It is correct indeed, that the interest in the problem of nuclear weapons has diminished enormously since the beginning of the sixties, though in the Netherlands once can notice a slight revival. Therefore I wholeheartedly support the IKV proposal to pay more attention to consciousness-raising, for example through the proposal to form a committee on the issue.

You can always contact me for more information.

Yours sincerely,

A.J. Meerburg

[1] The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adam Rapacki, in 1957 proposed a denuclearized zone, including Poland, West and East Germany and Czechoslovakia.

[2] Democrats ’66, a Dutch liberal-democratic political party. Meerburg was active in this party.

[3] Conference of the Committee on Disarmament, an initiative of the United Nations.

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