Bill to ban nuclear weapons reaches Belgian Senate

by Marjan Bex

A measure to specifically ban nuclear weapons in Belgium was sent to the Belgian Senate on Thursday.

It aims to forbid the creation, repair, selling, transport and stock of nuclear weapons on Belgian soil and to direct the country to make extra efforts to ban nuclear weapons.

The proposed law is comparable to Japan's three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.

The most recent Belgian law on weapons dates back to 2006. It is a renewal of an old law dating back to 1930, and seriously restricted keeping or buying weapons as well.

But the 2006 law made no mention of nuclear weapons.

The current proposition, prepared by Socialist Sen. Philippe Mahoux, is the first step in the process of effectively banning all kinds of nuclear weapons in Belgium.

According to Mahoux, it would fit in with the obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which more than 180 countries, including Belgium and Japan, have signed.

He says the possible presence of such weapons in Belgium is a consequence of the country's engagement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, even though this treaty ''does not say anything about a hypothetical 'nuclear obligation.'''

At the same time, he argues, the measure will fit smoothly into NATO's recent plans to redefine its strategic concept.

Apart from opposition based on humanitarian considerations, keeping nuclear arms would undermine arguments by countries like Belgium and the United States to convince other countries not to start making nuclear weapons, Mahoux says.

Mahoux's supporters in the Socialist party say that at this moment the atmosphere is good for having a vote on such a law, referring to growing support for U.S. President Barack Obama's proposal for a world free of nuclear weapons.

But the full procedure will take until May 2010 to be completed.

Members of the Walloon Liberal Party MR are said to be opposed to the law because they reportedly think European defense is not possible without such weapons.

There are plans to set up a working group with NATO specialists and weapons experts and to raise public awareness on the issue of nuclear weapons and the possibility of them being present on Belgian soil.

International reports that about 20 such weapons exist in Belgium have been neither officially confirmed nor denied as the Belgian government remains silent on the subject.

Last year, during a visit to a Belgian military base used by NATO and a supposed stock base of nuclear arms, Belgian Defense Minister Pieter de Crem caused an uproar by inadvertently referring to Belgium's ''nuclear capacity.''

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Oct. 15, 2009)