Speech by Minister of State Gernot Erler at a the Meeting of High-Level Experts on the Future of Conventional Arms Control in Europe

09.06.2009 - Speech

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Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. The era of East-West confrontation came to an end. These events represented a triumph of the yearning for freedom of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, but they were also the fruit of the policy of détente initiated in Germany by Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr and continued by Helmut Schmidt and Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

At the end of the Cold War many believed that all the contradictions in world politics had been resolved. Disarmament and arms control also seemed to be sorted out.

However, these issues have lost none of their significance, a fact clearly brought to mind very recently by the North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

The established nuclear powers still have thousands of warheads. Proliferation and nuclear terrorism threaten to undermine the non-proliferation regime. In the conventional sphere, the entire disarmament architecture arduously constructed over years is on a slippery slope.

Peace and stability are inextricably linked to arms control and disarmament. Lasting peace cannot be achieved by national “machismo” and by piling up armaments. On the contrary, it is the result of dialogue and cooperation.

We need a new dynamism in disarmament and arms control!

The time is right for a fresh start. The US and Russian Presidents have presented joint proposals on greatly reducing their strategic nuclear arsenals.

A few days ago the Geneva Conference on Disarmament succeeded in ending over a decade of stalemate. With its new programme of work the CD has smoothed the path for negotiations on a verifiable halt to the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Such a treaty would make nuclear disarmament irreversible and strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Let us together ensure that next year's NPT Review Conference is a success. The Treaty language must be translated into concrete policy!

We would like to make it quite clear that every state 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! For that reason the German Government has called for Foreign Minister Steinmeier's proposal on the multilateralization of the fuel cycle to be placed, along with those of the United States and Russia, on the agenda of next week's IAEA Board of Governors meeting. Our aim is for decisions to be prepared, if possible, at that meeting.

This is not just about nuclear bombs! Nuclear and conventional disarmament are two sides of the same coin.

We are convinced that we will only succeed in achieving the sustained disarmament which people want to see if we also make substantial progress in the conventional sphere – not least because some states try to compensate for their supposed conventional inferiority with substrategic nuclear weapons.

With this in mind, and with the objective of overcoming East-West confrontation, the Euro-Atlantic area developed the world's most rigid and networked set of conventional disarmament and arms control instruments. That system has proved its worth, playing a major role in buffering the necessary post-Cold War transformation processes and making them transparent and predictable in the area of conventional weapons systems.

In the future, too, arms control, disarmament and confidence-building will be key components of an integrated Euro-Atlantic security policy. The concept of comprehensive, cooperative security is vital, as it is aimed at a broad reconciliation of interests among all states in Europe!

Our main task now is to find new perspectives for the centrepiece of conventional arms control – the CFE Treaty, which is in crisis.

The dilemma is clear – the European security policy landscape has changed dramatically since the CFE Treaty came into force in 1992. The adapted CFE Treaty is an attempt to adjust content and future membership of the Treaty to these changed circumstances. However, it is yet to be ratified. What we still have is the old CFE Treaty, which continues to be valid but whose implementation Russia has unfortunately suspended.

Our task is clear: in the interests of us all, we have to find a way out of this stalemate and further develop the CFE regime in the face of the new security situation.

For if we don't take joint countermeasures now, the CFE Treaty's current stagnation could lead to the entire network of the conventional disarmament and arms control regime in Europe gradually eroding.

The consequences would be far-reaching – states and alliances would no longer be subject to contractual arms-control limitations. Without treaty-based arms control, especially in the regional context, we cannot rule out regressing into an arms race like the one we experienced in the 20th century. The collapse of the arms control regime would jeopardize our shared concept of cooperative security.

What are the specific future challenges facing conventional arms control in Europe?

First, one factor which up to now has scarcely been noticed is of a structural nature.

The Georgia crisis in August 2008 provided the most recent evidence that regional conflicts are currently the greatest risk to security and stability in Europe. This is a particular challenge, as regional conflicts have to date been practically ignored by arms control policy. This applies to regional conflicts in the Euro-Atlantic area, but also to those in neighbouring regions.

Conventional arms control must therefore, in future, contribute to security and stability at both strategic and regional level. Zones of differing security must not be allowed to exist or indeed to arise in the first place. Therefore we work towards further developing conventional arms control in Europe, so that potential substrategic conflicts in Europe can be more efficiently contained.

Second, so far the current network of arms control agreements has not been adjusted to account for developments in military technology.

The military capabilities also among smaller forces have in recent years been strengthened as a result of greater flexibility, deployability, sustainability, the networking of weapons systems and information superiority. Moreover, new operational concepts are leading to a change in weapons and warfare.

In a nutshell, in addition to “quantitative” we have to achieve “qualitative” arms control.

Arms control can merely make it more difficult for potential actors to engage in conflicts. Therefore, the core of a cooperative approach to security and stability and an essential prerequisite for the success of arms control is, and will continue to be, the willingness of all parties to cooperate.

That is why in the future it will also be important to build on what has already been achieved and to strengthen trust and cooperation in Europe.

Together we must launch a political process comparable in terms of impact and vision to the Harmel Report more than 40 years ago.

We need a fundamental discussion on the extent to which the changed security situation requires the further development, or even reorientation, of conventional arms control in Europe.

This is a major task. Without the political will of all those involved, it will not be achieved.

For this reason let me thank all the government representatives of more than forty countries for accepting Minister Steinmeier's invitation to attend this informal meeting on the future of conventional arms control in Europe.

To accompany this meeting, the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg, led by Professor Götz Neuneck and Dr Wolfgang Zellner, and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), headed by Dr Hans-Joachim Schmidt, as well as the NOMOS publishing firm, have brought out a weighty – in both senses of the word – 500‑page book in German and English on the future of conventional arms control in Europe.

Let me express my gratitude and appreciation to all those who have made this accompanying book a success. In this volume, academics and practitioners from Germany and abroad, many with decades of experience of disarmament and arms control, describe the difficult arms-control process and present some of its major milestones.

It is clear that analysis and personal experience lead to different results and assessments. These reflect the various standpoints in what is a difficult debate.

But one thing is vital – all the authors share a common cause: trying to show the way ahead, that we can make a fresh start in conventional arms control and disarmament in a changed security environment.

I am convinced that the book will promote the discussion on the future of conventional arms control in Europe.

Let us together shape a new era in disarmament and arms control policy!

Security in Europe is indivisible. The security of every European state is inseparably linked to that of all the others. This insight is not new. Over thirty years ago it formed the basis of the détente policy. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was inspired by it. It exemplifies to a high degree the cooperative approach to arms control.

Let us seize this opportunity to start anew!

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