Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the conference 2019 Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control

 Heiko Maas at the conference 2019 Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control

Heiko Maas at the conference 2019 Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control, © Florian Gaertner/photothek.net

15.03.2019 - Speech

We cannot hold a conference on new weapons systems this morning without also calling to mind what happened in New Zealand tonight and what weapons are capable of doing. Allow me at the beginning of this conference to say that – and we are unable to do any more than this at the present time – our thoughts are with the injured, as well as with the loved ones of the victims of this terrible attack.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The German chemist Fritz Haber conducted research into the synthesis of ammonia over 100 years ago. His discoveries paved the way to the mass production of artificial fertilisers and saved countless people from starvation.

In 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War, Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts.

Today, however, Fritz Haber is less well known for his work on the synthesis of ammonia. Instead, he is rather known as the “father of gas warfare”. With his knowledge about poisonous gases, he helped the German military leadership to deploy chlorine gas and phosgene during the First World War.

According to his contemporaries, he hoped that poisonous gas would bring the war more swiftly to a close and that thousands of lives would be saved. To this day, the burial grounds of Flanders testify to just how mistaken Fritz Haber turned out to be.

The conclusions that can be drawn from Fritz Haber’s tragic story are, unfortunately, more relevant today than ever.

Firstly, the curse and blessing of technological development simply lie cheek by jowl.

When talking here in Berlin today about new technologies and their impact on peace and security, then our focus cannot be on stifling or preventing technological development. This would be fatal for a country such as Germany as a high‑tech location and leading export nation.

Essentially, however, the question is whether we are in control of technology or whether, ultimately, it controls us. We are looking to find responses to this, and we are looking to find the right response.

Secondly, the hope that technological development will be able to contain wars is an illusion. This is far truer today than during the gas warfare in Flanders fields.

After all, many of these technologies penetrate political and legal grey areas in which the boundaries between right and wrong, between peace and conflict, become blurred.

Moreover, new technologies are far more susceptible to proliferation, manipulation and misuse than conventional weapons.

Hackers don’t need much more than a computer in order to carry out cyber attacks. And access to lethal pathogens, which can be misused as weapons, is much more difficult to control than a weapons or munitions depot.

The third conclusion is also the most alarming of all: our common systems of rules have almost always responded too late. They are not keeping pace with technological development and they therefore continue to be flawed.

It was only after tens of thousands of soldiers had died an agonising death as a result of poisonous gas in the First World War that the world stepped up to the plate and prohibited such weapons in 1925.

And a glance at Syria shows that even this taboo is being broken once again today in the most barbaric of ways.

If new technologies are capable today of revolutionising the development of weapons and warfare, then we face a most fundamental question, namely will we manage to act with foresight this time around? Or will our rules kick in too late once again – perhaps this time finally too late?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Doing nothing isn’t an option here. Our world of today has become far more complex and dangerous than was the case just a few short decades ago, even during the Cold War.

The rivalry between the great powers is no longer the purview of just two blocs. New players have entered the scene, first and foremost China. New theatres of conflict have also opened up – from space to cyberspace.

We’re often told that there’s no place for arms control at times of such tension. Statements along these lines are historically inaccurate in and of themselves.

Arms control regimes and disarmament have always started with the realisation that they have the capacity to contain rivalries in security policy and preserve mutual interests more effectively. The alternative are uncontrolled arms races.

There can be no stability without transparency, and no lasting peace without cooperation. Arms control should actually be realpolitik in the best sense of the word!

This realisation appears to be falling by the wayside with increasing frequency today, however.

  • Arms races are under way around the world.
  • The multilateral system appears paralysed.
  • The arms control architecture is crumbling. Its cornerstones – such as the INF Treaty and New START – are at risk of disintegrating.

This is why we are urging President Putin and also Sergey Lavrov to ensure that Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty. Its termination would have grave consequences for Europeans’ security. Worse still, as a result of infringements, trust, transparency and stability, which we have built up laboriously over decades, are at risk of being forfeited.

Despite these grave consequences – if we are realistic – prospects for the future of the INF Treaty look bleak. One reason for this, and it is important to bear this in mind, is that Moscow and Washington no longer want to have their hands tied while countries such as China, North Korea, India and Pakistan rearm especially with land‑based medium‑range missiles.

This example shows that we won’t get anywhere these days in a multipolar world with the bilateral logic of the Cold War. We have to acknowledge existing realities and adjust our rules accordingly. Players such as China must also take responsibility for strategic stability. And we must find solutions for the technological challenges of tomorrow. In a nutshell, we must rethink arms control.

And this can only succeed with dialogue. After all, if you’ll allow me to quote Stephen Hawking, “mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking and its greatest failures by not talking.”

  • This is why we will put the issue of nuclear non‑proliferation on the Security Council agenda when we assume the Presidency at the beginning of April. We want to take steps to counter the erosion of entire systems, also with a view to next year’s NPT Review Conference.
  • Indeed, dialogue is also needed especially as far as difficult players are concerned.
    I therefore welcome the willingness shown by the US to conduct talks with North Korea on the North Korean nuclear programme and also to continue these talks in spite of the difficult outcome recently. The Hanoi Summit was an important reality check. We now know where North Korea stands and that international sanctions have not missed the mark.
    Even more importantly, however, the talks touched on the central issue of the conflict, namely the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea. And we need a solution for this, because peace is at risk without such a solution.
    North Korea must therefore disarm not only in terms of rhetoric, but also enter into a credible process of denuclearisation.
    This is what we expect, above all also as Chair of the Sanctions Committee on North Korea in the UN Security Council.
  • Finally, we need a frank and serious dialogue on the future of arms control. This is what we intend to focus on here in Berlin today.
    We are of the opinion that a new start can only succeed if we work side by side – parliamentarians and government representatives, as well as think tanks, researchers, military experts and industry representatives.
    And I am particularly delighted to have got two committed advocates for this cause on board in the form of Margot Wallström and Stef Blok, who have played a prominent role on this issue also in the past.
    We will give expression today to our resolve to place the topic of arms control and new technologies on the international agenda in the form of a joint Political Declaration, and I’m most grateful to my colleagues for this.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s not my intention at all to pre‑empt any of the discussions that will be held here today. However, I would like at any rate to mention four tangible approaches to limiting these new threats to peace and stability. Four areas in which Germany is prepared to forge ahead together with everyone else.

Firstly, we need rules for autonomous weapons systems. Killer robots that lord over life and death on the basis of anonymous datasets and entirely beyond human control are already a frighteningly real prospect today.

This constitutes nothing less than an attack on humanity itself, on human dignity, and on the heart of our constitution.

However, ethical considerations aren’t the only thing that speak against such weapons. Fully autonomous weapons are susceptible to manipulation and also to miscalculation. Automatic escalations – “flash wars” – and arms races are virtually inevitable.

This is therefore a red line that we must not cross. We are committed to this in Geneva right now, and we want to make progress here this year. We want to enshrine the principle of effective human control over all lethal weapons systems at the international level, thereby taking a major step towards the global prohibition of fully autonomous weapons. We need your support for this.

My second point concerns the rapid development and proliferation of missile technology – all around the world. In the Middle East, non‑state actors already have access to short‑range missiles. Moreover, the capabilities and ranges of Iranian and North Korean missiles are more than disconcerting.

Add to this technological development. Manoeuvrable missiles travelling at many times the speed of sound barely leave time for considered human responses. The fact that we’re not just talking about science fiction here is demonstrated by Russia’s announcement that the first Avangard systems will be entering service this year.

I would therefore also like to seize this conference as an opportunity to establish an international missiles dialogue that takes into account both the challenges posed by new technologies and the dangers of their proliferation. The experts gathered here today could form the backbone of this kind of global Missile Dialogue Initiative.

To put it another way, we should think carefully about what we’re doing before opening Pandora’s box – and also about whether our rules are capable of responding to what lies in store for us.

A third area is security in cyberspace. The next war – if I may dare to make such a bold prediction today – will no longer be waged with mega bombs alone, but also with megabits and megabytes. Even bombs are now controlled in this way.

But what does this mean for transparency and for disarmament if the malicious object is nothing more than a code that can be copied and sent around the world in a flash?

We should start by addressing areas in which our common security interests are quite obvious.

  • No country can seriously want our highly interconnected world trade system to fall victim to cyber attacks.
  • No country can allow hackers to paralyse its banking system or manipulate payment channels.
  • And no country can stand idly by and allow cyber attacks to endanger international aviation.

Let us take these common interests as the starting point for articulating universal behavioural norms and standards in cyberspace.

We already have the necessary processes for this, in the UN, for example, and also in the OSCE.

What has been lacking so far is sincere political will. We must and we intend to change this – and we want to inject impetus into this today.

My fourth and last point touches on the opportunities and risks arising from biotechnology – and also from the revolution that biotech entails. It was impossible to predict any of the things that we are experiencing in this sector today when the Biological Weapons Convention entered into force in 1975.

We therefore need a sound security policy analysis of the risks of abuse and proliferation in biotechnology. We must take steps to prevent states, terrorists and criminals from using new procedures and free access to scientific research to endanger humanity at large with biological weapons.

For this, we need both science and industry. The Federal Government will therefore work to establish a permanent body of experts and scientists under the umbrella of the Biological Weapons Convention – one that clearly identifies risks and informs and advises states as to them.

We also need your support for this.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I mentioned Pandora’s box just now, and you will, of course, all be familiar with the saga about the ills of mankind that swarmed out of it.

What is less well known is the fact that the Greek gods had placed another thing inside the box, namely hope.

The hope that humanity will approach its accomplishments responsibly.

If there is one thing in international policy that gives expression to this hope, then it is disarmament and arms control. This is what we want to talk about today.

Great technological developments go hand in hand with great human responsibility. The responsibility for rethinking arms control – and putting it back on the international agenda at long last is part of this.

The time is ripe for doing just that.

Welcome! Thank you very much for coming.


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