This is an unofficial translation of an article published by the Belgian newspaper De Standaard.

President Barack Obama’s commitment to the goal of abolishing
all nuclear weapons deserves our full support. While nuclear weapons
have in the past perhaps fulfilled a stabilising role, we live today in a
world in which the proliferation of nuclear weapons steadily continues
and the risk of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons demands drastic
action. The Cold War is history. It is time to adapt our nuclear policy
to current circumstances. Countries like Pakistan, India and North-Korea
have recently joined the nuclear club. The chance is high that Iran and
other countries in that region will follow, which would provoke
unprecedented destabilization in an already volatile region. Therefore,
the crucical question is how can we manage this situation?

It is impossible to continue to deny nuclear weapons to other
states as long as we ourselves have them. The choice is as follows: a
world in which we accept that a growing number of states produce nuclear
weapons, or a world in which the nine existing nuclear weapon states
greatly reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, and take the goal of
their elimination seriously. The nuclear weapon states must respect
international agreements calling for the elimantion of their arsenals,
which they have not done to date despite the obligation to disarm
contained in the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed by all formal
nuclear weapon states. When experts like Henry Kissinger and George
Schultz put themselves resolutely behind the goal of a nuclear weapon
free world, we can no longer avoid this debate in our own societies.
Following similar initiatives in the US, the UK, Germany, Netherlands,
Italy, Poland and Norway – we also want to make a plea for a world
without nuclear weapons. Not as a naïve dream, but as an ambitious and
realistic political goal. No fundamental argument exists why this option
is not feasible within a foreseeable timeframe.

This problem, just like global warming, needs urgent action
which cannot be delayed. In the short term it demands a new commitment
of all nuclear weapon states – and not just the US and the UK – to
achieve ‘global zero’. The NPT Review Conference in May 2010 provides a
unique opportunity. At the same time concrete steps have to be made
leading to this renewed goal: a drastic reduction of all deployed and
non-deployed tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, the ratification of
the CTBT, the negotiation of a Fissile Materials Cut Off-Treaty, a no
first use declaration, or even better, declaring the use of these
weapons of mass destruction illegal. Beyond this, there is a need to
begin multilateral negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. This
treaty has to prohibit nuclear weapons, just as chemical and biological
weapons are prohibited, and this within a fixed timeframe.

What role can Belgium play?

The American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe no longer have
any military use. Their residual political benefit – as a symbol of the
transatlantic link – is in no way sufficient to justify their continued
presence, since through that presence we signal to the rest of the
world that nuclear weapons are “essential”. This policy indirectly
promotes proliferation and undermines the security of our country, the
opposite of what we want to achieve. Moreover, in Belgium today strong
support exists for the withdrawal of these nuclear weapons. 348 towns
and cities in our country have joined the Mayors for Peace network. We
call on our government to take active steps within NATO for the rapid
removal of these nuclear weapons, as the German government has done. If
swift progress were made, it would send an excellent signal to the
non-nuclear weapon states during the upcoming NPT Review Conference, and
the review of the NATO Strategic Concept offers the appropriate
framework to review the entire nuclear policy of the alliance. Ideally
this would take place in negotiation with Russia, to achieve a
proportional reduction of Russian nuclear weapons. But sometimes we must
dare to set an example and hope that it will be an inspiration to

We find ourselves at a crucial moment. Until recently the
withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe was diplomatically
dead on arrival. The commitments of the Obama administration make change
possible. We call on our successors to make the most of this
opportunity, it is now or never.

This withdrawal should not be linked to the missile defense
debate. What is at stake is the elimination of the threat from weapons
of mass destruction, and solid disarmament steps will be more effective
then making ourselves dependent on a questionable technology, which
furthermore is seen as destabilizing by the great powers who do not
possess this technology. A new arms race has at all costs to be
prevented. This is our obligation to future generations.