For more than five months, Russia’s war of aggression has caused death and destruction in Ukraine. This war marks a turning Point. A permanent member of the UN Security Council is blatantly breaching the UN Charter and trying to subdue its smaller neighbour. In attacking a country that gave up nuclear weapons, Russia is brutally violating the assurances it gave in the Budapest Memorandum.
And since the 24th of February, Russia has repeatedly used reckless nuclear rhetoric that is putting at risk everything the NPT has achieved in five decades. I welcome the fact that a great majority of states have condemned Russia’s aggression and its nuclear signalling.
That’s what we did here in this room, at the UN General Assembly in March, when 141 states condemned Russia’s war as well as its decision to increase the readiness of its nuclear Forces. Reaffirming this condemnation remains a matter of credibility for all those promoting serious efforts towards nuclear disarmament.
Today, these efforts and the Non-Proliferation Treaty are facing an uncertain future. When I told some people about my trip to New York to attend this conference, I was asked by many:
What are you doing there? What’s the use of flying the flag for nuclear disarmament in times like These? Why are we here?
The answer is as simple as this: We are here to defend the rules-based international order. The NPT is not just a piece of paper. It embodies some of the most fundamental commitments of humankind:
- To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
- To ensure nuclear weapons are never used again.
- And to work towards our common goal – a world free of nuclear weapons.
As we meet for this conference, we are standing at a crossroads. Due to the pandemic, the 10th NPT Review Conference has already been delayed by two years – the previous Review Conference was back in 2015.
If we take down the flag of nuclear disarmament today, the NPT and all it stands for would be dead. So we are flying its flag not because it’s easy – but because it’s necessary. Much is at stake – for us and for future generations.
I am not naïve. We will not overcome all obstacles at one single conference. But we can stand our ground and uphold the principles enshrined in the NPT. That is our urgent Task.
It was an 82-year-old man who drove this message home to me last month. I met him in Nagasaki. He is a survivor of the catastrophic atomic blast of August 1945. He told me about the glaring light of the explosion, about his family members and friends dying. About family members and friends dying afterwards, year by year, because of cancer. His experience stands for the horror of hundreds of thousands. And I include the many victims of nuclear testing in the decades afterwards. This man said to me: “Make sure: Humans must never again be hurt by nuclear weapons.”
And if we can move just an inch closer to that goal here in New York during the next weeks:
That will be worth every effort – and that is why we are here this month: To uphold our belief in an international peaceful order. With this in mind, I see four priorities for us as we seek to advance the NPT’s agenda. First, it’s crucial to re-affirm the validity of the NPT acquis – and to implement our commitments.
This is a matter of credibility and remains the basis for universal support of the NPT. Faced with Russia’s attacks on the rules-based order, it is now even more important to uphold agreed norms and principles and to call out violations.
Now is the time to stand strong.
Second, we have to reduce the risk of nuclear escalation and put ourselves back on track for nuclear disarmament. With our partners in the Stockholm Initiative and the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, we have proposed many steps that could be taken now or in the short term:
- Transparency on arsenals and restraint in doctrines
- Crisis-proof communication to prevent escalation
- And renewed dialogue on next-generation arms control arrangements and future reductions.
I am convinced: if we really try, progress can be achieved. But it can be achieved only if all nuclear weapon states take credible steps. Today, Russia is doing the opposite. China’s arsenals are growing.
In this context, I welcome the readiness of the United States announced today to negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New Start. In such times, honest dialogue is therefore essential – also if we are to move forward on non-proliferation. This is my third Point:
The IAEA safeguards system is the greatest achievement under the NPT – so we must strengthen it. Moreover, proliferation crises demand our fullest resolve. The continued expansion of the Iranian nuclear programme is of great concern to us.
Iran has no justification for many of its nuclear activities. For example, no non-nuclear weapon state needs uranium enriched to 60%. And recent comments from Tehran are deeply disturbing.
I therefore urge Iran to accept the package aimed at restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). A fair deal is on the table. We should seize this opportunity as long as this is still possible.
This Conference should also demonstrate unity against the most serious violation of the NPT: North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. That means pushing for the complete, veryfiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the North Korean peninsula – and the implementation of all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.
Finally, let us make an effort to overcome polarisation – and give equal weight to the views of countries of the North and the South in the NPT community. It is against this background that Germany has decided to become an observer to the first Conference of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
And while being an observer will not modify our legal position on this Treaty, we want to improve dialogue and cooperate in addressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – in the field of victim assistance or the remediation of areas contaminated by nuclear testing.
We know that gender affects the exposure to nuclear risks. The impact of ionising radiation on women and girls is higher – and that’s just one reason for me to support gender-responsive approaches to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Mr President, colleagues and friends,
When the NPT entered into force more than 50 years ago, many doubted what it could achieve. Against many odds, it helped create a more stable global order – and a more peaceful life for an entire generation. But as today’s challenges show, these successes rely on the good faith and united efforts of all the Treaty’s parties. These successes rely on us.
Yes, the chances for a successful NPT Review Conference may be smaller than ever.
But there is too much at stake to give up:
Now is the time to defend what the generation before us has built. Now is the time to stand strong for our peaceful international order.