Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Conference on Disarmament

27.02.2023 - Speech

How can we speak about arms control and disarmament today?

Some might say this is simply futile, or even cynical, at a time when – while we are speaking – Ukrainian children are hiding in bomb shelters and pensioners are freezing because Russian missiles have destroyed entire cities’ heating systems.

For one year, Russia has been violating the most fundamental principles of the UN Charter and international law – using force and using weapons.

Russia is undermining the arms control architecture we all depend on.

But at exactly this moment, speaking about arms control and disarmament is more important than ever.

And yes, I hear those who ask: How can you call for arms control when you, yourself, are arming Ukraine for its self-defence?

My clear answer is: Yes, there is a difference, because we are supporting Ukraine for its self-defence.

And because both serve the same goal:

To uphold a world governed by international law and the UN Charter.

A world in which common rules, and not brute force, guide relations between sovereign nations.

Our arms control architecture serves precisely that purpose: to provide us with common rules that make us all safer.

Germany therefore remains as committed to arms control as we are to supporting Ukraine.

Arms control does not contradict our deterrence and defence. It complements it.

That’s why now is the time to double down on it – not despite, but because of, Russia’s war.

Four points are crucial in my view.

First, when we look at the state of the world today, it’s clear we have to do all we can to reduce risk and preserve our arms control architecture.

Last week, President Putin announced that Russia would suspend its participation in New START – the last existing pillar of nuclear arms control between the United States and Russia.

New START is a bilateral treaty – but it is also a guarantor of global stability and security for every state on this planet.

President Putin’s announcement is irresponsible.

And it is only the latest blow that Russia has dealt to our arms control architecture – to the Budapest Memorandum, to the OSCE, to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Russia has to honour what it proclaimed together with the other P5 countries in January 2022: that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

So let us jointly urge President Putin to return to New START and resume dialogue on the treaty with the United States.

I strongly believe this is in the interest of all of us, across the world.

Russia’s war has been a terrible setback – but we will not give up on our goal of a secure world free of nuclear weapons.

That is what all of the members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed up to.

And that is why we also acknowledge efforts within the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But if we want to make progress towards that goal, we also have to look at dangerous proliferation crises in the Middle East and in Asia. That is my second point.

I have to say that, at a moment when we are facing the terrible consequences of Russia’s war, it deeply worries me to see reports coming from Iran about uranium enriched to 84 percent.

Iran has made clear commitments – and it has to live up to them. That is what, together with our partners, our diplomacy is working for.

We are also standing side by side with our partners against North Korea’s illegal nuclear programme.

We have all seen how North Korea has been threatening the region and international security with ever more reckless missile tests during the last weeks and months.

We are convinced that the Security Council needs to take further action in response.

Third, let us also look beyond today’s threats – at the risks of tomorrow coming from new technologies.

We are already witnessing how cyberattacks on hospitals, airports or electricity grids can paralyse whole societies and risk unintended escalation between states.

And we are entering a world where artificial intelligence could create fully autonomous weapon systems, where “killer robots” could shoot at tanks, planes or other targets without human control.

What we need is clear rules for responsible behaviour, so that we can ensure our security in these new domains.

And that means that new weapons must be ultimately controlled by humans – not by algorithms.

Fourth, we can protect the lives of millions by making progress on humanitarian arms control.

Anti-personnel mines kill and maim thousands of people every year – even decades after the fighting has ended.

In Angola, for example, 17 percent of the population is still living in areas contaminated by mines – and 80,000 Angolans have been killed or hurt by mines in the last decades.

Too often, the victims are children who, while just playing outside, like our children, suddenly step on mines – on their way to school, while playing football, on their way home – suffering the most terrible injuries.

In Colombia, the Red Cross has documented how such horrible accidents terrorise entire communities and lead to suicides.

Because when daughters, sisters and brothers are mutilated or killed, when families can no longer farm their land that is full of mines – what kind of a life is that?

Anti-personnel mines slash open wounds that bleed for generations, claiming bodies and souls.

That is why we, during our Presidency of the Ottawa Convention this year, will not cease to push for a world free of anti-personnel mines.

We live in difficult times, but we must always face up to our responsibilities to act where we can.

And I call on the states remaining outside the Convention to ratify it, to take a universal stand against this cruel weapon targeting civilians – even decades after wars.

Ladies and gentlemen,

An example like the Ottawa Convention shows:

Arms control helps save the lives of men, women and children – it brings more security to communities around the world.

Arms control and disarmament are key pillars of an international order that we must defend today more staunchly than ever:

Our common rules, our UN Charter, our international law.

It falls to us to protect them – so that they can protect us.


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