Germany as an active partner for global disarmament and arms control

06.04.2016 - Article

Disarmament, arms control and non‑proliferation play an important role in Germany’s foreign and security policy.

Statue entitled Non‑Violence created by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd in front of the UN headquarters in New York
Statue entitled Non‑Violence created by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd in front of the UN headquarters in New York© picture alliance / dpa

Germany works with its partners, particularly in the EU and NATO, to strengthen and further develop existing international treaties. New challenges to our common security and new technological developments are creating the need to develop new international rules, something which Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control Ms Patricia Flor actively works to achieve.

For a world free from nuclear weapons

Germany is committed to the vision of a world free from nuclear weapons. The Federal Government has thus consistently and patiently pursued a step-by-step, pragmatic approach to create the conditions and a suitable security policy environment for a world free from nuclear weapons and, for the time being, to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. We are also engaged in a close dialogue with nuclear-weapon states to achieve this goal. Germany welcomed as an important step the offer made by President Obama in Berlin in 2013 to implement a further round of nuclear disarmament. However, it will only be possible to launch negotiations if Russia takes up this offer and, given the current difficult political environment, rapid progress is unlikely. Nevertheless, nuclear disarmament remains imperative, not least in order to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It is the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament architecture. Germany is working with our partners in the EU and the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) to strengthen the treaty. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must never be repeated: that is why Germany actively participated in the three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon detonations held in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna in 2013 and 2014.

Fresh political impetus is urgently needed in Europe in the field of conventional arms control as well as confidence- and security-building measures. The events in Ukraine have shown how important arms control and confidence-building instruments are, especially in situations of crisis. At the same time they revealed weaknesses of the current regimes in the OSCE sphere – namely the CFE Treaty, the Treaty on Open Skies and the Vienna Document. The Euro-Atlantic arms control architecture, which originated in the 1990s, needs to be adapted to the security policy, technical and military realities of today; the concept of verifiable transparency serves as a good basis here. We advocate a new approach to conventional arms control, a fundamental modernisation of the Vienna Document and a technical modernisation of the Treaty on Open Skies. Thus, through its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2016, Germany intends to work to strengthen and further develop these instruments.

Despite Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Assad regime continues to illegally deploy chlorine gas as a chemical weapon. Germany has strongly condemned this in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and has demanded a comprehensive investigation. Furthermore, Germany played a prominent role in eliminating Syria’s declared chemical weapons. By the beginning of May 2015, GEKA (the state-owned company responsible for disposing of chemical warfare agents) destroyed 360 tonnes of the residuals of chemical agents in Munster. The use of chemical weapons in Syria also made clear that further efforts are needed to achieve universal application of the CWC. The Convention has imposed a comprehensive ban on chemical weapons since its entry into force in 1997. The Federal Government is thus actively campaigning for the few states which have not yet joined the Convention to do so as soon as possible.

Since 2013, the Partnership Program for Excellence in Biological and Health Security has been running successfully, funded to the tune of 24 million euros by the Federal Foreign Office. Various measures implemented through more than 20 partnerships help to prevent the abuse of pathogens which could be used to make biological weapons and to strengthen health care systems in the countries in question. The Program has proven its worth, particularly during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The measures, implemented by the Robert Koch Institute, the Bernhard Nocht Institute, the Friedrich Löffler Institute (Federal Research Institute for Animal Health), the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology and GIZ, also support the goals of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). In the run-up to the eighth Review Conference in 2016, Germany is working to make the Convention more efficient and operation-oriented.

The role of the United Nations (UN) in the field of disarmament, arms control and non‑proliferation

The United Nations provides an important multilateral framework in which to tackle the security challenges of the 21st century. The Director-General for International Order, the United Nations and Arms Control and Federal Government Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control cooperates closely with representatives of UN member countries as well as the UN and its subsidiary organisations and specialised agencies to strengthen and further develop existing multilateral instruments in the field of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation. Of great importance here are the permanent UN bodies concerned with disarmament and arms control negotiations such as the General Assembly First Committee and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Moreover, an important role is played by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the secretariat of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and NATO.

Activities in the context of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

The Directorate-General for International Order, the United Nations and Arms Control cooperates closely with EU Member States and advocates common positions.

The EU has already laid a solid foundation for joint EU action in the field of arms control with its 2003 strategy against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and its 2005 strategy to combat illicit accumulation and trafficking of light weapons. The EU strategies focus on cooperation based on legally binding and verifiable agreements.

These strategies form the basis on which the relevant Council working groups make decisions on concrete projects which receive funds from the CFSP budget. A current example is the EU small arms project for six countries in the Sahel that the African Regional Disarmament Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in Lomé is tasked with implementing. It aims to address the condition and problems of government depots for small arms and munitions and to make them more secure through construction measures and further training programmes. This project complements bilateral projects funded by other donors, including the Federal Government.

Implementing existing treaties and preparing new legislation

Besides analysing and developing new aspects of disarmament and non-proliferation policy, the Commissioner is very active in helping with the implementation, further development and strengthening of existing international agreements and coordination mechanisms. These include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Ottawa Convention on a global ban on anti-personnel mines, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty). In spheres where instruments and mechanisms for multilateral disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation are still lacking, the Commissioner provides impetus, and campaigns, for new international agreements. Germany is an active member of a group of government representatives who, with their report to the UN Secretary General, are helping to ensure that negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) are initiated as soon as possible. Another up-to-date example is the Federal Government’s engagement for the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, initiated under the 2007 German Presidency of the EU. It contains a series of transparency and confidence-building measures, political declarations of intent and voluntary commitments. Its overarching aim is to ensure the peaceful, safe and sustainable use of outer space by renouncing the intentional destruction of space objects as well as preventing collisions and the accumulation of space debris. Following numerous international consultation rounds over recent years, multilateral negotiations are set to commence in New York in July 2015.

Internationally, Germany is campaigning for the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons to be implemented in full, as well as for worldwide implementation of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which Germany was among the first to sign and ratify. The Commissioner also supports the long-standing portfolio of projects which provide assistance to States Parties to the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, in particular in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Responding to violations of international agreements

When international non-proliferation agreements are violated, as in the case of Iran, the Federal Government seeks assiduously and in close cooperation with its partners to ensure that international norms are respected. Together with France, Britain, the United States, Russia and China (E3+3), Germany is endeavouring to ensure that the Iranian nuclear programme serves exclusively peaceful purposes and that the country is not able to obtain nuclear weapons. After the E3+3 and Iran agreed on the main points of a comprehensive agreement in April 2015, negotiations on the agreement, including technical annexes, have continued and are due to be concluded by the end of June 2015.

Support for regional organisations with concrete projects

The Commissioner works closely with regional organisations to bolster security in their respective areas of the world. In South-Eastern Europe she is helping to implement the arms control aspects of the Dayton Accords, in particular measures geared to cooperative security and confidence-building. Germany is encouraging the countries of South-Eastern Europe in their efforts to draw closer to European and transatlantic structures.

In Africa, too, close collaboration is sought with the main regional organisations, above all the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in the field of preventing the proliferation of small arms.

New challenges

New technologies in the realm of information and communications technology, as well as increasingly autonomous weapons systems, are creating new challenges for arms control policy.

In this area the debate over lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) has gained a great deal of momentum in recent years. The Federal Government has taken a clear stance in this regard: it advocates a ban on fully automatised weapons systems which remove decisions about the use of weapons from human hands. In April 2015 Germany assumed the chairmanship of an informal expert-level meeting in the framework of the Geneva Weapons Convention which discussed the matter at international level. It was clear from the meeting that the international community is currently still in the early stages of reaching a common understanding on this topic, or with regard to agreeing on possible regulations.

Overall, it is crucial to closely monitor research activities, which nowadays are principally in the civilian domain, to identify at an early stage possible implications for the military sphere, as well as to work with our partners to devise new approaches to disarmament and arms control.

Click here for the Federal Government’s Annual Disarmament Report (texts in German):

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