Geneva, 26.02.2018 - Speech by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis at the Conference on Disarmament - Check against delivery

Speaker: Cassis Ignazio; Head of Department, Ignazio Cassis

(unofficial translation)

Madam President,
Mr Secretary-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Geneva – Switzerland’s global hub for dialogue and peace. I am honoured to take the floor following the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I welcome his clear message and I echo his wake-up call to this Conference.

My country fully supports the objective to re-energize disarmament efforts and to revitalise disarmament bodies.

We are looking forward to the “disarmament agenda” that the Secretary-General has announced. We encourage him to be bold and specific. Disarmament needs a push, and new leadership.

The international security environment is less stable today than at any point since the end of the Cold War. In our fractured multipolar world, the mood is for rearmament rather than disarmament.  This is cause of great concern.

Today, I would like to talk about four challenges that we need to collectively address:

First, the risk of nuclear confrontation is growing.

Nuclear-related tensions and threats are moving up on the international agenda. Above all, this holds true for the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

We call upon the DPRK to abide by all pertinent United Nations Security Council resolutions. The DPRK has to cease the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. It is high time for all actors involved to reduce nuclear risks and avert the danger of a confrontation. Switzerland is convinced that in addition to sanctions and political pressure, dialogue is essential to get to a political solution.

We welcome the emerging dialogue between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK and support efforts to expand it to other actors. Switzerland stands ready to facilitate any such discussions, if requested by the parties.

The fears of nuclear war are not only linked to the situation on the Korean Peninsula. States possessing nuclear weapons are upgrading and renewing their arsenals. My message here is clear:

• We must avert a new nuclear arms race; we do not need more arms, we need more dialogue.

• We also must oppose any lowering of the threshold for using nuclear weapons; rather, we have to make any use of nuclear weapons even more unthinkable.

Creating a safe world without nuclear weapons is a monumental task. Switzerland has no illusions that we can achieve such a world easily. But this objective must nonetheless be pursued without respite. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons must spur disarmament efforts. It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.

A second concern relates to the weakening of existing norms.

• The prohibition on the use of chemical weapons has been challenged by their repeated use in the Syrian conflict. This requires a strong collective response by the international community. The investigations that have taken place in Syria speak a clear language. We now ought to take concrete measures against impunity in order to reinforce the norm against the use of chemical weapons.

• The agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme has come under stress. We stand with all those who continue to support and implement this important agreement.

• The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty is also facing difficulties. We call the parties to abide by this arms reduction agreement, which has been so important for European stability.

• Finally, there are worrying signs that Nuclear Weapon States are backtracking from agreed disarmament steps. The credibility of these commitments is essential to preserve the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation architecture. 

A rules-based world order contributes to the security of us all. Defending this order is a priority of Switzerland.

The third challenge concerns the humanitarian impact of weapons on civilians in armed conflict. While we are sitting in this room, the horror of war is unleashed on children, women and men in the outskirts of Damascus. Far too many innocent victims have been killed, hospitals, medical staff and patients as well as humanitarian workers trying to save lives are attacked. A collective effort is required to enhance respect and implementation of international humanitarian law. We must better protect all victims of armed conflict - men, women, and children. Switzerland welcomes the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2041 last Saturday and calls on all parties to immediately implement the resolution. 

As the Secretary-General has laid out: We need practical, preventive measures that can save lives from the scourge of war.

Finally, the fourth challenge relates to the many security implications of technological developments. Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biochemistry and genetics are bound to bring major progress to humankind. But they will also result in the development of new weapons and change warfare. We need to discuss global governance frameworks to guide such developments. Arms control is just one element of a global response.

The Secretary-General is best placed to respond with a UN system-wide initiative to prevent malevolent use of such technologies and we are looking forward to his upcoming report on the matter.

Madam President, Mr Secretary-General, Excellencies,

Meeting these challenges requires an effective multilateral system that builds confidence and prevents conflicts and humanitarian crises. It requires a more functional disarmament machinery.

The Conference on Disarmament has a special role in this machinery. It must live up to its responsibilities. The fact that the Conference on Disarmament has been unable to take forward key disarmament priorities - such as a Fissile Material Treaty, Nuclear Disarmament or the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space - has a negative impact on global security. It also had the consequence that these issues are gradually pursued outside the Conference. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by vote in New York, is a case in point.

Overcoming the deadlock at the CD is important for Switzerland. After a paralysis of more than twenty years, a new and pragmatic approach is required.

I am encouraged by the decision this Conference took ten days ago. The CD can now appoint coordinators for five subsidiary bodies. This paves the way for substantive work in 2018.

First, this decision provides the opportunity to gradually move towards negotiations. Switzerland has always supported the commencement of negotiations on the core issues of this Conference.

We now stand ready to contribute to the elaboration of treaty elements. 

Second, the decision also opens the door to develop politically binding agreements. This is an important pragmatic step.

Third, the CD can now address new strategic challenges, related to technology. I touched upon such challenges a moment ago.

Madam President, Mr Secretary-General, Excellencies,

To be able to effectively deal with global challenges, the CD should open up and bring in all relevant actors.

It should consider applications of States that want to become members of the CD. And it should bring in academia and industry.

We cannot gloss over the difficult strategic context. But it is precisely in such a situation that multilateral responses are required.

Geneva, home to a dense network of expertise – in arms control, humanitarian affairs, human rights, trade, health and science – offers unique opportunities to overcome such difficulties.

Let us seize these opportunities. Let us make best use of the Conference on Disarmament. It is an essential instrument to contribute to a more stable and peaceful world.

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53
Fax: +41 58 464 90 47
E-Mail: info@eda.admin.ch


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Last update 29.01.2022


FDFA Communication

Federal Palace West
3003 Bern

Phone (for journalists only):
+41 58 460 55 55

Phone (for all other requests):
+41 58 462 31 53

Start of page