Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the opening of the conference Making Conventional Arms Control Fit for the 21st Century

06.09.2017 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me open with words spoken by a man concerned about peace.

A peace researcher, if you will.

He says: “I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living.”

Every year, he explains, billions of dollars are spent on weapons that are “acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them”. This, he concludes, is certainly not “the most efficient means of assuring peace”.

This peace researcher then proposes the exact opposite. He demands, and I quote, “general and complete disarmament”.

Who is this peace researcher?

He’s an American. But it must be said that this is a quote from a speech delivered in 1963 – by the man who at the time was President of the United States. These words were spoken by John F. Kennedy.

Just imagine if today we had a US President who would make this same statement and work toward this goal.

By the way, John F. Kennedy delivered this speech at a time when confrontation between the former Soviet Union and the United States was heating up, not cooling down.

In that political climate, an American President spoke about a “strategy of peace”. In the middle of the Cold War, the American President spoke about peace as the “necessary rational end of rational men”.

Willy Brandt, who at the time of Kennedy’s speech was mayor of West Berlin, seized on the ideas of John F. Kennedy and developed a peace policy for Germany – the foundation of which remains in place to this day.

Of course, Brandt said, Germany must ensure “military protection”. He was firmly anchored in the Western Alliance. Nevertheless, the balance of terror, Brandt insisted, must “take a second seat to the attempt to solve problems peacefully without any illusions”. That, he said, is the right strategy for peace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Why am I referring to Kennedy and Brandt?

One reason to remember Brandt is that, forty years ago, almost to the day, he became Chairman of the Brandt Commission on the North-South Divide, which looked at ways that the world’s poor and wealthy could live together better. Incidentally, the Commission also predicted there would be refugee flows and dealt with the issues of armament and arms control.

The most important reason is, however, that these two people, along with many others – at a time when hardly anyone believed in de-escalation or in a world with fewer weapons, and when things were moving in the opposite direction – focused their political efforts on the idea of disarmament and arms control.

Willy Brandt clearly finalised his policy of détente in 1968, the same year that Warsaw Pact forces marched into Prague. It was one of the darkest hours of the Cold War.

The lesson we must learn from this is that our assessment of the current situation must not prevent us from seeing what is actually needed for people to live together in peace.

If we want to seize on the ideas of Kennedy and Brandt and use them in our present-day situation, I think the first step must be to do a stocktaking – as Brandt put it, “without any illusions”.

When taking a level-headed look at the security situation, I believe we will come to a rather depressing conclusion:

We are currently straying from the path we originally embarked on at the end of the Cold War.

Instead of peaceful coexistence, we run the risk of entering a new arms race – one that is set to take place not only between Russia and NATO, but on a global scale. Wherever you look, there’s talk of rearmament: in China, in India, in the Pacific, in America, in parts of Africa and in Europe.

We’re moving toward what looks like a huge new arms race.

Proven disarmament mechanisms are coming under strain, and trust is being lost that is needed for cooperation.

What we are currently witnessing in North Korea shows how dangerous the world could become for our children – and for us as well, in a few years, when countries begin to acquire nuclear weapons.

If North Korea actually attains the objectives it’s pursuing with its aggressive nuclear programme, this will get other countries thinking. That could be especially, but not only, true in the region, which is why no one should be more interested than China in preventing nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Other countries will begin to think about whether their own regime may be better defended and regional conflicts better managed, or bent to their will, if they acquire nuclear weapons.

If this were to happen, the world would become a more dangerous place than it ever was during the difficult times of the East-West confrontation.

I think this is why the idea that is so firmly rooted in international political strategy, namely that we need a balance of terror, merely reflects the situation during the second half of the 20th century – and can’t be applied to what we may face during the first half of the 21st century.

How, I ask, would the so-called balance of terror work if nuclear weapons were to spread to many countries in the world – and who would such a balance be between?

That is why seasoned politicians like Henry Kissinger, who truly cannot be considered one of the world’s peaceniks, is so decisively campaigning for an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Not only that – he says that Global Zero is the right objective. He argues that, if we want to prevent many small countries from acquiring these arms, then the major powers that possess them today must actually begin to disarm. Otherwise their actions would no longer be credible.

However, we must also work to ensure that consensus on current disarmament and arms control treaties, especially in the nuclear domain, is not further undermined – because according to Kissinger the world is moving in the wrong direction.

Right now, we are in danger of losing historic achievements.

I recently hosted members of the so-called Deep Cuts Commission. These are scientists from Russia, the United States and Germany who for many years have been dealing with the issue of nuclear disarmament.

They point to cracks in a crucial building block of our global security architecture:

Russia is expanding its non-strategic nuclear arsenal in Europe and is suspected of violating the INF Treaty that was concluded between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Treaty bans an entire category of weapons, namely intermediate-range land-based missiles. It’s a cornerstone of European security, something we still benefit from today. In Germany, two years before German reunification, before the fall of the Iron Curtain, the agreements that were reached between Gorbachev and Reagan brought us a peace dividend. To this very day, we benefit from the ban on land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles. It is precisely this treaty that is under threat. Because NATO and the United States, too, are these days considering whether they should shelve it.

Let me give you two examples that illustrate how much strain conventional arms control mechanisms are under today.

First, in Europe, we’ve lost the progress we’ve made on controlling conventional weapons.

Beginning in 1990, tens of thousands of tanks and other heavy weapon systems were destroyed under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the so-called CFE Treaty. Moreover, a verifiable limit was placed on the future number of these weapon systems.

All States Parties made a commitment to declare their military assets and also agreed to permit inspections.

Later, however, we failed to obtain ratification of an adapted CFE Treaty, and Russia suspended implementation of the Treaty in 2007.

Second, the state of confidence-building measures, for example those regarding military exercises in border regions, is not good:

Next week, a major exercise will be held in Russia and in Belarus. It may be one of the largest since the end of the Cold War.

Why can large exercises like this one not be notified in line with the current rules? That way, they could be comprehensively monitored, transparency would be maintained, and possible fears wouldn’t even arise in the first place.

Yes, Western countries also conduct exercises. However, NATO and Allied countries adhere strictly to the Vienna Document and comply with their respective commitments in both letter and spirit, through timely notification and by inviting outside observers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What can we do, given this state of affairs? The entire world is talking about rearmament. Nuclear treaties are under strain. This applies to New START as well as to the recently concluded nuclear deal with Iran. To further complicate the situation, the agreed mechanisms for conventional arms control are not working, even though these instruments were designed with difficult times in mind. They were created for when there’s a lack of mutual trust. When one invites the other side as an observer precisely for this reason, and when one visits the other side to keep an eye on what they’re doing. When one builds a measure of confidence in times of mistrust, if not through disarmament, then at least through arms control mechanisms.

So what do we do?

I believe that, first of all, we must speak out in favour of charting a new course, one that doesn’t simply follow the current mainstream.

For this, we need those with political responsibility to change how they think and act. Most importantly, we need a debate on this issue.

Kennedy and Brandt and those who followed in their footsteps had the unenviable task of guiding us through the Cold War, under the constant threat of nuclear escalation.

But I do envy one thing that they and their successors had: a broad public debate on disarmament.

Looking around, I don’t see this international debate. I see people talking only about rearmament. When I take the floor at a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers and say that we should actually be discussing disarmament and arms control, as well, I almost feel like I’m rocking the boat. My general impression right now is that Ministers are not guided by the political principle that we need both – deterrence as well as efforts toward arms control and disarmament – and that both should be equally important for determining political action. This holds true not only for NATO, but also for many countries, including Russia, China and India.

The fact that the public was keeping a critical eye on, and often drove, government policy, is at least one reason why good results were achieved in this truly important policy area.

I’ll give you an example.

In 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev met for a summit in Reykjavik.

There was only one item on the agenda: disarmament.

More than 3,000 journalists from the US had travelled to the meeting, to report live on the American evening news about the outcome of disarmament negotiations in this small white house in Iceland between the leaders of the world’s two superpowers.

These days, it’s hard to imagine what that was like.

Here in Germany, we’ve had far more controversial public debates. Everyone who experienced the debate – and demonstrations – surrounding the NATO Double-Track Decision knows what I’m talking about!

I think that today, as well, we need an intensive and much more critical public debate on the issue of disarmament. It is, after all, again a matter of war and peace.

Today, we can be grateful for one thing: we currently have a greater and more broad public debate about foreign policy than we did a few years ago.

But I do think that the discussion, which should be focussing on both disarmament and arms control, is lopsided.

Right now, we’re only discussing military protection against threats. That’s important, no doubt.

But we are talking far too little about opportunities for confidence-building measures, disarmament initiatives, joint arms control efforts and building trust.

I have the impression that we sometimes pursue an orthodox policy of rearmament without giving thought to what will secure a peaceful international order in the long term.

Of course, these days we also need security vis-à-vis one another. But that alone is not a permanent solution. We must get back to a multilateral system that guarantees security through cooperation, as a basis for maintaining permanent peace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

“General and complete disarmament” like Kennedy envisioned will not be attained overnight – that should be clear to everyone.

Yet that is precisely why I am convinced that we must take many small concrete steps in a determined effort to reach this goal. And our fist step should be to promote the instruments of arms control and confidence-building measures.

This includes doing everything we can to prevent the undermining of treaties that have proven their worth.

We must do everything within our power to maintain and jointly develop them – and, if necessary, to dare to embark on a new path, for example, toward conventional arms control.

This means, on the one hand, making sure that existing arms control and disarmament mechanisms, such as the Treaty on Open Skies, the Vienna Document and the Chemical Weapons Convention are maintained, also by pressing for their faithful implementation.

On the other hand, it means taking the initiative to create new arms control and disarmament mechanisms, wherever necessary. This includes establishing rules for unregulated domains, for example, autonomous weapons.

So what we need is an architecture for arms control and disarmament that has been made fit for the 21st century – not geopolitical strategies from the 20th century.

Of course, in the difficult current situation, and considering that not only European security is under threat, we cannot simply say “give peace a chance”.

We must always pursue the peaceful resolution of conflicts. However, like Willy Brandt said, we must do so from a militarily protected position.

We therefore absolutely say that, yes, we must maintain our defences, for the protection of our European friends, our partners in NATO.

But we also want to make offers to pursue arms control and disarmament – particularly in Europe.

For this, it is important to include all European countries, in much the way this is already happening in the OSCE.

That is why we used our OSCE Chairmanship in 2016 to intensively campaign for a modernisation of the Vienna Document, and we continue to pursue this goal.

We also are worried about the fact that, since suspension of implementation of the CFE Treaty, Russia and NATO are no longer having to comply with any strict arms control rules. That bears risks and dangers!

It is why Frank-Walter Steinmeier, my predecessor as Foreign Minister and our country’s current Federal President, has proposed that we embark on new paths toward conventional arms control.

We intend to take up again and pursue this initiative. We will be pressing for a joint effort to revisit the methods and aims of conventional arms control in Europe, and to achieve concrete results in this sphere.

New momentum is needed in the nuclear domain, as well. Of course, one priority must be to contain North Korea.

But we must think beyond this, as well. Because they possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, Russia and the United States still have a special responsibility to reduce their nuclear arsenals and thereby begin a new era of détente.

Incidentally, throughout Europe and in this country, we are talking a lot about the current crisis in Ukraine. It was triggered by what we view as Russia’s illegal operation in Crimea, and this of course means we are now more or less in a phase marked by confrontation.

Nevertheless, we have argued that our efforts at this point should focus on achieving a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

Yesterday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin made a proposal that Germany has been asking him to make for quite some time, because we know that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is unarmed and its monitors are constantly in danger when out on patrol and performing inspections, also at night. We know that ceasefire violations are occurring on both sides. So we said: Let’s think about whether we could get a United Nations peacekeeping mission deployed there. Its mission would be not to replace, but rather to accompany and protect. It would be a parallel institution to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, for the purpose of monitoring the ceasefire.

So far, Russia has always said that it will go along with this only if negotiations on a political process begin at the same time. Ukraine has said, and I think it’s a justified demand, that as long as there is no ceasefire, there can be no talks about elections in eastern Ukraine. We think this makes sense and have pointed out to Russia: “In Syria, you say there must first be a ceasefire, followed by peace negotiations in Geneva – why shouldn’t it be the same for eastern Ukraine?”

Yesterday, the Russian President announced his proposal and declared that he has instructed his Foreign Minister to draw up initial ideas on how such a UN peacekeeping mission could be employed in eastern Ukraine.

Now we all know this gives rise to what seems like a thousand questions, including: What should Blue Helmets do? What will they be responsible for? What are the various interests of the parties to the conflict? We know that.

Yet it would be remiss not to welcome this public announcement by the Russian President. It marks a true departure from his previous position. We should welcome the proposal and say we’re happy that this initiative is now moving forward. So now let’s talk about the various ideas that are on the table. Let’s focus on beginning dynamic negotiations with the aim of getting some results – results that will truly help all sides, Ukraine and Russia, as well as the Donbass, to actually achieve a lasting ceasefire.

I also think that, subsequently, Europe should make an offer, namely by volunteering to assist reconstruction efforts in eastern Ukraine. I can still remember the depressing images from last winter, when for example the water supply was cut off and waste water treatment was interrupted. I think this is an area where we can help.

But before we get to that point, there will be many weeks and possibly also months of negotiations about the proposal. It would not be wise for us to turn down this proposal out of hand, by alleging there must be a malign plan behind what Russia is saying, so we don’t even want to talk to them about it. I think that would be the wrong thing to do.

We must take a proactive approach, by looking at how the proposal can be implemented, and how, as a next step, we can gradually and truly de-escalate the situation.

My fear is that currently the United States is focussed on new sanctions against Russia, and that this could intensify the nationalistic rhetoric of election campaigns in Russia. That, in turn, would generate momentum away from, rather than toward, détente. If there is a voice that has a vested interest in the opposite development, then I think it’s the voice of Europe, and of Germany.

Ladies and gentlemen,

it has long been clear that our arms control mechanisms, even if they were still functioning properly, are somewhat outdated and eroded. They’ve fallen behind developments in technology and logistics, for example regarding the current deployability of troops and military assets.

Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined how rapidly troops can be assembled and heavy military equipment deployed over long distances.

We want arms control agreements in place that create transparency, trust and, ultimately, equilibrium – but at low levels, not leaving us armed to the teeth like during the Cold War.

We Germans must remain a force for peace, and we must work hard to prevent an arms race. However, to this end, we must also look at our own country’s policies.

As I mentioned earlier, after his Chancellorship Willy Brandt served as Chairman of an international board, the Brandt Commission on the North-South Divide.

The Brandt Commission’s final report included a very impressive finding: The military expenditure of only half a day would suffice to finance the whole malaria eradication programme of the World Health Organization.

I think this is food for thought.

These days, I suspect this funding could be secured with not even half a day’s, but maybe only half an hour’s, military expenditure.

I am sure the money we spend today on the military and military equipment could be used for much more than funding health programmes.

If we want to stop the spread of war, civil war, fundamentalism, Islamism and migration flows, this will ultimately not be possible without fighting hunger and poverty, as well as hardship and suffering, or without building hope and prospects for the future in the affected countries.

In Germany, too, there is currently a debate that’s not in any way tied to military policy aims, but is rather simply campaigning for certain military spending targets.

If these were implemented, it would lead to a doubling of our country’s military budget. According to the targets that the United States President would like us to meet, our country would spend 70 billion euros on military equipment.

The entire Federal Budget amounts to only 300 billion euros. Even France – which is a nuclear power, after all – spends “only” 40 billion on its military equipment.

What we actually need is much more money to spend on the fight against hunger, poverty and lagging development, as well as to fund education and research.

That is why we are proposing that, for every euro Germany spends on better equipment for the Bundeswehr – and it certainly does need equipment, that’s different from rearmament – at least an additional 1.5 euros be invested in crisis prevention, stabilisation and economic cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is also about how we – the countries of the world – approach these challenges. It’s about joint action and a collaborative effort. Indeed, it’s about charting a new course, in line with the policies of peace researchers such as Kennedy and Brandt, and others after them.

The first step is to build confidence. This will only happen if we revitalise our arms control mechanisms. It’s the first step toward disarmament and détente.

Thank you very much.

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