7th Chambésy Roundtable on European Security – Keynote Address State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl


7th Chambésy Roundtable on European Security

Rednerin/Redner: Staatssekretärin, Pascale Baeriswyl

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues,

It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you here today for the 7th issue of the Chambésy Roundtable in this beautiful corner of Switzerland, just above Montreux. This region has always exerted a particular fascination on interesting people from different parts of the world, including Empress Elisabeth of Austria – better known as Sissi – Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Leo Tolstoi, Freddie Mercury and Vladimir Nabokov, to name a few of the most prominent names who are tied to Montreux. This small city also came to fame in 1971, when the Casino of Montreux caught fire during a concert of Frank Zappa. The song “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple enshrined it forever in Rock ‘n’ Roll’s history.

I believe that “Smoke on the water” provides some interesting insights for our meeting here today. The fire that broke out in the Casino was not caused by a technical malfunction or nature beyond control, but – and I am quoting Deep Purple – by “some stupid with a flare gun” who apparently fired it off during the concert. It set the ceiling of the venue ablaze and subsequently burned the building to the ground, leading to “smoke on the water” and “a fire in the sky”, as the song goes. International politics in the early 1970s were tackling a similar scenario on a much larger scale: all it would take to set the world on fire was one miscalculated action. Recognizing the dangers of an arms race amidst rising tensions between East and West, a number of bi- and multilateral negotiations started with the aim to reduce the risk of catastrophic escalations. Their outcomes provide the foundation upon which our nations still work together, particularly in the area of security policy, including a number of arms control agreements and much more broadly, the Helsinki Final Act. The end of the Cold War then offered us the opportunity to forward our common interest on this basis on a multilateral level, bringing together a large number of European States with often diverging political interest that could agree on a series of principles concerning European Security in the 1990s – within the OSCE, between NATO and Russia, and among European States.

However, nearly 50 years after our nations came together in Helsinki, this common foundation is eroding and with it, the architecture of European security that we jointly built upon it. Just last month, the INF Treaty died, following the same fate as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. It remains unclear if the States parties will be able to agree on an extension of the New START, which is set to expire in 2021. The JCPOA, an agreement which marked one of the great moments of multilateral arms control diplomacy, has lost much of its raison d’être through the withdrawal of one of its signatories.

The outlook for conventional arms control is not much better: The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe suffers from the halted participation of one of its key parties. Also, the Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-building measures cannot be updated to meet the challenges of the current security environment and the new military realities in Europe. This bleak picture is complemented by an ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine and a very concerning military build-up around the Baltic and the Black Sea. I find the staggering lack of confidence and willingness to find diplomatic and political solutions to rising tensions and ongoing conflicts in and around Europe deeply concerning.

In a recent expert survey, the Head of the International Security Center of the Russian Institute of World Economy and International Relations and former participant in the START negotiations, Dr. Alexey Arbatov – who was unfortunately not able to accept the invitation to our Roundtable – replied to the question of what the short term consequences of the demise of bilateral arms control would be [I quote]: “After a cycle of huge financial waste and strategic confrontations, the need for the resumption of bilateral and some formats of multilateral arms control will become obvious. However, too much time will have been lost, too many new arms and technologies will be unleashed and too little arms control expertise left. At best, some forms of marginally effective arms control will eventually be revived; at worst, the world will plunge into a quagmire of great powers' armed conflicts, nuclear escalations and catastrophic terrorism.”

There are two important aspects in this assessment that I would like to reflect upon:

First: The price we pay for the erosion of arms control regimes, for escalating arms races, and for a tense and unpredictable security environment in Europe and around the globe is very high. And I mean it quite literally: It is not just the enormous sums of money that would need to be invested in the development and procurement of armaments, but also the larger economic impact that comes with it. Furthermore, a climate of political tension and distrust does not foster economic prosperity. Hence, betting on winning an arms race – and it remains to be seen what “winning” would mean in this context – comes with a very hefty price tag – both through direct and indirect costs.

Second: Given the incredible speed of technological advancement, the framework that we have is already insufficient. It might prove impossible to secure the very acquis which we are now at least partially abandoning again. While it may be politically opportune to give up on some arms control agreements or to decide not to update them in the short-term, the long-term implications risk to be overlooked. Many of these agreements are carefully crafted compromises, reached over long periods of negotiation and reflecting a larger political context. If they are singularly abandoned, it is unlikely that we will be able to return to them. On the other hand, the daunting speed of technological progress means that we continuously face new challenges. Preserving existing agreements in this context provides us with a strong basis upon which we can build to tackle these challenges, rather than having to re-invent the wheel, while at the same time enduring the looming threat of “smoke on the water and fire in the sky” through just one devastating miscalculation.

Dear colleagues,
However gloomy my assessment on arms control may appear, we know that cooperation on common security concerns is still possible. Earlier this year, Switzerland chaired the OSCE’s Forum for Security Cooperation and we experienced first-hand the willingness to engage and to work together constructively at least on some topics, such as conventional ammunition and small arms and light weapons. Switzerland is an active member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum which brings together 29 States (and the European Union), with often quite diverging views on the best way forward in countering and preventing terrorism. Yet we have been able to agree on certain principles and standards.

The first session of our Roundtable will explore the pressing question of how we can use what have become “islands of cooperation” to foster more constructive discussions on European security among all stakeholders. The second session will explore how - in view of the erosion of the nuclear arms control regime - a new arms race could be avoided and what role European security actors could play. The third and final session will offer insights on the impact of technological advancement on our security discussions – both in terms of challenges and opportunities.

I would like to invite you to express your views openly and honestly and to engage actively in our debates, held under the Chatham House Rule. Most of the States’ position on these topics are well known to all of us here today. It would thus be great to learn more about your personal views and insights into how we can jointly work together to tackle the vast challenges we are facing. Overall, our discussions will take a prospective and not a retrospective approach: I would be most grateful if we could focus on the way forward rather than discussing the path that lead us to where we are. Numerous more official formats offer plenty of room for that.

Before we get started with the first session, I would like to thank our colleagues from GCSP, particularly Ambassador Dussey and his team, for their invaluable support and expertise. I would also like to thank my Events Team for taking care of all the logistics and for ensuring such a smooth organization of this event. Lastly and most importantly, I would like to thank you – our guests – for having taken the time and travelled many miles to join us here today. Let me close by quoting from “Smoke on the Water” one last time: “No matter what we get out of this, I know we'll never forget.” I look forward to fruitful and inspiring discussions and wish us all a very successful and unforgettable Chambésy Roundtable.

Thank you for your attention.