27857  No. 1
To the Chairman of the Lower House of the States General
The Hague, July 5  2001


Missile Defence

The Netherlands’ stance

Dear Mr Chairman,

In response to the request from the Permanent Foreign Affairs Committee for additional information on the Dutch government’s stance on American plans with respect to Missile Defence, we have the honour of presenting you with the following statement, further to previous letters to the House on the subject of Missile Defence of August 30  2000 (26800 V. no. 122) and of April 17  2001 (27400 V. no. 68) and with reference also to the answers of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to questions put by member of parliament Van den Doel of July 14  2000 (Appendix to Proceedings no. 1562, Parliamentary year 1999–2000).


Development of strategic thinking in the US

As the outcome of the American strategic policy review is not yet known, a considered response to it is of course not feasible at this juncture. It is understandable as such and expedient for a newly elected government to base its own policy on a thorough analysis of the situation. At the same time, in light of the special role of the US in the global political arena, a strategic policy review is of significance to the rest of the world, irrespective of whether one is an ally, a “strategic competitor” or a “risk country”. It is therefore gratifying that the US is taking great pains to consult with the Allies, Russia and China.

The government endorses the analysis that the threat to security today differs from that of the Cold War. As the letter to The House of  May 20 1998 on the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the Netherlands Armed Forces (26051, no. 1) already stated, “the massive nuclear threat that characterised the Cold War has faded. The threat has since become more diffuse and is no longer confined to inter–state combat. The farther the proliferation of technologies and expertise proceeds, the more numerous will be the alignments, and even individuals, capable of launching an assault, even on Netherlands territory”.

An armed conflict, let alone a nuclear war, between NATO and Russia is a more distant prospect than ever. This point has already been underlined in the most recent NATO Strategic Concept. The threats of the coming years are many, and the growing capability of some risk countries in the area of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction is among their number. The extent to which the presence of this capability will also represent a real threat depends in part on the intentions and credibility of the proliferator in question and on the probability that its capability will be deployed. Speaking generally, however, additional capability in the area of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction can be said to compel reflection, including reflection about a defensive reaction. However the response to this threat ought to cover a broader spectrum, extending to embrace non–proliferation / arms control, defensive systems and the political resolution of conflicts.

The government believes that as far as possible the goal should be to establish multilateral rather than unilateral responses to the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The first priority in this respect is to strengthen and further develop the international system of non–proliferation and arms control and disarmament.

Missile defence is an integral part of that response (a subject given further consideration below), but the introduction of MD systems to combat intercontinental ballistic missiles must not be undertaken at the expense of strategic stability between the nuclear states or of the international structure of non–proliferation and arms control. The central criterion for the government is whether the introduction of MD systems leads to greater or less security. This implies, in the government’s opinion, that the development and introduction by the US of a - limited - missile defence capability against intercontinental missiles must not detract from international strategic stability, including the system of non–proliferation and arms control. The government therefore calls upon the US, as did the Minister of Foreign Affairs in meetings of the ministerial NAC and similarly the Prime Minister during the most recent NATO mini–summit meeting on June 13, not to proceed with unilateral abandonment of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. The ABM treaty is not sacred and could be amended or replaced in mutual consultation between the US and Russia, but unilateral measures by the US could lead to undesirable retaliatory measures that would represent an express threat to stability (potential renewed arms race, proliferation).

As Your House has already been informed by letter of April 17 last (27400 V, no. 68), the Minister of Foreign Affairs - during his recent visit to Washington and on other occasions -  has stressed in this connection that it is of great importance to proceed with intensive consultations with Moscow; the government has the firm impression that president Putin is willing to hold serious talks with Washington. The message being conveyed to Russia, as expressed earlier by Germany and other countries, is that it is also in Russia’s interest to keep a grip on the process by agreeing with the US on an amendment to the ABM treaty, or on a new treaty to replace it. The basic premise for the government in that context is that stability must rest to the greatest possible degree on mutual agreement and a nuclear deterrent potential at the lowest possible level. For this to be credible it is essential that results should emerge in the form of both a further reduction of nuclear weapons and verifiable agreements. Arms control based on unilateral measures is inherently unstable, and verification is deficient. Nor has experience gained with the mutual unilateral reduction of US and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe been constructive. The large–scale reductions on the part of NATO in the nineteen–nineties elicited no real response from Russia (numbers are not clear, because no verification has taken place). It must not be forgotten that although relations in Europe have greatly improved, there are still large numbers of nuclear weapons on the Russian side, both strategic and tactical. These weapons are a strategic reality that cannot be disclaimed, and whose presence represents a real security problem. This underlines the importance of verifiable reduction agreements between the Russian Federation and the US.

A selective approach to multilateral arms control treaties and non–proliferation regimes carries the risk of undermining this collective security system and can lead to destabilisation and greater proliferation. The Netherlands is not blind to the flaws embedded in these regimes, but takes the stance that these do not conclusively rob the regimes of their legitimacy. On the contrary, treaties and international agreements on arms control and non–proliferation should be strengthened and at the same time reviewed in terms of their mutual coherence. While the existing treaties and arms export regimes may not provide a watertight guarantee, they form an indispensable element of the response to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles; more than that: they are the first priority when seeking a response to such proliferation. The Netherlands is by tradition extremely active in this area, witness inter alia our contribution to the various non–proliferation negotiations, with as current high point the role of Ambassador Ramaker in the realisation of the Comprehensive Test  Ban Treaty, our hosting of the OPCW and our chairmanship of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), from which has emerged a draft Code of Conduct with respect to the non–proliferation of ballistic missiles.

In the context of strengthening the system of international non–proliferation regimes the government also urges the US to persist with its active support of international exertions on arms control and non–proliferation. In particular the American government should be called upon to seek ratification by the Senate of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to support an effective Protocol for the Biological Weapons Treaty. At the same time the government calls countries such as Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran to account with respect to their non–proliferation commitments and urges them to help further augment the international non–proliferation and arms control system.

Another element of the response to the security threat is the active pursuit of political solutions for the differences and disputes that underlie the efforts of countries to procure or to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. By way of example we can cite recent efforts to improve relations with and to gain access to the Korean peninsula, an endeavour in which the EU also regards itself as having a role to play - as became clear during the recent visit of the EU triumvirate to North Korea. 

Role for missile defence systems and potential cooperation in this area

Defensive systems also have a part to play in the response, in the view of the Netherlands. From the Dutch viewpoint the reference here is to TMD. The government believes there is insufficient reason at this juncture to undertake the – extremely large – investments required for the development of a strategic missile defence system for the European Allies, that is to say a capability to combat potential assault with long–range ballistic missiles by “states of concern”. In light of Dutch endeavours in the context of NATO (DCI) and the European Union the financial resources are also unlikely to be available for a Dutch contribution to the development of strategic missile defence systems.

However NATO territory and countries involved in regional conflicts are already under threat from tactical ballistic missiles. That means that efforts must unquestionably be directed towards a further build–up of defence capability against tactical ballistic missiles, which in the event of a regional conflict would provide protection to deployed forces and specific targets and population centres in crisis areas against missiles in the operational theatre in question. There is already agreement within the Alliance on the need for such capability. The European Allies, including the Netherlands, can therefore direct their efforts for the time being towards the development and procurement of TMD systems such as the Patriot Advanced Capability–3 (PAC–3) of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and possibly of systems on board Royal Netherlands Navy air defence command frigates.

Because missile technology is being increasingly disseminated, the threat to security will have to be closely monitored as it develops. This means too that the European Allies must be amenable to cooperating more closely with the US (and with Russia) in seeking answers in the area of missile defence.

In that context the dialogue with Russia within the framework of NATO (in the Permanent Joint Council) on the security threat, proliferation, TMD, sub–strategic nuclear weapons and other issues is worth special attention. Although formally the PJC dialogue is quite unconnected with the American–Russian talks on the ABM treaty, there is undoubtedly a political link between the two. Russia perhaps regards the talks in the PJC as a potential forum for convincing the European Allies of the error of the American plans, while for the NATO countries on the other hand they offer the possibility of partnering Russian in endeavouring to arrive at the best achievable joint analysis of the threat, and of reviewing the opportunities for potential partnership in subsidiary areas. Seen from that perspective, the Russian proposals for TMD cooperation ought therefore to be reconsidered in the first instance. Russia will also have to be called to account for the fact that its own nuclear cooperation with countries like Iran and India is aggravating the risk of proliferation. Allusion should also be made in such overtures to more recent non–proliferation initiatives such as the Non–proliferation and Disarmament Co–operation Initiative (relating to cleaning up the remnants of the Cold War).

To recapitulate, the stance of the government is as follows, subject to the annotation that this represents only a preliminary stance, in view of the fact that no concrete conclusions have yet been reached in the US on a great many points:

  1. The threats of the years ahead are numerous and the growing capability of some risk countries in the area of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destructions is a component factor. NATO in its entirety should take good account of this.
  2. The future reaction to these developments should not be confined to military resources, but should in the first instance comprise political, diplomatic and economic resources.
  3. The maintenance and further development of the entire edifice of international non–proliferation and arms control agreements are core elements of such an approach. It is important that the US continues actively to support and help develop this edifice, in the interests among other things of effective verification of reductions and limits.  A selective approach on the part of the US could undermine this system.
  4. The envisaged defence against strategic missiles from risk countries must not be allowed to detract from the strategic stability between the main nuclear states or from multilateral arms control. The Netherlands therefore urges the new administration to maintain its efforts in pursuit of agreement with Russia on the amendment or replacement of the ABM treaty - that is to say, no unilateral American abandonment of the treaty - as well as a dialogue with China.
  5. The obvious solution is to amend the ABM treaty or to draw up a new treaty in its place such as to allow the siting of MD in a limited configuration, but not that of a more extensive system that would undermine the strategic equilibrium between the US and Russia. As far as China is concerned there still remains a real risk of MD impairing the strategic relationship with that country.
  6. In the context of the Alliance the government will continue to contribute in future to the development of TMD systems. For the time being there is no reason, nor are the financial resources available, for a Dutch contribution to the development of strategic missile defence systems for Europe.
  7. Building up a broad dialogue on security with Russia is a contributory element to maintaining stability in Europe. The dialogue and any cooperation with Russia on TMD within the framework of NATO play a significant role in this context, but so too does consultation on concerns about Russia’s nuclear cooperation with countries like Iran and India.
  8. The government therefore welcomes the importance the American government is prepared to place on consultation and partnership with the Allies and other countries, including Russia. The Netherlands will take an active part in consultations within NATO on missile defence and a new cooperative relationship with Russia. The government will persist with its exertions on the above lines in the coming period  within the framework of NATO as well as bilaterally and in the multilateral non–proliferation, arms control and disarmament fora.


J.J. van Aartsen


F.H.G. de Grave