Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers said today after a Cabinet meeting in The Hague that the Netherlands will reduce the nuclear roles of its NATO forces, despite urging by the alliance that it reconsider.
U.S. officials said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had sent a strongly worded message questioning the Dutch plan, which was announced earlier this month, to remove the two nuclear weapons systems. That announcement had come at the same time that the Dutch confirmed their long-awaited decision to deploy nuclear-armed cruise missiles.
Lubbers declared today, "Because we see the two as a single entity, it was the line of the Cabinet that we should stick to our position on both questions."
The NATO request, which was not binding, was not expected here to upset the Dutch government's deployment decision. But the disagreement has highlighted the continuing sensitivity of the Dutch toward the role of nuclear weapons.
The dispute also could revive doubts about the strength of the Dutch commitment to NATO, a problem some Dutch officials hoped had been be laid to rest with the deployment decision.
A letter sent to the Dutch government, which summarized the views of the 14 nations who are members along with the Netherlands of NATO's Defense Planning Committee, said the Dutch decision to eliminate the two nuclear systems "has no military rationale" and will have "serious negative effects" on the strength of the alliance, a U.S. official said.
The Dutch government, as part of efforts to make deployment acceptable to some coalition partners and the country's strong antinuclear movement, proposed that the installation of the cruise nuclear missiles in 1988 should coincide with the elimination of the nuclear weapons carried by Dutch F16 fighters and Orion P3 patrol aircraft.
The proposal also committed the Netherlands to keeping two other nuclear systems, the Lance short-range missile and a nuclear-capable howitzer.
A U.S. official said he could not recall a situation in which an alliance member had decided to give up a nuclear system that had not become technologically obsolete.
The official said NATO was pleased that the Netherlands had offered at the same time to upgrade its contribution to the alliance's conventional military capabilities, but added that "there is no such thing as conventional compensation for nuclear responsibilities."
This latter argument, however, was disputed by one NATO diplomatic source, who pointed to the alliance's recent move to replace nuclear Nike-Hercules missiles with Patriot conventional missiles.
"There are precedents for conventional weapons taking the place of what nuclear weapons do," the source said.
The Netherlands, which was the last of five NATO countries to accept missiles under a 1979 alliance modernization plan, has been encouraged by the hints of possible movement between the United States and the Soviet Union in the negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.