The Role of the EU in the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: The Way to Thessaloniki and Beyond
Over the past few years the EU has begun taking some steps against the spread of nuclear weapons within its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). At the Thessaloniki Summit June 2003, the European Council adopted its first draft Strategy against the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In order to assess the significance of the Strategy, this paper will first present and evaluate the Union’s record in the field, then review the newly released Strategy, and finally make suggestions as to how it can be improved.
The EU is not an unitary actor in the nuclear non-proliferation domain, being mainly constrained by the diversity of positions of its members as regards nuclear weapons on the one hand and the transatlantic link on the other. The EU notably includes eleven NATO members comprising two NWS and four countries that host Alliance’s nuclear weapons, along with four highly disarmament-minded countries.
One of the strands of EU action has consisted in taking initiatives aimed at strengthening the existing regime at multilateral forums. They have been geared predominantly to the universalisation of treaties and the multilateralisation of arrangements. Examples include the promotion of the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the adoption of a Code of Conduct on ballistic missile proliferation. In general, the EU performs increasingly well at multilateral venues, which offer a favourable framework for internal coordination.
The effectiveness of the Union’s action remains limited, though. Insufficient means to accomplish the stated objectives account for that. Furthermore, this policy remains selective in nature, addressing some issues while sidelining others. Important omissions, which often illustrate EU reluctance to oppose the US over nuclear issues, are exemplified by the European silence on the NMD question or the weakening of the US-Russian strategic arms reduction process.
Another significant strand of action consists of the Union’s approaches to regional proliferation crises. In this domain, the EU has a fairly uneven and predominantly negative record. It is significantly involved in nuclear-related assistance programmes to Russia in the form of Co-operative Threat Reduction (CTR) efforts. Additionally, the Union contributed to facilitate Ukraine’s renunciation of nuclear weapons through the ratification of the Lisbon Protocol. It has also participated in KEDO while upgrading its diplomatic role in the Korean peace process. Most recently, the European input has proved central in handling the crisis over Iran’s lack of compliance with IAEA requirements.
However, the EU has had difficulties in framing responses to some of the most acute proliferation crises of the past few years. The example of Iraq serves a recent illustration of intra-European disagreement on how to tackle proliferation. The reaction to the Indian/Pakistani nuclear tests in May 1998 was hardly noticeable. In general, the EU’s approach to avert proliferation is characterised by a tendency to take a comprehensive approach to reducing regional tensions and, in most cases, to follow US-crafted responses.
Despite the enhancement of its action during the last decade, the EU is still ineffective as a non-proliferation actor. The Union’s selective approach has privileged non-proliferation over disarmament, and even within the non-proliferation realm, it has emphasised some issues and regions to the detriment of others. The virtual absence of policies directly focused on addressing proliferation constitutes a further difficulty. Finally, the EU does not yet make an effective and concerted use of the means at its disposal.
Against this record, the newly released Strategy against the proliferation of WMD reaffirms the traditional features of the Union’s role, while correcting some of its most obvious deficiencies.
Broadly speaking, the Union will be guided by the following primary objectives: the universalisation of disarmament and non-proliferation agreements; the enhancement of the effectiveness of inspection/verification mechanisms, especially by improving the detectability of violations; the strengthening of export control policies and the expansion of CTR and technical assistance programmes. The initiatives presented in the Action Plan include some institutional measures designed to upgrade the capacity of action of the Union, the strengthening of EU internal legislation and a few proposals for EU external action. On the whole, the Strategy’s principal emphasis is placed on enhancing the effectiveness of the existing regimes rather than in launching new steps to expand the non-proliferation agenda.
At the level of means, the Union first reaffirms its current policy, i.e. “to contain proliferation while dealing with its underlying causes”. The principal novelty is that the Strategy also introduces new instruments. It envisages the introduction of a policy of “sticks and carrots” that links non-proliferation commitments to co-operation agreements or assistance programmes into the EU ’s relations with third countries. Political and economic levers are included in the list of instruments the Union can avail itself of. Finally, the strategy also foresees the use of force as a measure of last resort, which constitutes an absolute breakthrough.
The Strategy offers some potential for the EU to make a relevant contribution to the non-proliferation regime, especially since it has framed some answers as to how deal with non-cooperative states. In order to realise this potential, it is suggested that the Union considers a series of issues in the further development of the strategy.
Firstly, it should ensure that non-proliferation objectives are adequately mainstreamed into the Union’s external relations. To this end, it should concretise the proposed “sticks and carrots” model into a clear conditionality framework with a Non-Proliferation Clause analogous to the Human rights clauses already applied by the Community in its relations with Third Countries.
Secondly, the EU should further enhance its capacity to act by putting in place an “internal think tank” to craft further non-proliferation initiatives. As far as possible, it should find a satisfactory “division of labour” with the US in the resolution of proliferation crises, complementing US initiatives with other means rather than merely endorsing them financially.
Finally, it should also try to adopt a balanced approach capable of engaging the non- Western as well as the Western world. This includes facilitating the access of Third World countries to civilian nuclear technology, clearly linking forcible counter-proliferation action to an UN Security Council mandate, and, most importantly, introducing disarmament measures into the Strategy.
European Union, nuclear weapons, nuclear non-proliferation, Thessaloniki
Defense and Security Studies | Eastern European Studies | International Relations
Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
City or Country
PORTELA, Clara, "The Role of the EU in the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: The Way to Thessaloniki and Beyond" (2003). Research Collection School of Social Sciences. Paper 1760.
Available at: http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/soss_research/1760