Opening Remarks: The future of arms control

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, dear guests, friends and allies of Heinrich Böll Foundation, warm welcome to all of you on behalf of the organizers. We feel honored that so many experts have accepted this invitation. We are explicitly pleased to see speakers from so many countries with us, representing a plurality of voices, perspectives and interests, which all have to be included into a renewed arms control regime. We are also thankful for the participation of representatives of embassies, think tanks, parliamentary groups, other foundations and the German Foreign Office.

This conference is dealing with a subject still very central to Green politics. The anti-nuclear movement and the struggle for disarmament in West and East have been a vital force for the breakthrough of the German Green in the early 80ies. We explicitly are referring to that tradition while exploring the new challenges for arms control policies after the end of the old bipolar system. Obviously, the fall of the Berlin wall didn’t lead into a new era of peace & collective security, but to new frictions and conflicts.

That is why we conceptualized this event with a renowned German Peace and Security Research Institute from Hamburg, IFSH, and the Berlin-based Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP. We hope that this conference will provide us with an opportunity to figure out what steps should be taken to strengthen cooperative efforts in controlling and reducing military capabilities.

We will have to work together to prevent new wars and to reduce military capabilities in a balanced and cooperative way. The alternative would be uncontrolled military competition with all its risks and unintended side-effects. In today’s highly interdependent world and because of the destructive potential of modern weapons, this would be a highway to hell.

In a nutshell: this conference is not about wether arms control should be an option, but how arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament policies can be strengthened.

Syria: Why we need to talk about arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament today

The escalation of armed conflict in Syria painfully reminded us of the need to strengthen arms control and non-proliferation efforts. When we started planning for this conference, the Syrian war was still in its early stages. The massive use of chemical weapons against civilians is a stark warning signal of the potential consequences of weapons of mass destruction in the hand of ruthless actors. At the same time it’s obvious that the warfare only can continue because of the influx of weapons. Without military support by Russia and Iran the Assad-regime would be forced to negotiate.     

Beyond the immediate challenge of preventing the further use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond, it is already becoming clear that we need to rethink concepts of arms control. How can international cooperation be strengthened to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? How to prohibit the use of these weapons in internal conflicts? How could verification mechanisms be improved? And how to enforce compliance with international norms if the United Nations Security Council remains blocked? All of these questions are of immediate importance in the context of Syria, but will continue to be discussed in other contexts as well.

European security

The conflict in Syria has also demonstrated how far apart the West and Russia are on key issues of international security. The G20-meeting in Saint Petersburg only confirmed the collision course between the two nuclear super powers in terms of security policy. Russia and the USA are to some extent at the crossroads when we judge Obama's and Putin's assessment of the Syrian war and the way the international community should deal with the ongoing bloodshed. Unfortunately, the renewed power struggle between Russia and the US is not limited to Syria. It may undermine global security cooperation and the international arms control regime on a much broader scale.

President Obama had hoped that before his term ended U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons could be limited to ceilings of about 1,000 warheads for each country. That was going to be hard to achieve anyway, given disputes over U.S. ballistic-missile defense programs and Russian short-range nuclear weapons. Now the odds are against any U.S.-Russian treaty calling for deeper reductions than those already achieved in the 2011 New Start treaty during the remaining years of the Obama administration.

Mutual assured destruction, the essence of deterrence policy during the Cold War, unfortunately seems to remain a corner stone of security architecture in the 21st century. It may remain so for as long as thousands of nuclear weapons continue to exist. Ninety percent of those nuclear warheads are held by the United States and Russia. So, yes, the deterioration of US-Russia relations makes a difference.

The new stalemate already has had an impact on efforts to reduce armaments through cooperative arms control approach in Europe. Differences over missile defenses are the most visible example that cooperation is increasingly replaced by competition. It is obvious that Cold War type arms control, with its goal to establish strategic balances is no longer adequate.

Other regional perspectives/ new actors

Our European perspective on arms control is still shaped by the experience of the Cold War. In other regions, different experiences and different priorities shape arms control approaches. Regional conflicts in regions such the Middle East and Asia require arms control approaches that may draw lessons from Europe’s experience but will likely be much different. The remaining strategic rivalry between Russia and the US is part of a much broader global security theatre with more and more new actors, who are following their own agenda and interests.

One of the trends that can be observed is that it is no longer only governments that negotiate and implement arms control agreements. The ban on anti-personal landmines, the convention on cluster munitions and the arms trade treaty all would not have been possible without civil society initiatives. Whether and how these instruments from small arms control can be transferred to other areas, is another issue we would like to discuss with you.

Finally, as important the transformation of Russia-US rivalry into a more cooperative relationship may be, it’s clear that we have to go forward to a renewed multilateral, multi-level system of arms control and disarmament based on equal rights and equally binding rules for old and new powers. Otherwise we risk stumbling into a very dangerous period of instability on a global scale. The current Syrian conflict should be perceived as an urgent warning that things may spiral out of control.