NATO prepared to take a fresh look at depleted uranium weapons
In a meeting with campaigners, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security Cooperation and Partnership said that the organisation is prepared to take a fresh look at the health and environmental impact of uranium weapons.
Speaking to representatives of the European Parliament, European Association of Military Associations (EUROMIL), Italian Anti-War Scientists Committee and the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW),1 Robert F Simmons said that NATO would update its position on uranium weapons in light of the position taken by the United Nation General Assembly when it again considers the issue in 2010.2 The Head of NATO's Arms Control and Coordination Section (ACCS) Michael D. Miggins, was also present at the meeting.
He accepted that NATO does not have the capacity to undertake a detailed investigation into the effects of uranium weapons itself, although it does have access to government appointed scientists. The scientists will be asked to look into the issue following the publication of fresh data from the UN’s agencies.
As with many of its member states, NATO appears content to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation when considering uranium’s risks. This is in spite of the detailed criticism levelled at the agency by experts and NGOs following its last report on the issue in 2003, a report that excluded key peer-reviewed data suggesting that depleted uranium is carcinogenic.3 Since 2003, many more peer-reviewed papers have been published linking uranium exposure and ill health. The decision by NATO further increases the pressure on the WHO to give a more scientifically honest appraisal of the potential long-term impact of the weapons when it next reports on the issue.
“ICBUW welcomes NATO’s decision to look again at this issue but once again it seems as if all roads lead to the WHO,” said an ICBUW spokesperson. “Pressure is growing on the international community to take steps to ban the use of uranium weapons and that pressure is most focused on the UN agencies that will report on the issue in 2010. The position of the WHO in particular is becoming increasingly untenable, as the peer reviewed data linking uranium to a range of health problems stacks up. We would urge states worldwide to implement a voluntary moratorium on these weapons as the first step towards a comprehensive global ban; and remind EU member states that its own parliament has made repeated calls for just such a step.”
Simmons went on to explain that NATO has no control over the choice of weapons employed in conflicts by its members. He admitted that ‘operational plans’ for the protection of its members’ troops from contamination are in place but could not give EUROMIL a detailed answer about who was responsible for protecting troops. When asked whether NATO would support the use of uranium weapons in a new conflict he said that it would depend on the country being attacked, their capabilities and military utility, when pressed he said it was a hypothetical question and refused to answer in more detail.
The two NATO representatives defended the organisation’s position by explaining that NATO operates a trust fund for the clearance and destruction of explosive remnants of war.
1. Els de Groen MEP (Greens/MFA), Emmanuel Jacob (President, EUROMIL), Prof. Massimo Zucchetti (Italian Anti-War Scientists Committee), Ria Verjauw (ICBUW).
2. 141 states support second uranium weapons resolution in UN General Assembly vote
3. BBC: Senior scientist with the United Nations has told the BBC that studies showing that it was carcinogenic were suppressed from a seminal World Health Organisation report.