Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the German Bundestag during the disarmament debate

27.04.2009 - Speech

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Two major debates on disarmament and arms control and a debate on cluster munitions yesterday evening within the space of three months, a quarter of a year – when did this last happen in the German Bundestag? I can't remember anything like that. But the fact that this issue is featuring more often on the agenda is, I believe, a good sign. The disarmament debate needs a new dynamism. One thing is certain – we must reverse the trend of the past few years, and the question I ask myself and you is: when, if not now?

We need to do it now because, as you know, the established nuclear powers still have thousands of warheads. Proliferation and nuclear terrorism threaten to further undermine the non-proliferation regime, and we have seen the conventional disarmament architecture, arduously constructed over the past years, getting on a slippery slope.

The time is right for a fresh start – who knows for how long; but at the moment the going looks good. In the run-up to the London world financial summit Russian President Medvedev and US President Obama announced a clear reduction in their strategic arsenals. You may recall that in his impressive Prague speech President Obama recently summed up his vision – peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons.

I share that vision, one formulated by the four heavyweights of US foreign policy two years ago and taken up on our side by Helmut Schmidt, Richard von Weizsäcker, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Egon Bahr. In my view the fact that these four eminent Germans replied to the American vision is an honour for us all.

Ladies and gentlemen, how do we make that fresh start? How do we achieve that aim? An intermediate goal is to be achieved in 2010, when the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is held. The success or failure of that conference will in my opinion largely depend on whether we succeed in truly renewing the centrepiece of this Treaty. You know this, because the two aspects – a fact people sometimes forget – the disarmament of the nuclear powers on the one hand and the prevention of nuclear proliferation on the other are linked. Both are already binding obligations contained in the NPT. Let's ensure that the Treaty text finally becomes policy, because this is what's needed.

I think two things are necessary along the way:

First, we need rules governing a verifiable halt to the production of weapons-grade nuclear material. As you are aware, the negotiations on this have been on ice for many years. The EU will soon launch an initiative to kick-start this process once more.

The second aspect, just as important and as complicated, is this: Every state, as you know, has the right under the NPT to the civilian use of nuclear energy. However, this use must not serve as a guise for military programmes.

This is why I myself have tabled some proposals in this connection. We need something like a multilateralization of the fuel cycle, so that new countries, emerging nations and regional powers in particular don't develop the ambition to procure their own enrichment technology. Others suggest founding an international fuel bank. Whatever form this progress takes, we need it as soon as possible. We will do what we can to ensure that initial opinions are formed and, if possible, decisions are prepared during the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June, as progress is needed here.

You're all aware that only the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons can fully protect against both proliferation and nuclear terrorism. “Global zero” is the keyword. You and I know that the road to that aim will not be easy and will require considerable patience and tenacity.

We will have to pay careful attention to three aspects on that road:

First, the successor agreement to START I. This issue had gone quiet, and I too was doubtful whether this agreement, securing the continuation of the START regime beyond 1 January 2010, would be negotiated by the year's end. Presidents Medvedev and Obama promised each other that this will happen, and therefore I assume that the successor agreement will be concluded.

Second, Iran and North Korea. By offering to hold negotiations with Iran, President Obama is taking a courageous step. We must make it clear to Tehran that it must give an appropriate, reasonable and constructive answer to that offer. The chance for a new beginning starting to appear here must not be squandered, as the risks are too great.

Third, if we talk about nuclear disarmament, we normally refer to strategic nuclear weapons. Of course the nuclear states' sub-strategic, “tactical” nuclear weapons also have to be included. As you know, there are no formal agreements on this issue. We cannot simply say that responsibility for this only lies with the US and Russia. Europe also has a role to play.

If we want Europe to evolve into a nuclear-free zone then what I say of course also applies to the remaining nuclear weapons in Germany.

At the end of the Cold War Russia and the US did agree, for a short time, that these tactical nuclear weapons would also be reduced. We must take up this path again, and achieve substantial disarmament for this type of nuclear weapons.

While public debate is normally dominated by nuclear disarmament, you and I are aware that the threats in the field of conventional weapons have not diminished. I said at the beginning that this field has become a slippery slope. The disarmament architecture has not been maintained, and the moratorium means that the CFE regime is in great danger. That's something we have to change. In order to overcome the standstill, and to try to adapt the CFE regime, the centrepiece of the conventional disarmament architecture, to the changed security situation, I have issued invitations to a meeting on security in Europe in Berlin on 10 June. We need this, and we need all sides to meet us halfway.

Ladies and gentlemen, 2009 will be a year full of challenges and risks, also from the foreign and security policy standpoint. But I hope I have made it clear that this is also a year full of opportunity. In 2009, in foreign and security policy, too, politics will have to prove its worth. Thank you very much.

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