“The future of nuclear weapons in a world of disorder” - Speech by Minister of State Niels Annenat the opening of the Berlin Security Dialogue

17.10.2018 - Speech

The future of nuclear weapons in a world of disorder is truly no laughing matter. Talking about disorder and atomic weapons in the same breath may evoke depressing thoughts in the minds of many of us.

Not shying away from such issues is a hallmark of the Gesellschaft für Sicherheitspolitik. Your focus is on non‑partisan and facts‑based exchange – a refreshing change of pace in the age of fake news and whateverism. Allow me therefore to thank you for inviting me to today’s Berlin Security Dialogue.

In his much noted Tiergarten speech on the future of the nuclear order, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas sketched out the direction of German foreign policy in this field. I would like to build on this and also flesh out a few points from his speech.

But allow me to say one thing before I do so: despite the tremendous upheavals that sometimes arouse a feeling of powerlessness in us – the future of nuclear weapons is not a question of inevitability. The future of the nuclear order emerges, and I believe this just as firmly as Heiko Maas, from our power to shape the future – from the power of dedicated multilateralists. This must be a guiding principle of German foreign policy, especially with regard to the question as to the future of nuclear weapons.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 2010, the five nuclear‑weapon states recognised in the Non‑Proliferation Treaty committed themselves to reducing the role and importance of their nuclear weapons in a joint action plan involving all the contracting parties.

2010 was one year after President Obama heralded a new spirit of optimism with Global Zero, his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. It was the time of the Russian‑American reset, when both sides announced that they would use New START to continue to reduce the number of operational nuclear warheads and launchers by a considerable margin. It was a time of courageous steps that spurred hopes – particularly here in Germany – of further progress in nuclear disarmament.

The nuclear order has suffered many shocks, however. Russia, our great neighbour in the east, not only violated fundamental principles of the international peace order by annexing Crimea. It also rendered obsolete the Budapest Memorandum, a crystal‑clear security guarantee that nuclear‑weapon states such as Ukraine gave in 1994 in exchange for renouncing their own nuclear arsenals. We cannot foresee today whether states flirting with nuclear weapons in the future will learn unwholesome lessons from this broken promise.

Trusting in the value of agreements is the basis for any political resolution of conflicts. The Iran nuclear deal is not only the result of years of hard diplomatic work, but also – beyond a shadow of a doubt – ensures greater security in the region, and greater security in Europe. For all its imperfections, it symbolised the success of committed multilateralists, strengthening the system of nuclear non‑proliferation. This is the view taken by almost all of the members of the international community.

This is why President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement is not only a setback for all those seeking a solution to one of the toughest crises in the area of proliferation, but also weakens confidence in the promises of the more powerful and bolsters all states that are already distrustful – or, even worse, contemptuous – of the idea of cooperative security. Nowhere can the loss of credibility cause greater damage than in the area of nuclear agreements.

And this is why it is so important to preserve the agreement. We need tangible solutions here, for example to keep payment channels open and to enable trade with Iran to continue. We’re working on this issue in close coordination with France and the UK – a test for Europe and international non‑proliferation diplomacy alike.

Developments in North Korea, which we continue to follow with baited breath, also clearly demonstrate the opportunities and crises of multilateralism. When Kim Jong Un took over from his father in 2011, almost all of the experts believed that North Korea was far from mastering nuclear weapons and carrier technology. But virtually none of the experts was able to predict the determination with which Kim was to advance his nuclear and missile programme. Four nuclear tests that turned out to be successful and no fewer than 120 missile tests – most recently with intercontinental range – followed. They were accompanied, but never stopped, by a sanctions regime that became increasingly intense, but which has been repeatedly undermined to this day.

The volatility of this crisis must give us cause for alarm. When the rhetoric between Chairman Kim and President Trump reached a crescendo one year ago, a military scenario didn’t appear to be out of the question. Today, North Korea is negotiating with the US and is showing its determination, also with South Korea, to open a new chapter in the relations between both countries. The North Korean ruler appears to be the one calling the shots here.

I want to state very clearly here that the rapprochement between North and South Korea that we have witnessed in recent months is a most welcome and encouraging development. It will help to build trust between the two sides, and it could lay the foundation for a new relationship between the two Koreas. For who, if not us Germans, cares as deeply about the hopes of a divided nation?

However, there will be no lasting peace or stability in the region without a complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of the North Korean nuclear weapons programme. This why the core issue of North Korea’s denuclearisation cannot be postponed. Substantial – not only symbolic – steps must be taken in order to create confidence in North Korea’s willingness to denuclearise.

The dialogue between the US and North Korea presents an opportunity here – if the pressure on North Korea is kept up. Preserving the exemplary unity of the international community at the beginning of the year is a key task for committed multilateralists in order to actually get North Korea onto the path of denuclearisation. Germany will work hard to achieve this and stands ready, together with other states and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to contribute its expertise and experience to any viable process seeking to ensure that North Korea abandons its nuclear programme.

Accepting North Korea as a nuclear power – the first for 40 years and the only one to achieve this goal in violation of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty – would deal a severe blow to the foundations of the nuclear order. It would reward a state that has flaunted international law for years and systematically ignored the decisions of the Security Council. It would entail immense risks of proliferation in perpetuity that would emanate from a politically isolated and impoverished country, but one that has nuclear weapons. And it would inevitably fuel the bid to rearm in the Asia‑Pacific region. Already today, we can see how the expansion of American missile defence systems in the light of the North Korean threat is furnishing China with further justification to expand its second‑strike capability – by modernising its submarine forces as well as by developing nuclear multiple warheads.

Ladies and gentlemen,

China’s rise has already complicated the balance of strategic stability, and it is not so much China’s nuclear weapons that are giving people cause for concern. Pointing to its categorical “no” to any form of a nuclear first strike, its reduced operational readiness owing to the separate storage of warheads and carriers and a stable nuclear arsenal, China claims to be a particularly responsible nuclear‑weapons state. However, its development of new technologies and strategic capabilities in particular is a cause for concern. Relations between the major powers are increasingly characterised by competition – great power competition is considered by the USA to be a central feature of the world order, one that is reflected accordingly in its National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Strategy.

Finding common rules for this global competition is not currently at the top of everyone’s agenda. However, this must be the thrust of a foreign policy geared towards reliability, predictability and the peaceful balancing of interests, one based on common rules and principles. And there is a great deal to be done in this area.

Technological developments and their impact on the mechanics of nuclear deterrence will pose major challenges for committed multilateralists in the coming years. After all, nuclear and conventional domains are, increasingly frequently, displaying technological and doctrinal overlaps. These interrelationships can give rise to scenarios and risks that we must identify and contain at an early stage.

The development and deployment of qualitatively new capabilities therefore challenge the certainties of nuclear deterrence. The idea of nuclear deterrence seems monstrous and questionable, and yet it was these certainties that ensured stability and military restraint in the past – in the Cold War between the superpowers, as well as between India and Pakistan, which waged three bloody conventional wars before becoming nuclear powers.

Qualitatively new systems create uncertainties here.

Ladies and gentlemen, these uncertainties must be taken into account. We shouldn’t be under any illusions here. Only the nuclear‑weapon states can – in dialogue with one another – find practical solutions to the risks arising from the overlap between nuclear and non‑nuclear technologies and operational doctrines. However, it is up to all committed multilateralists to raise awareness of this issue and to push for compliance with regulations. At the end of the day, risks in the nuclear field are truly issues that affect humanity at large.

In recent years in particular, Germany has demonstrated that, in cooperation with partners, it is able to steer issues of the future relating to disarmament and arms control in a multilateral direction. The impetus to renew conventional arms control in the OSCE is just as much a part of this as the work being done to outlaw fully autonomous weapons systems within the framework of the United Nations. We must also actively address issues of the future in the nuclear field – especially at a time when disarmament doesn’t appear to be on the cards. And we can only succeed here if we focus on dialogue with all sides – with nuclear‑weapon states and opponents of nuclear weapons alike.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Of course, it is the confrontation with Russia and its consequences in the nuclear field in particular that must give us cause for concern in Europe. Not only has Russia demonstrated in Ukraine that it is prepared to flaunt international law and deploy military means to assert its own interests, but it is making no secret of the fact that it is building up its nuclear and conventional arsenal, as well as, increasingly, its cyber capabilities.

In March, in his State of the Union address, President Putin announced the development of new strategic systems – systems that, while they initially smack of science fiction, we must expect to become operational in the coming years. These new systems do not undermine the existing treaty regimes in the nuclear field. However, their speed and unpredictability are intended to undermine NATO’s missile defence and pose significant challenges to early warning systems and decision‑making processes.

At the same time, Russia is expanding its non‑strategic nuclear arsenal, which has involved stationing nuclear-capable, mobile and high-precision SS‑26 Stone missiles in Kaliningrad, right on the border to the European Union. It is using nuclear-capable sea-launched missiles, which it has stationed on corvettes in the Black Sea, in the war in Syria. Russia is also conducting exercises with increasingly large contingents of troops to rehearse scenarios involving both conventional and nuclear components. All of the developments have an immediate impact on our security.

For its part, the US revised its nuclear strategy at the start of the year, unambiguously spelling out a reassessment of the security-policy environment and placing greater importance on nuclear deterrence once again in view of the dynamic development of capability in Russia and China. Preventing conflicts and most importantly any use of nuclear weapons remains the express aim.

The fact that the revised nuclear strategy came in for a certain amount of criticism in the US is something I regard as important and as a sign of a functioning democracy. All amendments were discussed by experts and in meetings of the two chambers’ committees and the Trump Administration’s strategy was compared with the visionary goals under Obama. There is no doubt that the political role of nuclear weapons and the concept of nuclear deterrence are regarded as more important once again.

However, it would be wrong to see this as lack of continuity. Even in 2010, at the time of the reset, NATO affirmed in its Strategic Concept that it will remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist and that deterrence remains a core element of the Alliance’s collective defence and its members’ indivisible security.

The role of NATO’s nuclear posture is primarily a political one. Its core task is to preserve peace, fend off coercion and deter aggression.

NATO sees the use of nuclear weapons as an extremely unlikely scenario. Preventing their use is the main idea of nuclear deterrence. And in view of the shift to the right in Europe and the US, we must ensure that this remains the case.

Certainly there were times when we thought we had left all that behind us and moved on. After the Cold War, Russia and the US significantly reduced their nuclear posture and destroyed large stockpiles. Germany supported the decommissioning of Russian nuclear submarines and the disposal of Russian nuclear waste by providing large amounts of funding.

However, the reality is that the security-policy environment has deteriorated considerably since the start of the new millennium. Russia’s conduct in Eastern Europe is a cause of grave concern to our closest allies and neighbours. It would be negligent and wrong to ignore this or to dismiss it as hysteria.

The only response can be a policy that expresses clear expectations of Russia and calls on it to change its conduct, but also shows ways to cooperate with the country. We must take the needs of all Europeans – those of the Baltic states and Poland, as well as those of the western countries – into account.

The tense security-policy environment in Europe led Heiko Maas to resume the high-level security policy dialogue with Russia at State Secretary level. We want to make progress on this in the coming months. Transparency, arms-control commitments and risk reduction are topics on which we have critical questions for Russia, but also areas where we can rebuild trust. In any case, dialogue with Russia – a dialogue we in fact launched in the conventional sector back in 2016 under Germany’s Chairmanship of the OSCE – is the only solution to the dangerous combination of armament and mistrust and the only way we can balance legitimate security interests.

Maintaining US-Russian agreements in the strategic field, in the INF Treaty and the New START, is of particular importance here for the US and Russia, but especially for us Europeans, as these two treaties are crucial to Europe’s security. The INF Treaty eliminated ground-based medium-range missiles and cruise missiles, which posed a direct threat to us. And these missiles have not been replaced by other weapons. The New START limits the number of deployable strategic nuclear arms and creates a high level of transparency through its verification system, which also works in crisis situations. The sensitive balance of strategic stability between the US and Russia also protects and stabilises Europe as a territory between these two nations.

This framework, which is based on both sides’ interests, is now in danger. Serious allegations that Russia has violated the INF Treaty remain unanswered to this day. That is why in our own security interest, we Europeans must call for this treaty to be upheld and adhered to. The INF Treaty situation could have a domino effect on the new START. However, we need both treaties in order to preserve the sensitive strategic balance and to consolidate nuclear disarmament achievements. Arms control can only foster security if it is fully implemented. We cannot tolerate a risk of relapsing into an unregulated world and a nuclear arms race. This is not a trivial risk. It scares people. One only has to recall the mass protests against the NATO Double-Track Decision, NATO’s “offer of talks” to the Soviet Union that was combined with a rearmament threat.

I very much hope that any further talks agreed in HelsinkI between President Trump and President Putin will bring about the right progress. Given the strain on US‑Russia relations, that will not be easy. But even in the difficult days of the Cold War it proved possible to overcome obstacles and to take visionary steps towards disarmament and arms control. And we also need to keep reminding Washington and Moscow of that.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In his inimitable pithy style, the pacifist Albert Einstein once summed up what it meant to live in a nuclear age. “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought,” the Nobel laureate said, “but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

What we hear in these words is not pathos or pacifist alarmism, but rather a sobering description of something that became possible in the 20th century, namely the annihilation of millions and millions of people and of centuries of civilisation in a very short time.

It is not a contradiction to recognise the stabilising impact of nuclear deterrence, while at the same time stating clearly that we humans cannot accept this apocalyptic possibility on a permanent basis. In my opinion, global zero, the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, is not only a moral imperative, but also necessary from a realpolitik viewpoint. And the German Government supports this goal fully and unconditionally.

We share this goal with many others, particularly those who support, have signed or are already States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We are often asked why the German Government has not signed this treaty, which bans nuclear weapons and prohibits their deployment, ownership, stationing, stockpiling and sale under international law.

The answer is because we fear that this treaty will not help us to achieve the goal of global zero or facilitate practical steps towards nuclear disarmament, but instead possibly make them more difficult.

Even those who support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons admit that it will not eliminate a single nuclear warhead as long as none of the countries that have nuclear weapons are even toying with the idea of accession. And as a result, it will not reduce any of the nuclear threats that I have attempted to outline here. However, I want to make clear that it is an achievement on the part of ICAN to have put such an important topic back on the agenda.

That is the approach and goal of the German Government, and we will use our role as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to tackle these nuclear challenges and to explore the possibilities of gradual progress towards nuclear disarmament. Obviously, this can only be achieved through dialogue, and not confrontation, with the permanent members of the Security Council.

We are thus united in our goal, even if our approaches differ. Along with our partners in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative – a group of countries from all continents, including advocates and opponents of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – we are currently lobbying in the United Nations, and particularly the five permanent members of the Security Council, for the Non-Proliferation Treaty to be enhanced to mark the 50th anniversary of its entry into force in 2020.

After all, this treaty is, and will remain, the cornerstone of the global nuclear order. There is no doubt that without it, many more countries would now have nuclear weapons. We would not have such a high and universally recognised standard to safeguard against possible proliferation risks or an International Atomic Energy Agency, which was rightfully awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for its work. Nor would we have such a clear trend in civil reactor technology, which now largely works without the use of highly enriched uranium. And despite all the current challenges, we should not forget that the success story of the past 50 years also includes the decimation of nuclear arsenals compared with Cold War levels.

Ladies and gentlemen, these achievements illustrate how important it is to preserve the Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to make further progress towards nuclear disarmament on the basis of its universal applicability. This will pose a challenge to dedicated multilateralists in the coming two years. And it will require hard work by diplomats, as not all States Parties attach the same degree of importance to nuclear disarmament. But we can start working on several aspects.

Firstly, transparency and verification. Comprehensive disclosure of all countries’ nuclear arsenals and an answer to the practical question of how countries that do not have nuclear weapons can verify the dismantling of a nuclear warhead without finding out how to build a nuclear bomb themselves are importance foundations for concrete and verifiable disarmament steps in the future. We can already lay these foundations today. That is why we will conduct a joint exercise with France aimed at developing disarmament verification procedures that do justice to these complex requirements.

Secondly, security guarantees. I firmly believe that we need to work more on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in strategies, doctrines and political statements. In today’s security environment, it would already be a big step forward if the security guarantees that countries with nuclear weapons gave other countries in more stable times were renewed.

In the medium term, we need to go further. That requires political will. It requires the utmost efforts by dedicated multilateralists. And we can start with events like this one and with critical and open exchange.

On that note, I look forward to our discussion. Please feel free to ask me questions. Mr Lahl will kindly chair the discussion.


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