This piece is one in a three-part article series that covers the event, “Let’s Talk Nuclear Disarmament”. Part 1 discusses youth empowerment and part 2, below, sketches Denmark and the Nordic region’s relationship with nuclear disarmament, specifically in regard to international law. Part 3 addresses gender and nuclear disarmament, and discusses the submission to the CEDAW Review Committee that examined the case of Denmark, using the Thule Airbase accident to highlight key issues in Denmark’s adherence to CEDAW.  

The Nordic Region and Nuclear Disarmament 

The next speaker of the event was Tarja Cronberg, who formerly served as the director of the Copenhagen Peace Research Institute, has been a PNND co-president, a former member of the Danish Parliament Technology Council, the former Head of the European Parliament Delegation to Iran, and is currently a distinguished associate fellow for SIPRI. Cronberg shared Espinosa’s sentiments on the importance of youth in advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda, further taking issue with the fact that there is little to no debate on nuclear disarmament issues within Denmark. As such, Cronberg stated that the Let’s Talk Nuclear Disarmament event was a timely happening, expressing a hope that the danish youth were listening. Additionally, Cronberg proclaimed, “I am especially optimistic about young women in nuclear disarmament and nuclear diplomacy”. 

In regard to the Nordic region, Cronberg reflected that it is very strange that 5 countries which are very similar in that they have a matching consensus in most political fields, and that have also historically been for nuclear disarmament as active members of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), have not signed onto the new ban treaty, the TPNW. This could be useful to contribute to understanding nuclear disarmament in general. Furthermore, Cronberg highlighted that most of the nuclear weapon states (The United States, The United Kingdom, France, China, North Korea, Israel Russia, Pakistan and India) actively disapprove of and openly oppose the TPNW

Cronberg explained that the Nordic countries did participate in the early phases of the TPNW through 2 phases of an Open-Ended Working Group; the first of which looking at multilateral negotiations to achieve a nuclear weapons free world, and the second looking at the legal aspects. Norway was one of the Nordic countries that participated actively in this first phase of the TPNW, having arranged a conference on the TPNW, financed ICAN and were ultimately invested in achieving a nuclear weapons free world. However, when negotiations started, Norway was absent. As Norway is a NATO country, the United States pressured them to not participate, which is the same case with Iceland. Only Sweden participated in negotiations, and in 2017, Sweden even went so far as to vote for the TPNW, but the US Secretary of Defence intervened and pressured Sweden not to sign the TPNW. As a result, Sweden retreated from signing. Thereafter, the then Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, left her post. In regard to Finland, where Cronberg is from, she states that their official reason for not signing the TPNW was that the nuclear weapons states have not signed, thus harbouring reservations as to its effectiveness. However, Cronberg’s assessment is that the real reason Finland has not signed is that they, too, do not wish to undermine their relations with the US. 

Denmark and Nuclear Disarmament

Denmark, which Cronberg deemed as an extremely interesting case, and is also a member of NATO, has also been pressured into not signing the treaty by the US. Cronberg explained that Denmark tends to be more actively against the TPNW, unlike the rest of the Nordic region. Cronberg cited an antidote to portray Denmark’s attitude to the TPNW; when the TPNW negotiations started at the UN headquarters in New York, Nikki Haley, the then US ambassador to the UN, organized a protest meeting outside the door. The Danish ambassador to the UN stood behind her, thus illustrating not only his negative attitude towards the TPNW negotiations but was also physically protesting them alongside H.E Ms. Haley and the US. Ms. Cronberg, who lives in Denmark, explained that the Danish papers didn’t know what to do when ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, thus further illustrating how much of a political question nuclear disarmament is in the country. Overall, the main factors as to why none of the Nordic countries have signed on to the TPNW is due to each Nordic countries’ relations to the US, as well as Denmark, Iceland and Norway’s NATO membership.  

A Dane in the Field of Nuclear Disarmament

The following speaker was John Kierulf, who is one of the few Danish people involved in the field of nuclear disarmament, a former diplomat and disarmament negotiator, an expert in disarmament and international law, and the author of two books; Disarmament Under International Law and Nedrustning. Kierulf started off his talk by describing what it is to be a Dane in the field of nuclear disarmament. He described his experience in two words: ‘lonely’ and ‘frustrating’. Kierulf echoed Cronberg’s words that it is lonely as there are very few people involved in nuclear disarmament in Denmark, and it is sometimes frustrating because even the Danish newspapers and TV stations are not interested in the subject matter. Kierulf claimed that “ Danish newspapers are reluctant to print articles on nuclear issues, I have tried several times, and I have succeeded a few times”. Kierulf had also suggested to the Danish radio that they should make a program on the TPNW’s entry into force on the 22nd of January, but to no avail. Kierulf further mentioned that on the 22nd of January, the Danish Parliament had debated nuclear issues for the first time in 19 years, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeppe Kofod, rejected Denmark’s adherence to the TPNW, claiming it disturbs and undermines the NPT that Denmark has signed onto. Kierulf disagrees with this notion as he believes that Denmark can be party to both the TPNW and NPT.

How is Nuclear Disarmament Regulated in International Law?

Kierulf gave a short introduction as to how nuclear disarmament is regulated in international law. He explained that International law comprises of the legal rules, customs and norms that govern relationships between states and associations of states, namely through international organizations, such as the United Nations. This is primarily done through treaties and conventions. Customary law is the general rule or practice that is followed by all states and is a significant part of international law. As international treaties and conventions only apply to those who sign up to them, the United Nations member states cannot force treaties, such as the TPNW, on any given state. Furthermore, International Humanitarian Law and human rights law can also be applied to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.  

Why do we need treaties and conventions? Why not just have political agreements? Kierulf argued that we need legally binding treaties as they have verification measures and enforcement of compliance rules so that states that break the rules can be held accountable. Unfortunately, Kierulf disclosed that there have been some serious setbacks in recent years in this area. For example, this has been seen with the Intermediate-Range and Shorter Nuclear Missiles (Nuclear Forces) (INF) Treaty, concerning missiles of medium range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, between the US and Russia, which has fallen apart. The Open Skies Treaty has also been abandoned by the US and Russia. 

Despite such setbacks in achieving nuclear disarmament, Kierulf pointed out that there are positive elements, too. One constructive effort is the agreement between the US and Russia to extend the New START Treaty on the limitations of strategic nuclear weapons. It is a treaty with a limited duration of 10 years and expired on the 5th February 2021. However, the two sides have agreed to extend it another 5 years. No formal extension agreement has been made yet as the Russian parliament needs to agree, therefore Kierulf indicated that we are still waiting for a formal agreement between US and Russia to extend the New START Treaty.

Kierulf also mentioned the new TPNW treaty, which he recognized as “ a very positive step”, but also pointed out that it is heavily criticized by the nuclear weapons states as they claim it has no significance because none of them are party to it. The nuclear armed states argue that the TPNW will not reduce one single nuclear weapon, and that it undermines the NPT process. To argue against the TPNW’s ineffectiveness, John Kierulf reasons that the treaty is important because, for the first time, nuclear weapons have been stigmatized and outlawed, which he claims is a very important factor, as a new norm has been established. Furthermore, he explains that the TPNW has sparked a debate in the Danish parliament and elsewhere. Moreover, Kierulf highlighted that “there are also beginning signs of companies who have started to move their investments away from companies who maintain or develop nuclear weapons, so the TPNW is very important”.  

Another scepticism against the TPNW, as argued, is that NATO member states have not joined it as NATO relies heavily on nuclear deterrence. However, Kierulf disagreed on this matter. Kierulf drew comparisons between Denmark’s reservations towards parts of the cooperation in the European Union and its ability to negotiate and compromise with the EU on certain matters and, in turn, questioned why Denmark cannot behave this way and have reservations on nuclear weapons when it comes to its membership of NATO. Kierulf argued that, in cooperation with other NATO states, like Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, Denmark should reject the nuclear posture of NATO. Kierulf suggested that a good first step would be for Denmark and its allies to encourage NATO to adopt a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, and for Denmark to withdraw from participating in the Nuclear Planning Group where, he stated that, “NATO is planning nuclear war, to put it bluntly”. Kierulf advocated that these are initiatives Denmark should take. But danish politicians are not interested because there are no votes in taking such decisions. As advice to the youth of Denmark, Kierulf concluded that “we must do our best to encourage public debates and raise social awareness on nuclear disarmament issues, like we are doing here today”, and thereby inspire young people and the new generation to take action.  

Nuclear Disarmament and International Humanitarian Law 

The next speaker was Alyn Ware, who has acted as the former International Representative of Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, the former executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and is currently the Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND). Ware has also been a Recipient of the Right Livelihood Award and is a prominent figure in the nuclear disarmament field. 

Ware echoed Espinosa’s sentiments that multilateralism is an essential passage in dealing cooperatively, on a global scale, to achieve nuclear disarmament. Building on this point, Ware explained that his family has origins in Denmark, more specifically the island of Bornholm. However, he grew up in Aotearoa, more commonly known as New Zealand- that was named after the Dutch- and is now working in Prague with PNND offices all over the world, thus illuminating the interconnectedness of the world. On this matter, Ware contended that “we must think locally and act globally and act locally and think globally”, which is a mindset that provides Ware with hopeful signs that we are able to deal cooperatively with global issues, such as nuclear disarmament. 

Expanding on what Kierulf talked about, Ware stated that “we now have an opportunity, as citizens, to question governments in the Human Rights bodies as to what they are doing to implement the law against nuclear weapons”. Ware cites customary international law as a strong aspect in strengthening legal obligations to achieve nuclear disarmament, combined with treaty laws. Ware provided a case from 1996, where the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held an advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. At the time, the ICJ found no specific treaty to prohibit the threat or use of nuclear weapons. However, based on customary international law, such as the laws that apply during war time like international humanitarian law, as well as the laws that apply when going to war, such as the laws on peace and security that are found in the UN Charter, the ICJ was able to apply these laws on nuclear weapons issues. Therefore, the ICJ proclaimed that there is a negative obligation to prohibit the threat or use of nuclear weapons internationally, as well as a positive obligation to negotiate towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, globally. This is reinforced in the TPNW, in the UN Charter’s Preamble, under customary international law and, furthermore, in the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment number 36 from 2018, which states that nuclear weapons violate the Right to Life. This law is powerful, Ware argues, as the international law applies regardless of signatories, and is an effective way to implement customary law on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. 

Denmark in Violation of International Law on Nuclear Disarmament 

Putting Denmark in light of the previously discussed international law and humanitarian law, the country does violate certain aspects of these laws, namely in regard to its position on nuclear weapons. Harking back to what Kierulf stated about Denmark’s participation in signing onto NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, Ware confirmed that this settlement is not consistent with customary international law that prohibits the threat or use of nuclear weapons, as explained above. Ware also mentioned that Denmark and NATO have a history of rejecting a number of initiatives from the United Nations on nuclear disarmament, such as the TPNW and the Nuclear Weapons Convention, of which the latter includes the nuclear armed states. Therefore, Denmark is in direct violation of both the negative and positive obligations of international law in regard to nuclear weapons issues.   

Despite Denmark’s firm standing with NATO and their lack of signature on treaties that prohibit the threat or use of nuclear weapons, Ware contends that “we still need to push them to change policy, regardless of whether that’s in NATOor in national policy”. Ware used New Zealand as a standing example of a country that managed to prohibit nuclear weapons in 1984, alongside many challenges. Despite various negative consequences, such as being kicked out of ANZUSRonald Reagan putting a boycott on New Zealand, and France sending terrorist agents to blow up their peace boat, the Rainbow Warrior, Ware concluded that New Zealand came out stronger in the end because of their decision. After nationally prohibiting nuclear weapons, New Zealand acts as a leading force for peace on the international stage, associated with being ‘clean, green and peaceful’, thus resulting in increased trade, even in spite of the previously mentioned US boycott at the time.  

What Must Denmark Do? 

Ware suggested a few key steps in moving forward with a nuclear disarmament agenda for Denmark. Among the suggestions recommended were for Denmark to adopt a no first use or sole purpose policy as an incremental measure. Ware reasoned that due to the new US Biden Administration and their interest in a no first use policy, it is a good time for Denmark to support such a policy, especially as a NATO member. In doing so, Ware recommended that Denmark adopt the reaffirmation of the Gorbachev and Reagan dictum that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.Ware also referred to the Stockholm Initiative as a good multilateral network for Denmark to be a part of in working towards nuclear disarmament, and commends them for doing so. Furthermore, Ware recommends an agreed upon time bound Framework for the total elimination of nuclear weapons as another necessary step that Denmark must push for globally, so as not to leave room to deviate from this path. Ware gave further mention to an Arctic or Nordic nuclear weapon free zone, which was put forward by Denmark six years ago, but not approved by the rest of the region. Ware stated that regions can come together and set up nuclear weapons free zones to provide regional security and a regional framework to work towards nuclear elimination, thus supporting such a zone for the Arctic or Nordic regions. Nuclear free weapon zones have been successfully done before in the South Pacific, Central Asia, Latin America and Africa. Ware commended Denmark for proposing this when Holger Nielsen was Foreign Minister, and suggested that perhaps it is time to revisit the proposal to work towards an Arctic or Nordic nuclear weapons free zone. 

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