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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Address at the 14th Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

The 14th Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation in Reykjavik, Iceland
29 October 2018
Address by H.E. Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Deputy Secretary General, Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you to Reykjavik. We are honoured to host the 14th NATO Annual Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

This annual Conference has been an important venue for dialogue between NATO and its partners on how to best take the arms control agenda forward for the benefit of peace and a safer world.

It is sometimes said that we in Iceland should not worry too much when it comes to the horrors of war, conflicts and acts of terrorism as Iceland enjoys the luxury of distance, far out in the ocean and not so accessible. I wish, this was true, but the reality is that no state in the global community has this luxury anymore, if there ever was one. This is why the subject matter of this conference is of great importance to us all.

Iceland is unique as it has no national armed forces. That does not mean that we are not realistic. We have chosen to membership in NATO, we have a bilateral defence agreement with the United States and are participating in Nordic Defence Cooperation. Iceland´s strategic location in the North Atlantic and the infrastructure we can offer to our Allies and Partners is our main contribution to safeguarding peace and security as is fundamental commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy (prosperity).

These principles are challenged every day in every corner of the world.
We have our own perspective on security developments in our region and the world. 
The new National Security Policy for Iceland from 2016, which enjoys cross-party support and sets the framework for the security and defence policy of our broadly-based coalition Government. This policy is certainly timely when we are facing growing instability and serious worldwide challenges to our common security.

In our part of the world it is important to underline that the game changer, the precursor to the growing threat to the European Security Architecture, the Russia´s readiness to use its modernized military forces unilaterally outside its borders, so aggressively reflected in Russia´s annexation of Crimea and its direct support for separatists in the Eastern-Ukraine. It goes without saying that we have seen this increased assertiveness of Russia and destructive behaviour in the field of arms control, disarmament and non – proliferation.

As reflected in our National Security Policy, where arms control is a key component, Iceland takes these attempts to undermine the existing arms control and disarmament arrangements very seriously. The accelerating negative trends regarding some of our most important agreements makes this conference particularly relevant. The need for preserving what we have in this field and progressively addressing new challenges in the area of disarmament are of paramount importance in strengthening global stability and security in a realistic and constructive way.

I might sound pessimistic, but of course there also many examples of positive progress in our global community, like in poverty eradication and greater awareness on gender issues to name but two.

Even in the wide field of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation there are promising examples of success such as the Arms Trade Treaty. However, when it comes to weapons of mass destruction there are not many positive signs on the horizon, actually quite the opposite.

The nuclear weapons issue is now dominant as the existing bilateral agreements of the “nuclear superpowers” are eroding at the same time as the danger of proliferation is on the rise. There is an urgent need to re-establish the priority of negotiated solutions for this category of weapons, at least to preserve the status quo and more importantly to progress towards better agreements.

This is relevant in the bilateral agreements between the United States and Russia, both the INF and the New Start Treaty. The nuclear disarmament of North Korea would be a huge boost to better security if successful and so far, this is the most positive sign in the fight against non – proliferation.

Iceland considers that the Non-proliferation treaty should continue to be the cornerstone of disarmament efforts in the nuclear field. If we are ever to reach the goal of nuclear weapons free world, the countries which have nuclear arsenals must commit and those outside join the treaty. Under current circumstances the international community should limit its ambition to safeguarding the existing commitments.

Supporting mechanisms such as the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, the Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers Group are as relevant to fighting proliferation as ever.

It has been a pleasure and positive experience for Iceland to co-chair the MTCR with our Irish friends during the past 12 months and this has for us brought home the importance of multilateral cooperation in tackling proliferation.

Apart from nuclear weapons the integrity and validity of the other landmark treaty concerning weapons of mass destruction, the Chemical Weapons Convention, is being put to the test. The use of chemical weapons in Syria, in Salisbury and in Malaysia is deplorable and the Convention´s applicability to counter such heinous attacks must be strengthened.

Impunity in such cases is unacceptable.

Although I have touched upon only few aspects of the challenges related to proliferation and uses of weapons of mass destruction, there are many areas were ongoing work is promising, for example in verification, combating nuclear terrorism and last but not least on a treaty concerning fissile material. However, we do not have all the time in the world.

There is an urgent need to apply more energy, more creative thinking and even more resources to the disarmament and arms control efforts, not only about weapons of mass destruction but also on conventional weapons, emerging technologies and hybrid threats. 

Kofi Annan, the late UN Secretary General was absolutely right when he in 2006 described small arms and light weapons as weapons of mass destruction. The new disarmament agenda of Secretary General Guterres should be an impetus to reinvigorated pragmatic and constructive work on disarmament.

When I see the experienced and creative people here, I´m confident that this Conference will provide us politicians with good advice and concrete ideas on how to move forward, towards a world free from the threat posed by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. My challenge to you is – Rekindle the spirit of the Reykjavik Summit 1986, the spirit that delivered the INF treaty and great progress in nuclear disarmament.

Thank you and I wish you well.


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