Finland hosts annual NATO conference on proliferation challenges

  • 29 May. 2017 - 30 May. 2017
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  • Last updated: 30 May. 2017 17:00

More than 100 high-level officials and experts from over 50 countries and international organisations met in Helsinki from 29 to 30 May 2017 to discuss multilateral non-proliferation regimes and initiatives in view of a changing security environment. They also addressed regional proliferation challenges in the Middle East and in Asia, as well as NATO’s policies and other international organisations’ efforts in the area of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) arms control and disarmament.

Challenging times – What can NATO and its Partners do next?

The Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation brings together top officials and senior experts responsible for shaping and implementing related national policies. Thus, the conference provides a unique annual opportunity to discuss joint international efforts on preventing the proliferation of WMD and working together towards WMD disarmament and verification through effective and strong arms control measures.

This year’s conference, hosted by Finland – one of NATO’s most active partners and a valued contributor to NATO-led operations and missions – took place in the context of an increasingly challenging global security environment.

In view of the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, nuclear and ballistic missile testing in North Korea, as well as discussions in the United Nations and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) framework on new disarmament instruments, the conference again proved to be an important forum for detailed and open debate among leaders and senior experts in the field on how to jointly address related issues.

Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, argued in his opening speech to the conference that, “In order to enhance stability and security, we need to increase transparency and predictability.” The Minister also made the case for arms control and non-proliferation measures being essential tools in this regard.

“The security environment today is indeed challenging,” said NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller in a video statement to the conference, stressing the long-standing importance of WMD arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation to NATO. “NATO and the global community have faced difficult times in the past,” but “we have found ways to control weapons that pose the greatest risk to humankind,” she added. The guiding question she presented to the conference was how NATO Allies and partners can find joint solutions for these issues and what actionable and practical future policies can be derived from their discussions. 

In his keynote speech, Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) joined DSG Gottemoeller in underlining the important role the treaty and its global monitoring system already play in dealing with the threat of WMD proliferation on an international level. Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), addressed the conference, reflecting on the disarmament of the Syrian chemical weapons program, which proved to be a big challenge for his organisation and the international community. He stressed the need for stronger and institutionalized interagency cooperation in support of future efforts on upholding WMD arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

Constructive Outreach for Combined Efforts

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges and Chair of the conference, underlined that dialogue between Allies, NATO partners around the globe and international organisations – including the United Nations and the European Union – is crucial for improving common understanding of the global security challenges related to the spread and use of WMD.

Several expert panels proved to be the right framework for in-depth debates on how to preserve international achievements and move forward together. Topics discussed also included regional proliferation challenges in the Middle East and in Asia as well as NATO’s policies and other international organisations’ efforts in the area of WMD arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

“NATO has supported the negotiation of all the major arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation treaties and agreements, those negotiated now down several decades. And these agreements have proven to be invaluable in making the world safer”, stated DSG Gottemoeller. 

By reducing absolute numbers or eliminating stockpiles, and ensuring transparency and predictability, WMD arms control agreements have helped to bring greater stability to the world. Through diplomacy and open dialogue, NATO and its partners will continue to seek ways to effectively control the proliferation of weapons that put humankind at risk. The Annual NATO Conference on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-proliferation is an important contribution to this process.