Speech by Heiko Maas: “The future of the nuclear order – challenges for diplomacy”

27.06.2018 - Speech

Speech of the Foreign Minister at the Tiergarten Conference of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Kurt Beck,

Members of the Bundestag – current incumbents and veterans,

Ladies and gentlemen,

To talk about nuclear order at this time – there are some who’ll say there is a certain amount of irony in that. Looking at the world today, even the greatest optimist would be hard pressed to talk about order at all. We are experiencing the exact opposite at the moment:

  • The United States has withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran, thereby jeopardising a milestone of multilateral conflict resolution – with unforeseeable consequences for the region, for our wider neighbourhood and thus for European and German security.
  • Russia is making no secret of the fact that it is building up its nuclear and conventional arsenal, as well as, increasingly, its cyber capabilities. The other nuclear powers, too, are investing ever greater sums in modernising their nuclear weapons. The recently published SIPRI Annual Review is a sobering read on that score.
  • And at the same time, the international community cannot even respond as we need to when weapons of mass destruction are used that we had already collectively forsworn nearly a hundred years ago. We need only think of the unbearable images from the incidents where chemical weapons were used in Syria.

To listen to the critics, one apparently has to be out of touch to even talk about disarmament with the world in its current state. It’s a typical German aberration, they say – fed either by nostalgic idealisation of 1970s peace policy or by an underhand desire to distract attention from our own shortcomings in military hardware.

All I can say is that such talk, I am convinced, reveals a failure to recognise the true gravity of the situation. They fail to take into account that, in a world which is indeed more complex and chaotic today than during the Cold War, it is actually more important than ever to do all we can to prevent the collapse of the international order on which our peace and security are built. And I direct these remarks not only westwards or eastwards but also to those in Germany itself who, for purely domestic political reasons, are joining in with the valediction to well‑ordered multilateralism.

Maintaining a stable architecture for disarmament, arms control and non‑proliferation is not a passing fad; it is a matter of survival for all of humanity!

I am under no illusions about the difficulties involved, nor about the influence that a country of Germany’s size can hope to exert. But I simply refuse to equate difficulties with inaction. There is just far too much at stake right now, here as elsewhere, for us to do nothing.

It is therefore right and proper, and truly appropriate to the times, for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung to use the 50th anniversary of the NPT to put the future of the nuclear order on the agenda. I would be glad if other people would do so with the same degree of dedication sometimes.

For all the crises in the world today, we shouldn’t forget that having a Non‑Proliferation Treaty for these last 50 years has chiefly been a success story.

Back in the 1960s, when the NPT came into being, the global spread of nuclear weapons was a very real danger. The NPT averted that danger. There is no doubt that, without the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the number of nuclear-weapon states would be much higher and our peace would be in much greater jeopardy.

This makes me all the more concerned to see the NPT, a crucial cornerstone of our peace and security architecture, thrown into really deep crisis today.

The crisis lies not only in the inadequate level of nuclear disarmament, which fuelled demand for a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. It also lies in the amount of respect that key political players have for the nuclear order these days and will have in future.

The foundation of any international order is trust. It follows that the ultimate objective of our policy must be to restore the trust that has been lost: trust that international rules are valid, that treaties will be reliably adhered to and that a promise made today won’t be revoked by tweet tomorrow.

A policy that fosters predictability, that champions reliability in the broadest sense – that must be our answer to the policy of deliberate destabilisation and zero‑sum thinking. We need to meet nationalism and isolationism with cooperation and dialogue.

As Willy Brandt put it when he received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, where there is redemptive cooperation, there peace will be found and there too, in time, trust will grow.

For Germany today – and when I say Germany, I mean by extension Europe too – that translates into three major tasks:

Firstly, we need to work in accordance with international law to defuse the acute proliferation crises surrounding North Korea and Iran, which are jeopardising peace and security across the globe.

Secondly, we need to employ judicious diplomacy to help dispel the dangerous lack of communication between the two big nuclear-weapon powers, the US and Russia.

And thirdly, we Europeans need to generate fresh momentum to make sure we don’t entirely lose sight of the goal of a peaceful, secure world free of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear deal with Iran showcases the opportunities but also the current crisis of multilateralism. Of course the deal isn’t perfect. Nobody ever claimed it was, least of all those who took part in the negotiations. But without it, the region would be considerably less safe. Thanks to the JCPOA, we have succeeded in at least containing the risk of an open confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme that would have had unforeseeable consequences not only for the region but for Europe too. And thanks to the close monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, we can verify that Iran’s nuclear programme is being exclusively used for peaceful purposes.

For these reasons, I consider it a cardinal error in terms of foreign and security policy for the United States, or rather President Trump, to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA. Not only that – Washington’s decision creates major challenges for multilateralism and the nuclear non‑proliferation regime as a whole. After all, the deal was unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council.

Faced with this situation, we in Europe have decided with great unity that we want to uphold the deal. To that end, what we need to do – and what we are working very hard on right now – is to make sure it remains in Iran’s interest to stick to the deal. We are working with our EU partners on ways to maintain economic exchange with Iran in spite of the reinstated US sanctions – however difficult that may prove – since that was the main benefit to Iran of agreeing to the deal in the first place.

Let me be clear: this is not a matter of people having different attitudes towards Iran. Iran and its ballistic missile programme, the role it is playing in the region, particularly what it is up to in Syria – all of this is anything but acceptable. But the point is that getting rid of the framework of security that the JCPOA represents wouldn’t help; in fact, it would make it much harder to address those problems successfully.

While Iran has at least kept to the conditions of the JCPOA so far, North Korea has unscrupulously defied dozens of Security Council resolutions.

Like the dispute with Iran, however, the conflict with North Korea can only be resolved through politics.

President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore was a first step in that direction and a welcome change from the rising tensions of recent months.

But it now needs to be followed by more, visible progress towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea. Germany, as we have assured the parties involved, stands ready to contribute its technical expertise to that endeavour.

The ultimate goal must be to strengthen the NPT and the global nuclear order.

Sanctions can therefore only be eased if North Korea takes verifiable steps to return to the realm of international law and the nuclear order.

To ease sanctions before it does so would send entirely the wrong message that would resonate well beyond East Asia. We would be rewarding North Korea after it had violated international law countless times and indeed acquired nuclear weapons illegally – and this while the US sanctioned Iran, after the latter had verifiably changed course before building a bomb and submitted to an unprecedented international transparency regime.

That mustn’t be allowed to happen, particularly in view of the comparison it elicits. Such a contradiction would be another massive blow to the nuclear order established in 1968.

Germany has a special responsibility here in my view, not least since it will have a seat on the 2019‑2020 UN Security Council. That seat will give us new opportunities, but it also comes with a responsibility to actively help find solutions for the proliferation dossiers the Security Council handles. We also want to use our time on the Security Council to advocate the non‑proliferation of small arms and advanced weapon systems – building not least on our own work in this field.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Appreciable progress on nuclear disarmament is inextricably linked with improvement of US‑Russian relations.

The United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, the transatlantic trade dispute and the G7 summit that was more of a G6+1 summit – all these things have undermined trust in the western world order and confronted us with a number of questions with regard to transatlantic relations.

Our focus therefore really must be on recalibrating the transatlantic partnership – not with the aim of abandoning it, but rather to preserve it in a changed global situation. After all, the US remains our closest foreign and security policy partner outside the EU. We are therefore seeking a new, balanced partnership with the US within changed parameters:

  • by cooperating closely on matters where our values and interests coincide;
  • by acting as a counterweight in cases where we think the US is crossing red lines, e.g. by maintaining the JCPOA with Iran;
  • and by assuming our share of responsibility as Europeans in those areas where the US is reducing its partnership role.

This is particularly the case with regard to our own security in Europe. And I will say – it’s no secret – that Germany is going to have to do more than it used to. Only if we create a real European Security and Defence Union will we be able to successfully implement EU foreign policy geared to peace and security. Strong defence capabilities and strong diplomacy are two means of pursuing the same objective, namely to prevent war. There’s another thing Willy Brandt articulated well.

A lot of the tremors in and around Europe have been growing stronger in recent years.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its ongoing interference in eastern Ukraine have greatly shaken people’s trust in its commitment to the European security order and to international treaties. At the same time, Russia has been expanding its non‑strategic nuclear arsenal, which has involved stationing nuclear-capable SS‑26 missiles in Kaliningrad, right on the border to the European Union. That directly affects our security.

It would therefore be reckless of us to ignore it or to dismiss concerns about it, particularly in the eastern EU countries, as nothing but hysteria.

Really, the only possible answer is a European Ostpolitik – policy that clearly articulates what we require from Russia while also identifying ways for us to work with Russia. It must take into account the needs of all Europeans – those of the Baltic states and Poland, as well as those of the western countries. We want to finally make progress on shaping such policy in the coming months. Transparency and closer cooperation on disarmament could be elements with which to regain lost trust. The only route out of this dangerous cocktail of rearmament and distrust goes via dialogue with Russia.

Of particular importance here is that the US‑Russian agreements on nuclear disarmament and arms control be upheld.

Russia must answer the serious allegations that it has violated the INF Treaty. Ending that treaty would have many negative consequences, not least for the New START Treaty, which we urgently need if we are to safeguard our achievements in nuclear disarmament beyond 2021. Without it, we risk regressing into an unbridled nuclear arms race, a phase we thought we had put well behind us.

I therefore hope that any talks that might take place between President Trump and President Putin are used to advance that agenda.

Given the strain on US‑Russia relations, none of this is going to be easy. But how much harder must it have been during the Cold War for Kennedy or Nixon, Brezhnev or Khrushchev, to take courageous steps towards disarmament and transparency? We need to keep reminding Washington and Moscow of that too.

As part of that, we want to reinstate the high‑level security dialogue with Russia, which I agreed with my Russian counterpart when I visited Moscow in May. It was suspended after the annexation of Crimea. At the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, too, I called for the NATO-Russia Council to finally be reconvened. At our initiative, it did then meet at the end of May, for the first time after a long hiatus. It needs to continue to place a strong focus on matters of risk reduction and transparency, and that it exactly what is being planned.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We also urgently need to make progress on conventional arms control.

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was a cornerstone of the European security architecture for decades but is now outdated and has indeed been suspended. The technological and military developments of recent decades are not reflected in the Treaty at all.

That is why we and 21 European partners have established a like‑minded group supporting a relaunch of conventional arms control, as well as initiating a Structured Dialogue within the OSCE on the security challenges facing Europe in precisely that field. The objective of both those initiatives is to comprehensively reshape the architecture of conventional arms control in Europe.

We will continue to pursue that endeavour most vigorously over the coming months, and happily there are many who want to join us on that journey. That is how trust is generated – the trust that is indispensable to our discussions on nuclear disarmament too.

Ladies and gentlemen,

How, then, can we move closer to the goal of bringing about peace and security in a world free of nuclear weapons?

Answering that question will take more than a vision or a reference in the coalition agreement. To achieve the goal of global zero, we will need tangible, realistic steps which foster trust over time. And although I am sure many of you here see this very differently, I am convinced that a ban treaty that rids the world of not one nuclear warhead, because the nuclear-weapon powers aren’t on board, will not help us get there.

On the contrary, the ban treaty risks weakening the Non‑Proliferation Treaty’s position as the keystone of our nuclear order and falling short of the verification standards that the NPT has established.

At a time when old certainties are unravelling, the disarmament and arms‑control architecture needs not only political leaders willing to find new ways of doing things but also the pressure of an electorate demanding that they do so.

As I see it, only closer integration, international partnerships, and new networks connecting politics, universities and think tanks will enable us to keep finding answers to the old and many new questions of arms control – and to generate the public pressure required to even get the subject back onto the agenda.

For that reason, the Federal Foreign Office decided just a few days ago to increase support for expertise on disarmament and arms control among postgraduate students and young academics. We want our country to remain at the cutting edge of thinking on disarmament and arms control.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I mentioned at the start how much of an optimist one has to be to even talk about “nuclear order” these days.

Amid all the well‑founded concern, however, there is something we ought to bear in mind: even the “redemptive cooperation” which Willy Brandt promoted so courageously began with lots of little steps. Some of the steps that we can take now will be discussed here today.

And as a realist, I would add that this is the only way of generating real trust. This is the only way that the world, complex though it is, might one day be ready to accept that only cooperation, not conflict, can bring about security.

Thank you!


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