Between the Devil and the Deep Sea: The Netherlands and the Struggle for European Nuclear Order

E.A.A. Hellendoorn

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisExternal


This dissertation is about the early history of the Netherlands nuclear non-proliferation policy. The book places the development of Dutch policy with regard to NATO nuclear policy, European integration and ultracentrifuge technology in an international perspective. The work moves beyond traditional historiographical and theoretical approaches to Dutch foreign policy, nuclear dynamics, and Euro-American relations. This study provides conceptual innovation by interweaving politico-diplomatic, military-strategic and techno-economic issues, and it analyses complexity in the nuclear age.
After a conceptual introduction, chapters two, three and four shows how the Euro-American order was emerging out of two competing models for European security: one was centred on US-NATO nuclear sharing and decision making, and the other through European nuclear integration which evolved around developing control over uranium enrichment to enable European production of nuclear weapons. This part starts in 1954 and tracks the relance européenne and the NATO atomic stockpile debate within the context of Euro-American geopolitical tensions, and ends with the demise of the European trilateral project in 1958. The Netherlands? perspective on European integration, NATO strategy, and uranium enrichment went through a slow, and sometimes suppressed, evolution. This perspective often contrasted sharply with that of the more powerful states in the Euro-American arena.
These contrasting perspectives would continue to affect Dutch nuclear policy, both on uranium enrichment and, to a lesser degree, on nuclear sharing. The fifth chapter explores the relationship between NATO nuclear sharing and Euro-American tensions over the European security order from 1958 to 1961. Discussions about increased NATO nuclear sharing were predominantly driven by Euro-American political dynamics exacerbated by the Berlin Crisis. Although The Hague strongly mistrusted American geopolitical designs for Europe, it also rejected French perspectives on the basis of both political arguments and a somewhat flawed military-strategic reasoning.
The sixth chapter looks at the Dutch ultracentrifuge programme from 1958 to 1962 and finds that its developmental context was once again directly influenced by external factors. When the US requested the Netherlands to classify the ultracentrifuge, the Dutch were interpreting this request purely in technological-commercial terms. By turning the perspective to the US and Great Britain, this study shows how the Netherlands misperceived the nature of external push and pull factors, overlooking geopolitics and strategy in relation to what it considered a ?techno-economic? project. The American UC-classification initiative was linked to a broader scheme to stop the spread of proliferation-sensitive technology against the background of the Berlin Crisis and NATO nuclear sharing.
The seventh chapter analyses ?the birth? of the official Dutch nuclear non-proliferation policy under Staatssecretaris (Undersecretary of State) Max van der Stoel (1965-1966), and focuses on domestic bureaucratic politics. Van der Stoel used the NPT negotiations to facilitate the internal transfer of authority over nuclear policy making towards the ?internationalists? who put greater faith in technical and legal solutions. He weakened the role of those who were sceptical about legal ?solutions? and preferred geopolitical approaches. This resulted in what came to be known as nuclear non-proliferation policy: a sometimes ambiguous melange of legalist-internationalism and politico-strategic reasoning.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Segers, Mathieu, Supervisor
  • Hellema, Duco, Supervisor, External person
Award date22 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2016


  • Netherlands
  • nuclear weapons
  • NATO
  • European Integration
  • Ultracentrifuge
  • History
  • Cold War

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