Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier marking the 10-year anniversary of the CWC

25.04.2007 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

The upcoming 29 April sees the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention. On this occasion, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our symposium here in the Federal Foreign Office. I would like to thank our able partner, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, for helping to organize the event.

This date also marks the 10th birthday of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is responsible for implementing the Convention. I am thus particularly pleased to be able to welcome the Director-General of the OPCW, Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter. And may I wish all of the participants, some of whom have travelled a long way to be here today, a very warm welcome in Berlin.

I attach great importance to this symposium, and not only because disarmament and arms control have been a major pillar of German foreign policy for some decades now; indeed, we consider both to be indispensable instruments of a sound security policy.

It is also a matter of my personal conviction. The topics of disarmament and arms control must be brought out of the shadows of international politics in which they have lain neglected over the last few years. With the end of the Cold War and the interlinking of business and societies all over the world, many people in Europe and other regions believed that we could look forward to a guaranteed period of peace. Now we know that this is not the case. Even in an age where companies operate globally and the internet links people more closely than ever before, the threat to peace posed by atomic, chemical and biological weapons remains very real. Indeed, with more countries possessing the technology to build and produce such weapons, the threat could even be seen to be growing ever larger.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Weapons of mass destruction remain a scourge to humanity. They are threatening by nature, aggressive in their potential and devastating in their effect. For this reason, my position and that of the Federal Government is quite clear: those who hope to bring about lasting peace and security must show willingness to cooperate, and use every opportunity to overcome political differences. The message is one of common security through effective multilateralism. This does not mean endless to-ing and fro-ing, but rather the pursuit of concrete agreements such as those on disarmament and arms control. These agreements form an important basis of our security policy. They create reliable norms, transparency and trust. The value of these agreements can be measured by the extent to which the obligations undertaken within them by the contracting states can be assessed at any time. Verification consolidates trust and, if need be, establishes wrongdoers. We Europeans can say with some pride that we have built up a disarmament architecture in Europe which can serve as an example to all conflict regions.

Multilateral agreements represent the best way to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Every one of us knows how important this is, especially since it is not only states which may try to obtain weapons of this kind, but also international terrorist organizations. Political instruments such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) can certainly help us in our efforts. But verbal agreements between states are not as reliable as norms laid down in multilateral agreements. If the international community intends to bring those who violate laws to justice, it must have recourse to binding international agreements. Implementing and strengthening these agreements will become ever more important as more states develop the technical capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and more terrorist organizations potentially try to obtain such weapons.

Foreign policy oriented towards the future aims to prevent conflicts before they start. In terms of disarmament policy, this means creating the conditions whereby states will refrain from developing weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. This must remain one of our priorities.

We all know how difficult and lengthy this task can be in practice. It is often the case – and this is very much a self-criticism – that the day-to-day duties of political life prevent governments from addressing these issues with the necessary intensity at the highest political levels. This is why I actively propose that the issues of disarmament and arms be accorded the same prominence on the international political agenda as they were 20 years ago. There is no doubt that they deserve it today.

But I am not pessimistic. Where real threats exist, the international community successfully stands together, and is prepared to exercise joint pressure where necessary. This can be seen in the case of Iran, and is precisely why we support so strongly the six-party talks on North Korea.

The situation in the Near and Middle East is striking proof of how much the issue of combating weapons of mass destruction is linked to the resolution of deep-rooted regional conflicts. Viable peace agreements in the Near and Middle East would have a greater effect than any diplomatic initiative solely concerned with the enrichment of uranium. This is why I hope that Iran will come to its senses and start investing in the future of its young population, rather than inciting an arms race in the region. Let me assure you that the Federal Government will do all it can to promote peace in this region – through the revival of the Middle East Quartet and dialogue with Israel and the Arab states, but also through tenacity and the encouragement of discussion in our dealings with Iran.

The next few years are of vital importance to international disarmament policy. A new review process of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is just one of the challenges before us. The situation going into the process is tense. I have already mentioned the difficulties with regard to Iran and North Korea. And many countries are frustrated that the two largest holders of nuclear weapons – the US and Russia – are making such slow progress in destroying their stockpiles. It is thus all the more important that we adopt a balanced approach, which takes into account the justified concerns of all contracting parties. The Federal Government holds firm to the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapon-free world, even if it is clear that this is a gradual process and cannot be achieved overnight.

The Chemical Weapons Convention did not come into existence so effortlessly either, but was rather the result of a 14-year test of patience. Key factors in its development were the end of the Cold War, the shock which followed the use of chemical weapons in the first Gulf War and the discovery of Iraq's massive chemical weapon stockpiles. These developments brought home to us that arms control was not an issue which had disappeared with the Cold War, but one which had taken on the dimensions of a global challenge. Today this holds true more than ever.

The Chemical Weapons Convention remains a unique agreement. It sets new standards in terms of transparency and the sophistication of its verification instruments, and serves as a model for the EU's approach to disarmament and non-proliferation as a whole. The Convention:

  • Obliges all contracting states to destroy weapons by set deadlines
  • Establishes the same rights and duties for all contracting parties, unlike the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • Has established a functioning verification system and detailed rules on national implementation – unlike the Biological Weapons Convention
  • Provides for cooperation in the field of chemistry for peaceful purposes.

By adapting and transposing this successful model to other areas of disarmament, we can take tangible steps forward.

This applies to the Biological Weapons Convention in particular. We must equip this agreement with an effective verification protocol and strengthen the national implementation of its provisions. I am confident that, by addressing this task with the enthusiasm which it deserves, we can make full use of the five years until the next Review Conference to develop the necessary ideas.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We do not have so much time until the second Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention. This will take place in the Hague in just under a year. Our symposium, which is organized within the scope of the German Presidency, signals the start of formal preparations at EU level. I hope that the next few days will provide important impetus to the further development of chemical weapons controls, especially since our symposium brings together the expertise and creativity of participants representing the most diverse approaches and roles
– from the Government, academia, non-governmental organizations and industry.

Germany has a special relationship with the Chemical Weapons Convention. The endgame negotiations of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament in 1992 took place under the chairmanship of the then German Ambassador, Ritter von Wagner. He and his team were able to bring together the positions of the delegations in such a way that a viable draft convention could be submitted to the UN General Assembly in autumn 1992. It is my thus great pleasure to welcome Ambassador von Wagner himself to the event. He will be giving you a first-hand account of the history and development of the CWC tomorrow evening.

Mr Ambassador, you prepared the ground for a Convention, the results of which are becoming only more visible ten years on.

  • There is an effective organization for monitoring states' compliance with the Convention, particularly with regard to the destruction of weapons.
  • Progress is being made in the destruction of chemical weapon stocks, even if this has been delayed by technological, financial and environmental challenges on a scale much larger than originally expected. I nevertheless call upon the US and Russia in particular to destroy all chemical weapons by 2012. To put it simply, countries capable of putting people into space and onto the moon should also be able to destroy their chemical weapons within a given time-limit.
  • The European Union and a number of its Member States are willing to support Russia in its efforts to destroy its chemical weapons. We Germans co-funded and provided German technology for the construction of two of the three destruction facilities currently being operated in Russia. This contribution amounted to 200 million euro. We have pledged a further 140 million euro for the construction of a third facility. These actions show that we are making concrete steps towards living up to our responsibility as a partner to Russia in destroying its chemical weapons.

The EU is also supporting the national implementation of the Convention, in the form of “Joint Actions”.

But for me, one of the greatest achievements of the CWC in the last ten years is the fact that its membership has risen from 82 to 182 countries. The Convention is thus in force almost all over the world.

Significant recognition for this development must go to you, Director-General, and to the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW.

However, there are still 13 countries which have not acceded to the Convention, including North Korea and a few states in the Middle East. I call upon these countries to rethink their position.

We will look at the Middle East more closely in our panel discussion on the universality of the CWC on Friday. Accession to the Convention could serve as a signal for détente and mutual trust in the region. All Middle East countries renounced the use of chemical and biological weapons in the Geneva Protocol of 1925. Their duty now is to take the second step, and outlaw these weapons completely.

The success of the Convention would be unthinkable without the participation of the chemical industry, which recognized from the very start the benefits which the Convention could offer the industry, and has accompanied the Convention with constructive comment since the negotiating stage. The support of the chemical industry remains just as strong today, and the Scientific Advisory Board of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is just one body which benefits from this support.

As well as providing for the systematic verification of chemical weapon destruction and routine verification in the chemical industry, the Convention also has recourse to the challenge inspection. This is of course intended as a deterrent, but it also plays a special role in strengthening mutual trust. Indeed, challenge inspections are also successful when they reveal no violations of agreements. We thus believe that challenge inspections should become a form of routine control, not unlike an audit in a company or authority. By carrying out a trial challenge inspection on a Bundeswehr air base a year ago, we showed our willingness to lead by example.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What do we need to do to make the Chemical Weapons Convention even better in the next phase?

Firstly, we must make further progress in the implementation of the agreement, and adapt it to new conditions. This means lending greater objectivity to the issue of challenge inspections. Challenge inspections constitute neither a political accusation or discrimination, but are intended to build confidence. We must also optimize confidence-building verification in the chemical industry. And we must ensure that the remaining 13 states outside the agreement accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

These are ambitious aims, and I have no doubt that they will give you a great deal of work and dedication to political detail over the next few days. But let me console you with the words of a Latin scholar – I believe it was Seneca – who said: “Without effort there can be no success, and effort provides succour to noble souls”. With this in mind, I wish us all a productive discussion, and thank you for your attention.

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