Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, Interlaken, 23 June 2014

Remarks by the NATO Deputy Secretary General Vershbow
  • Readiness Action Plan for the Summit
  • Arms control and disarmament agreements have not achieved their objectives
  • Pragmatic negotiation is the way forward
  • Trust is needed to make progress
  • Military escalation results in disastrous consequences
  • Trustful dialogue and consultation essential
Edited by Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch
This conference has become NATO’s largest regular outreach activity.
This is a critical time for the security of all our nations. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine these past few months has been a stark reminder that seemingly local events can have wider regional and even global consequences. NATO’s long-term aspiration remains the same – a true strategic partnership with Russia.  But as long as Russia favours confrontation over cooperation, we are forced to put that aspiration on hold.  Russia’s violations of its international obligations have made it impossible to conduct business as usual. In the face of Russia’s aggression, we have already bolstered our collective defence.  We are developing a Readiness Action Plan in time for our next NATO Summit in Wales in September.
Two years ago, at our last NATO Summit in Chicago, NATO leaders endorsed the Review of NATO’s Deterrence and Defence Posture. Allies and outside experts looked at how conventional, nuclear and missile defence forces interact.  We looked at the role of arms control and disarmament.   And we concluded that existing arms control and disarmament agreements “have not yet fully achieved their objectives, and the world continues to face proliferation crises, force concentration problems, and lack of transparency”.
One of the issues that we have sought to discuss with Russia was transparency on short-range nuclear weapons. We felt that the vast asymmetry in numbers between Russia and NATO would make negotiations about their reduction or eventual elimination difficult and protracted.  But we also felt that transparency measures would serve a most useful purpose: to enhance our security by building trust.  Regretfully, that trust is now at a new low. However, during the Cold War, we managed to make progress and concluded some far-reaching arms control agreements.  Such an approach – pragmatic, and without overblown expectations – might be the right way forward again now.
North Korea has been escalating its rhetoric and its threats to new levels.  We have seen some progress in the nuclear talks with Iran, but doubts remain about the prospects for a true breakthrough that addresses fundamental security concerns.  Next week is the UN Security Council deadline for the destruction of the most dangerous substances in Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.  While these substances may soon be removed from Syria, the destruction deadline is not likely to be met. It is challenging to make progress where there is no trust.  And this is the situation we are in with North Korea.  The only way our nations can move forward is by continuing to work to increase Pyongyang’s confidence in our motives, our objectives and our actions, and to demonstrate that, far from being exhausted, international diplomatic and political efforts can still produce concrete, positive results.
When it comes to WMD arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, NATO is not one of the most visible players.  But the Alliance does offer a unique forum for informal, off-the-record consultations among officials and experts from Allies, partners, and other nations and organisations. 
This year is the centennial of World War 1.  This anniversary should remind us all of the disastrous consequences of ill-conceived military escalation, and the true horror of chemical weapons. We have one big advantage over our forefathers a hundred years ago. We have effective multinational institutions, like the United Nations and NATO.  And we have a variety of frameworks for trustful dialogue and consultation – some big, some small, some formal and some less formal. This conference is a perfect example.  It offers us all a unique opportunity to shape the global non-proliferation and disarmament agendas, and to take them forward.  So let us seize that opportunity. 
Speech by President Burkhalter of the Swiss Confederation
  • Dialogue on disarmament must be inclusive
  • Need for a nuclear weapons convention
  • The logic of deterrence competes with the logic of disarmament
  • Nuclear weapons can’t be used in conformity with international humanitarian law
  • Need consolidated norms to provide security for all
  • NPT contains legal obligation on disarmament
Edited by Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch
We have offered to host this conference to underline our commitment to dialogue and cooperative security. NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme is a major platform for Switzerland to actively contribute to peace and stability on our continent. 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. By hosting this conference, Switzerland seeks to highlight its long-standing commitment to the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction.
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. 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 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.
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. 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.
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’. 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:
1. 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.
2. Additional nuclear-weapon-free zones should be encouraged
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.

3. 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.
4. The 2015 Review Conference of the NPT should adopt concrete benchmarks and timeframes
Such a measure could accelerate nuclear disarmament and turn the disarmament commitments of the Treaty and the 2010 Action Plan into reality.
5. The adoption 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. 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.

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.