Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation

Bern, 23.06.2014 - Interlaken, 23.06.2014 - Speech by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Didier Burkhalter - Check against delivery

Mr Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Interlaken. And happy birthday!

I was told that this is the 10th anniversary of this conference. It is a privilege and pleasure for Switzerland to host this important event.

We have offered to host this conference to underline our commitment to dialogue and cooperative security. NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme, which was created 20 years ago, is a major platform for Switzerland to actively contribute to peace and stability on our continent.

This conference has become one of NATO’s most prominent outreach events. It underlines the important role of the Alliance and its network of partners in the area of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

The conference provides a useful informal setting for a dialogue among NATO allies, partner states and other countries across the globe on challenges related to weapons of mass destruction. Inclusiveness has been a hallmark of these meetings. This is one of the reasons why Switzerland, with its neutral status, has been actively involved.

We have a common interest to foster dialogue. In order to make progress on disarmament and non-proliferation, this dialogue must be inclusive. Our view is that a country like Russia should have been invited to this conference, despite divergent views on the Ukraine crisis.

As Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, I am fully aware that these are challenging times for security and cooperation in Europe. But I am convinced that dialogue is the only way forward to resolve our differences. And it is my firm belief that the current differences should not prevent us from cooperating in those (numerous) fields where common interests remain.

Let me just mention two examples with regard to weapons of mass destruction: the Iranian nuclear issue, and the efforts to convene a conference on the establishment of a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Common progress on these matters would also help re-build confidence elsewhere.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By hosting this conference, Switzerland seeks to highlight its long-standing commitment to the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction.

The human suffering of the Syrian people following the use of chemical weapons reminded us that there is a moral duty to prevent any future use of weapons of mass destruction. The strong response by the international community was a clear message of zero tolerance.

We expect Syria to comply fully with its obligations as a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and as a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, as well as with the demands set out in Security Council resolution 2118. We commend the efforts of both the OPCW (and its Director-General Üzümcü) and the United Nations.

The Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention are landmark treaties for international and human security. We must pursue our efforts to make them universal and to adapt these treaty regimes to new challenges such as developments in the area of life sciences.

But what about nuclear weapons?

To this day, there is no nuclear weapons convention to complement the chemical and biological conventions. Within the debates on weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear issue is obviously the most controversial one.

Although many states embrace the logic of nuclear disarmament, progress has remained more limited than many of us would wish. There is a logic of deterrence that continues to compete with the logic of disarmament. As long as this competition between two nuclear logics persists, the vision of ‘global zero’ will remain just that – a vision.

I sometimes get the impression that both communities have entrenched themselves in their own logic. There are those who argue that we will not be truly safe as long as nuclear weapons exist. Others, by contrast, underline that nuclear weapons enhance the security of countries and reduce the risk of conventional warfare.

Switzerland is firmly committed to nuclear disarmament. But I am convinced that the dynamics of disarmament are much likelier to prevail if the concerns of the deterrence camp are actually taken into account in disarmament strategies. There is a need for more dialogue and bridge-building between these different logics.

Why does Switzerland call for disarmament through dialogue and bridge-building?

The answer has two parts:

First, we consider the case for nuclear disarmament compelling. Indeed, we are very committed to promoting it. As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a real risk that they will be used again one day.

Hundreds of nuclear weapons are on high alert ready for launch within minutes. Some nuclear weapons are based in unstable regions. There is also the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists.

Nuclear deterrence may not have failed in the past, but the future use of these weapons – whether accidental, deliberate or due to an error of calculation – cannot be excluded.

In this sense, nuclear weapons pose a threat to the security of humankind. Switzerland has been actively involved in efforts to draw attention to the devastating consequences that any use of these weapons would have. It is difficult to envisage how nuclear weapons could be used in conformity with international humanitarian law. This humanitarian perspective provides a strong narrative both for disarmament and for tough action on non-proliferation and nuclear security.

The second part of the answer as to why Switzerland calls for disarmament through dialogue is this:

Approaching “global zero” will not be possible unless we find convincing ways of addressing the security considerations of nuclear-armed countries. A particularly important point in this regard is the need to come up with credible concepts for security and stability in a post-nuclear weapons world.

This requires measures such as a strengthening of cooperative security frameworks. We need more solid institutional arrangements to manage power relations, and we need consolidated norms to provide security for all of us and for future generations.

I am thinking, above all, of frameworks like the OSCE, which are inclusive and provide for both dialogue and common action on the ground to advance stability.

Together with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (and building on the work done by others in recent years), Switzerland has launched a project on “Security in a World without Nuclear Weapons”.

These are complex issues, but it is in the disarmament community’s interest to help provide for credible and creative answers if we want to see progress towards “global zero”.

Ladies and gentlemen

Promoting disarmament through dialogue and building bridges is an important component of Switzerland’s nuclear disarmament policy. Shaped by a domestic culture of dialogue and inclusiveness, Switzerland seeks to build bridges between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear states (as well as between different groups of non-nuclear states). For such a dialogue to work, it must be a two-way street, which is why we ask the P5 to participate in all relevant discussions.

Our disarmament policy obviously has further components. Let me point out five aspects that I consider particularly important:

First, no additional state should be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. The international community needs to be firm on this point. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat to international peace and security. It is essential that we strengthen the credibility of the non-proliferation regime. This also includes implementing measures to prevent non-state actors from acquiring these weapons or sensitive nuclear materials.

Second, we need to encourage the creation of additional nuclear-weapon-free zones. They are the building blocks of a world without nuclear weapons. Switzerland supports the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We remain committed to supporting the tireless efforts of the Finnish facilitator, Undersecretary of State Laajava.

We also should explore how cooperation among existing nuclear-weapon-free zones can be enhanced.

Third, the risks associated with existing nuclear arsenals must be reduced. Together with Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand and Nigeria, Switzerland will again table a resolution in the UN General Assembly this year on reducing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons.

We also need to make progress on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines. Switzerland proposes that the nuclear-armed states should adopt a voluntary declaratory policy of sole purpose, that is to limit the role of nuclear weapons to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others.

Fourth, in order to accelerate nuclear disarmament, the 2015 Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty should adopt concrete benchmarks and timeframes to turn the disarmament commitments of the Treaty and the 2010 Action Plan into reality.

Finally, and fifth, there is the issue of additional legally binding instruments to advance nuclear disarmament. Switzerland is in favour of starting negotiations on a treaty prohibiting the production of fissile material. We also wish to explore other options for complementing the legal framework. This should be done in an ambitious “step-by-step” approach where blockages on one issue will not lead to inaction on all other possible steps.

In this context, it is important to revitalise the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Switzerland has done much to establish Geneva as a hub for states, international organisations and civil society to meet in order to develop innovative approaches to advance nuclear disarmament. This sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body worldwide holds much potential – if we have the political will to use it.

The recent proposals put forward by the Acting Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament merit further discussion. I am thinking in particular of the idea of framework conventions built around identified areas of common ground or of the idea of politically binding regimes. Both ideas should be carefully examined.

Ladies and gentlemen

The bottom-line of my message to you today is this: We will only be able to substantially progress in disarmament through dialogue and efforts to build bridges. The case for disarmament is strong. The NPT even contains a legal obligation in this regard. But it needs creative ideas and an inclusive effort if we are to collectively advance towards a world without nuclear weapons.

It is my hope that this conference can make a useful contribution to this end. I wish you fruitful discussions and a pleasant stay here in Interlaken.

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