Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Geneva Conference: “A watershed year for arms control” (Video Statement)

22.02.2021 - Speech

“While disarmament (…) has become a necessity for the survival of mankind (…), little progress has been made since the end of the Second World War.”

This is a quote from the historic resolution that created the Conference on Disarmament in 1978.

Of course, our global conventions banning biological, chemical and certain conventional weapons, as well as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, are important milestones.

But the truth is that, over the years, too many of these agreements have been neglected or openly violated.

This year, however, a new perspective for disarmament is arising. The importance of the New START Treaty’s extension can hardly be overstated. Now, it is up to us to build on that success.

Our first task is to get nuclear disarmament back on track.

Last year, the Stockholm Initiative presented a roadmap to advance nuclear disarmament. These practical steps – ranging from risk reduction and verification all the way to further stockpile reductions – remain on the table.

The Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative has also made valuable recommendations to strengthen all aspects of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Review Conference later this year will be our opportunity to put these words into action – and to take decisive steps towards our common goal: a world without nuclear weapons.

Our second task is to counter proliferation and to end impunity.

President Biden and Secretary Blinken have stated their readiness to rejoin the JCPoA, if Iran returns to full compliance. It is in Iran’s best interest to change course now, before the agreement is damaged beyond repair. As a participant in the JCPoA, we expect nothing less from Tehran than full compliance, full transparency and full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

North Korea also demands our full attention. Not only did it violate, and later leave, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is constantly enhancing its forbidden nuclear and missile programmes. Staying united in our efforts to denuclearise North Korea is a matter of credibility. Combined with diplomatic engagement, that is our best chance to reach lasting peace.

Syria has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own population. These horrible crimes were clearly confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Our duty, as responsible states, is to hold those who committed these acts accountable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our third big task is to re-think arms control, due to the changing face of Technology.

Artificial intelligence, biotech and cyber all bear great potential for human progress. But they also create new threats. Autonomous weapons operating outside of human control gravely undermine human rights and humanitarian law. Addressing such risks is what maintaining security in the 21st century will be about. It is high time to develop necessary rules – based on international law and through multilateral cooperation.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are to a virus. Biological agents can be even more dangerous. The Biological Weapons Convention must therefore be updated to address new threats and rapid progress in biotechnology and science. That is the goal we should set ourselves for the upcoming Review Conference.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Arms control strengthens security. Disarmament saves lives. 43 years after the Conference on Disarmament was created, its huge potential still remains untapped. This needs to change. And the change can start here today, in 2021 – a watershed year for arms control.


Top of page