Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier to the German Bundestag on the subject of disarmament and non-proliferation

19.10.2006 - Speech

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

I don't agree with everything the previous speaker said. But he is right on one point. “Disarmament” does indeed sound like a buzzword from a previous era. I am sure that even as recently as 20 years ago both the lower benches in the house and the press stands would have been much better filled for a debate of this nature. Clearly the perception of threat in this country has changed. Fifteen years ago, after the end of the bloc conflicts and following the establishment of European unity, the fear of threat subsided. People began to hope that the menace of weapons of mass destruction in Europe was dissipating or would somehow resolve itself. That was a dangerous fallacy.

As many have already observed, the nuclear test in North Korea 10 days ago has shaken people out of their complacency. We are now seeing that the age of nuclear weapons has quite evidently not come to an end. On the contrary, certain powerholders such as the leaders in North Korea are blatantly hoping to regain a place in international politics by playing power games with nuclear weapons.

At this point, before we embark on the subject in hand, allow me to express my thanks to this house. The German Bundestag has taken the issue under discussion […] seriously, and not only when it was a hot media topic. The issue of disarmament has always been a concern of all the parties represented here, even though their focuses may have differed. People beyond our country's borders are also well aware of this fact.

Because people take us seriously when it comes to disarmament issues, congresses and events on this subject often take place in Germany – have you noticed that? Recently, an event on the subjects of disarmament and nuclear disarmament attended by Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was held at Willy Brandt House.

Today we are discussing the Annual Disarmament Report and are thus documenting for the 22nd time in the history of the Federal Republic the Federal Government's efforts in connection with arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. As I implied before, when the first Disarmament Reports were submitted, attention was, of course, focused on the situation in Germany and in Europe. Our country was living with the constant threat of weapons of mass destruction and booster rockets. Today our task is to imbue the approach adopted at that time of multilateral obligations and agreements, which is still the right one, with new substance and authority.

I concede that Europe, and Germany particularly, have a special responsibility in this task. We want to pursue an active disarmament policy to prevent the risk of a nuclear arms race in other regions of the world.

The nuclear test in North Korea, which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, demonstrates how urgent this task is. Through this provocative act the North Korean regime has shamelessly violated the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As you know, the detonation of a nuclear warhead, as has now taken place, marks a new level of escalation.

That is why we support the clear and unambiguous response of the United Nations Security Council to this irresponsible step – and I am glad that many others here today have also expressed their support. For we cannot afford to turn a blind eye when North Korea is not only jeopardizing peace in the region in this way, but is also practically attempting to force the world into a new nuclear arms race through its activities.

Let us in this Parliament therefore call upon the regime in Pyongyang once again to abandon the road to an entirely pointless self-imposed isolation, as I see it. Let us do so not only because of the arms race, but also because in acting in this way North Korea is exposing its own people to even greater poverty and suffering. In saying this, however, I also wish to remind you that the response of the Security Council contains a second point, namely an appeal to North Korea to return to the negotiating table for the six-party talks. We are unequivocally in favour of the rapid resumption of political dialogue, not only because I think it is the right thing to do, but also because I believe there is no alternative.

The same concern, but also the same goal, have driven us to become involved in the conflict over the Iranian nuclear programme and, together with other parties, to present Tehran at an early stage, in June this year, with a very, very extensive offer of talks and negotiations. As you know, and as we have emphasized time and again, we do not deny Tehran the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful ends, but we wish to prevent Tehran from developing its own nuclear weapons under this pretext.

For this reason the international community insists that the nuclear programme be subject to international monitoring. That is why we are exhorting Iran to cease its uranium enrichment operations, and that is why Tehran must provide evidence that the secret activities in which it has evidently been engaged for more than 18 years have served neither the primary nor the secondary purpose of developing its own nuclear weapons technology.

As many others have already said, the conflicts with North Korea and Iran demonstrate that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is insidiously being eroded. In recent years this topic, too, has wrongly slipped into Any Other Business on the world political agenda. Many were remarkably unconcerned about the fact that the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2005 ended without any substantial outcome. For this reason I want to emphasize that we, for our part, must move the issue of disarmament back to the top of our agenda. I assure you that the success of the next Review Conference in 2010 remains a central concern of the Federal Government. Mr Mützenich has indicated that work on it could start as early as next year within the framework of the G8. And we are not short of work. Only 41 of 44 states have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Seven still have to ratify it, including the most significant. The work of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament needs fresh impetus. The question of disarmament of the nuclear states and specifically the disarmament of the United States' and Russia's short-range nuclear missiles must also be put back on the table.

However, the logic of non-proliferation also requires us to make viable provision for those who wish to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes to be able to do so. That is why, as one or the other of you may have noticed, I introduced a proposal on multilateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle into the debate, not because I thought there were too few proposals, but because I believed that no progress was going to be possible on the basis of the existing ones and that the discussion therefore needed new momentum. This proposal prompted several reactions, which were so encouraging that we intend to explore this path further.

We will continue along this path, even though I know it will be long, arduous and thorny. Nonetheless, only on Friday last week we proposed that Germany should assume the presidency of the Nuclear Suppliers Group for the first time in the Group's history. As things stand at the moment, that will probably be in 2008. I am mentioning this just to show you that we take our commitment to multilateral non-proliferation seriously. We are willing to assume responsibility in this area.

I must say a few words about a second issue – conventional military equipment, specifically small arms and mines. This category of weapons kills more people than the weapons in all other categories put together, as I have said once before in this house. As you know – it has been said here – the mass proliferation of these weapons exacerbates conflicts and destabilizes development in many countries. For this reason we have become involved in this area, particularly in mine clearance. For example, the Federal Government has worked with the Bonn International Center for Conversion and other non-governmental organizations, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation and the German armed forces […] to ensure that many of these mines are diffused. This has made the lives of many people safer.

We intend to maintain this commitment, for example, in connection with the introduction of standards for anti-vehicle mines. In the context of these efforts we will also strive to obtain an internationally binding ban on cluster munitions. You can be confident that our commitment in this area will continue.

Thank you for your attention.

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