“Leadership, trust, credibility” - The future of disarmament policy

09.02.2008 - Speech

Disarmament and arms control belong right at the top of a new transatlantic agenda, emphasized Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Munich Conference on Security Police. In his speech, Steinmeier identified three focal points: The West has to assume a leadership role. The way to a more peaceful world requires many small confidence-building steps. The strength of the West lies in credibility in striving for a free, peaceful and just world.

-- Translation of advance text --

“Atoms for peace” – these three words mark the beginning of nuclear disarmament. Three words from President Eisenhower's famous speech to the United Nations on 8 December 1953.

This speech paved the way for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It was in your role as Director-General of this organization that you, Mr El-Baradei, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

Although today even staunch advocates of the peaceful use of nuclear power would no longer speak quite so enthusiastically of the merits of this – then new - form of energy, much of that speech is still highly relevant.

Permit me to focus on three points from it.

First: no progress on disarmament could have been achieved then or can be achieved today unless the West, first and foremost the United States, assumes a leadership role.

Second: the way to a more peaceful world requires today, as it did then, many small confidence-building steps whose goal is, as President Eisenhower said, the creation of a “system of worldwide inspection and control”.

And third: the strength of the West lay and ultimately still lies not in military power but in credibility in striving for a free, peaceful and just world.


During the more than 50 years that have passed since this speech was given, much has changed. The era of East-West confrontation and the balance of terror has come to an end. The United States, Europe, Russia and the new powers in Asia, Africa and America are currently redefining their relations in a difficult process of readjustment.

In this process, access to nuclear technology and its potential for military use have become central subjects of debate. The number of states with nuclear weapons has increased since the end of the Cold War. Ever more countries are in a position to build nuclear weapons.

If we do not manage to halt this dangerous trend in the next few years, we risk the emergence of a new nuclear arms race on a global scale, with unforeseeable consequences.

Disarmament and arms control therefore belong right at the top of a new transatlantic agenda, alongside the major future topics of climate change and energy security, which I have addressed here in previous years.

For disarmament and arms control are not yesterday's issues, but tomorrow's questions of survival!

And as it did 50 years ago, the world expects us, in the transatlantic partnership, to assume the leadership role.

I am pleased that this conviction is once again gradually gaining ground in our discussions, as it is here at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. It is also encouraging to see that many of the urgent arms control policy issues feature in the programmes of the US presidential candidates.

For no real progress will be made on nuclear non-proliferation unless the classic nuclear-weapon states take the initiative.

Only recently Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn published a second joint article in which they propose concrete steps to inject new momentum into nuclear disarmament once again. I expect these ideas to be scrutinized very closely during the ongoing review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

After all, one thing is certain. It would be a devastating blow to the future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty if the next Review Conference were to prove as fruitless as the last.

Our credibility is at stake! We need to ask ourselves whether the deal made by Eisenhower and the other founding fathers of the NPT is still valid, namely, that the non-nuclear-weapon states refrain from developing such weapons in return for a clear commitment from the countries with nuclear weapons to seriously pursue the path of nuclear disarmament.

Incidentally, one of the reasons we need to ask ourselves this question is because even more profound dangers now loom. Ever more countries are attempting to complete the nuclear fuel cycle. Their reasons for doing so may vary – the quest for national prestige, concern about the security of their fuel supply or even secret dreams of use for military ends. In every case the outcome will be the same – a further increase in the threat of proliferation.

That is why I recently proposed that we tackle the problem at its root and establish a multilateral enrichment centre under the exclusive control of the IAEA.

Germany will play an active role in future consultations. For time is short.

My mind would be much easier if an international enrichment centre of this kind could be established before competition for a share in the market for the construction of new nuclear power stations flares up even more violently. Whatever our position on the peaceful use of nuclear power may be - and you are aware of my Government's stance - a nuclear power station is no refrigerator, it is part of a highly complex technology cycle with considerable risk potential. Anyone who exports this technology therefore assumes significant responsibility.

At this point allow me to say a few words about Iran. There has been much speculation about the report by the US intelligence services. I had the distinct impression that very few people had actually read the published version. For, contrary to the widely conveyed impression, it in no way grants Iran any kind of absolution – at least not with regard to the past.

That is why I believe it is right for the international community to keep up the pressure on Iran. Our common goal must continue to be to prevent Iranian nuclear armament - in the interests of our own safety, in the interests of Israel's safety but also to counteract the erosion of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That is why it was so important that the foreign ministers of the five veto powers and Germany clearly demonstrated their unity of purpose on 22 January in Berlin.

Our unity of purpose is twofold. Our offer of cooperation is still on the table and the return to negotiations therefore possible in principle. But – and this, too, is and remains an element of our unity – we are willing to exert greater pressure on Iran if our fears are not unequivocally dispelled.

It is not only in connection with nuclear weapons that we need new impulses for disarmament and arms control. Kenneth Roth has rightly pointed out that urgent action is needed particularly in the area of small arms and cluster munitions.

We are working at global and regional level to effectively contain the proliferation of small arms and light weapons – no easy task! The main concern at the moment is the proper marking and tracing of small arms and ammunition, the physical securing of legal stockpiles, strict export controls and the destruction of surplus stocks.

In the case of cluster munitions, our goal is a universal ban. To this end all countries are called upon to live up to their humanitarian responsibilities and ensure that dangerous cluster munitions no longer have any place in military arsenals. The German Government already adopted a graduated plan in 2006 to ensure that in the medium term, hopefully by 2015, Germany will have totally renounced cluster munitions.

NATO, too, has a responsibility in the area of disarmament. With my Norwegian colleague Jonas Gahr Store, I have launched an initiative within NATO to anchor the issue of disarmament and arms control more firmly there, too.


A second statement made by Eisenhower is just as valid today as it was 50 years ago. There can be no disarmament without many small steps towards creating a climate of mutual confidence.
Anyone who has studied this subject in depth knows just how hard-won each step forward has been.

And because progress has been so laborious, we should not needlessly jeopardize the gains so painstakingly made by our predecessors. They developed a confidence-building and verification system in Europe which is unparalleled in the world.

If we Germans have campaigned so hard over the past months to preserve the CFE Treaty, it is not because we are driven by nostalgia for détente, but because we are firmly convinced that this system will continue to be vital in the future.

The CFE Treaty was and remains the anchor of stability for European security. The entry into force of the Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty, signed in Istanbul in 1999, is long overdue.

The United States and NATO have – partly on the basis of preparatory work by Germany – made concrete proposals to enable the Adapted Treaty to be ratified quickly and to preserve the CFE regime. The ball is now in Russia's court. We hope for a constructive response that will pave the way for further talks.

In this context, I would like to make a few comments on missile defence.

Of course we cannot afford to ignore new threats. But we have to discuss all proposed responses very carefully, to determine whether they really bring a net gain in security - or if they are potentially more divisive. I have been quick to call for close dialogue with Russia in a spirit of mutual trust, especially when threats that also concern Russia are involved.

I very much welcome the fact that this view is now gaining acceptance, and I would like to thank Defence Secretary Robert Gates in particular for his involvement.

This was by no means a foregone conclusion, particularly if we cast our minds back to last year’s conference and the debate sparked by President Putin’s speech. But for that very reason it was a farsighted and politically wise move, because it followed closely in the footsteps of the United States’ earlier foreign policy. You see, I have taken another look at the historical background to the Eisenhower speech I quoted above. Eisenhower's cautious offer of dialogue was made to a Soviet Union with which the United States had just fought a bloody proxy war in Korea. Today, the situation is completely different. We need Russia as a partner, for without its cooperation none of the many conflicts around the world – and Iran was just one example - can be resolved.

We may have different opinions on some issues. But anyone who raises the spectre of a new Cold War – as was done at this Conference last year – has forgotten what the Cold War was really like.


This brings me to the third of my points from Eisenhower's speech – the credibility of our calls for solidarity and peace between nations. Eisenhower himself made this call in the following words: “My country's purpose is to help us to move out of the dark chamber of horrors into the light, to find a way by which the minds of men, the hopes of men, the souls of men everywhere, can move forward towards peace and happiness and well-being.”

Leadership is acknowledged and confidence gained where this purpose is credibly pursued. This and nothing else is what is meant by “soft power” – and we should be very worried that the West's soft power is diminishing in numerous regions around the world.

I have no desire to analyse the reasons for this right now. In any case, I do not believe there are any simple explanations.

It is thus all the more important that, where we have assumed responsibility, we retain our credibility and keep our eyes on the big picture. This imperative also applies in Afghanistan, which brings me to an issue that has kept us busy in the run-up to this Conference.

Over the past weeks, there has been a heated debate about our joint engagement in Afghanistan, and I have to admit that I was disturbed by the acerbity with which it was sometimes conducted.

Let me state unequivocally that Germany will live up to its commitment to NATO! We assumed responsibility together. And together we will bring our mission to a successful conclusion.

To this end I am also investing considerable political energy in conveying our stance to a German public with an increasingly sceptical attitude towards deployment abroad.

Incidentally, we should not forget how far my country has come in the last ten years.

That is why I say that Germany has nothing to be ashamed of! Over 3,300 Bundeswehr soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan. Germany is thus the third largest troop-contributing nation. We bear overall responsibility in the northern region – and, as anyone who is at all familiar with Afghanistan knows, this region, too, is increasingly in the sights of the Taliban militants.

We have Bundeswehr Tornados out there which fly reconnaissance missions throughout Afghanistan. And from this summer, we will provide the Quick Reaction Force for the northern region. This goes to show that we, too, can respond to changed military requirements.

But our resources are limited – and I don't see the sense of jeopardizing the good work we are doing in the north by spreading the Bundeswehr forces thinner to cover all Afghanistan.

We have always said that we can only have long-term success in Afghanistan if we do not rely on military means alone, but pursue a comprehensive political approach. Only if the people of Afghanistan see for themselves that our involvement will bring them peace and prosperity will we be able to isolate the Taliban.

That is why I feel it is vital that our reconstruction efforts should focus even more on beacon projects that give hope to the people, on building schools, hospitals and workshops. Such tangible measures are a sign that things are actually improving in this devastated country.

Our comprehensive political approach is set out in the Afghanistan Compact, which we adopted jointly in London. Its implementation has been highly successful in many areas, but in others it has been abominable – for example in creating an Afghan security force and combating drug cultivation.

I have therefore suggested that we hold a conference in the first half of 2008 to take stock – a kind of mid-term review. Where do we stand at the moment? What has been achieved? Are our goals all realistic? Where do we have to make adjustments? And in which areas do we have to ask more of the Afghan Government?

I hope that this conference will show the world our resolution and renewed energy – to which the people of Afghanistan are entitled.

Leadership, confidence, credibility – these are the three forces that have made the West strong and successful. The new transatlantic agenda, which I have been talking about here for the past two years, will equally have to harness these forces.

Whatever issue we tackle - be it climate change, energy security, the fight against hunger and disease, or the painstaking work on disarmament and arms control – the West is called upon to take the lead, and no progress can be made without confidence being built and credibility bolstered.

We will need many partners in this task. China and India will have to learn to shoulder greater responsibility. And we are all convinced that we will achieve even more if Russia is on board!

After the elections in Russia and the United States we will have a clearer idea of where our journey will take us. It will be interesting to see how much change and how much continuity there will be.

But all in all, we may rely on leadership, confidence and credibility to steer us through any troubled waters that may lie ahead.

Thank you for your attention.

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