Speech Frans Timmermans at the Third Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, at the Third Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 8 April, The Hague.

Secretary-General, Director-General, Chairpersons, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to The Hague. It’s a pleasure to see you here, and it’s a pleasure to be able to host this conference. It is a conference, in my view, of great importance. I had the honour to meet the Secretary-General earlier this morning and I told him that last night, when I explained to my kids whom I was going to meet, my eight-year-old son Max said, ‘Wow! You get to meet the boss of the world?’ And when I told Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this story, his reaction touched me deeply, because he said spontaneously, ‘This is why we're doing this. We're doing this for our children. We’re doing this because they should live in a safer world.’

I believe this is what should inspire all of us. We have an obligation to hand over this planet to our children tomorrow in a better state than it is today. I believe this should be an inspiration even at conferences which to the outside world may look rather technical. I want to echo the words just spoken by the Secretary-General when he referred to what happened in this part of the world, almost 100 years ago, when for the first time in human history chemical weapons were used on a massive scale. And anyone brought up in this part of the world, even though this country was neutral during the First World War, still has these images in our collective memories of endless rows of soldiers holding on to each other’s shoulders for support because they had been blinded by mustard gas. Many others were killed. And it is a tragedy that even today we should have to investigate allegations of further use of chemical weapons.

Our task is to eliminate chemical weapons from the world's arsenal. Our task is to look at the negative side of what in essence is an extremely positive thing: human invention. It has brought us so much good. It has brought us so much prosperity. It is the basis for future justice, peace and prosperity. The human capacity to invent things, to feel such discomfort when a problem isn’t solved that we invent something to solve it. We should put that capacity to good use, but we also know that human inventions are also put to use in a negative way. We have this incredible capacity to create ever new and more horrible weapons. And that is why we need worldwide regimes, under the aegis of the United Nations, to make sure these weapons are not used. To make sure that they are under control and that we can get rid of them. For this reason – and this is also in the tradition of the Netherlands – it makes sense that we should host the OPCW.

I want to repeat the Organization’s undeniable achievements. In the 15 years of the Chemical Weapons Convention, almost eighty per cent of the world's declared stockpiles of 71,000 metric tons of dangerous chemical weapons have been destroyed. An impressive figure. And the number of States Parties, as the Secretary-General has said, now stands at 188. There are five new ones, and we still need to convince eight states that remain outside the Convention to join us.

I want to state very clearly that the Dutch government fully supports the efforts undertaken by the Secretary-General in the matter of Syria. We want the UN to investigate this, we want the investigation to be thorough, independent and impartial, and we trust it will examine all serious allegations concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Alongside chemical weapons, the development of biological weapons is also a cause for concern. There is increasing convergence between the chemical and biological sciences. For instance, biology is now used to produce chemical materials and vice versa. There are many benefits to this – again, human invention at work. However, similar techniques could also be misused. The dangerous natural poison saxitoxin could be used as a weapon – I must confess, I’d never heard of it before, but it can paralyse you with just one drop.

So to counter these threats, we need to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Firstly, it is essential that we involve science and industry more in the implementation and promotion of the Convention. Secondly, we must increase transparency and the scope for verification, as they remain crucial for a complete and effective disarmament and non-proliferation regime. And thirdly, we must strive for universal accession. I call upon all states to ratify the Convention without delay.

Tomorrow, I will be hosting the meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative. This group, consisting of ten countries from around the globe – Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands – is united by a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. We will discuss how to move forward on disarmament and non-proliferation. Because there is still so much to be done. Our starting point is strengthening the legally binding system of international treaties, like the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. We need to get the first and second ratified by all parties and the third to be agreed as quickly as possible.

But it is not enough to put these agreements on paper. To have any chance of success, these international rules must be strictly observed. Compliance must be monitored transparently and credibly. Because there is still a very long way to go. At the height of the Cold War the world’s nuclear stockpile was over 70,000 weapons. Now the number is over 19,000, of which more than 90 per cent is held by Russia and the United States. I welcome President Obama’s recent pledge in his State of the Union address to engage with the Russian Federation to seek further reductions in their nuclear arsenals.

But eliminating these arsenals is not enough. On the same day President Obama made his pledge, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. What’s more, the world has been concerned for some time now about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme. And what if nuclear weapons or material should fall into the wrong hands? Global efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism are extremely relevant today. We live in a chaotic and dynamic world. A world of networks. A world in which information and technology can spread at lightning speed. Without any regard for national borders. And that includes the technology to build a weapon from nuclear material. Terrorists are only too eager to threaten their enemies with the most deadly weapon in human history. That is why the Netherlands is hosting the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014, in this very building. It will be the biggest summit ever held in my country. Over two days, 58 world leaders will discuss the prevention of nuclear terrorism. Disarmament and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons inevitably go hand in hand.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When I look at my kids – and I’m sure this applies to all of you – I realise how great a responsibility we bear. Our children also remind us of this incredible capacity we have to dream. We allow our kids to dream. We should also allow ourselves to dream. To dream about a nuclear-free world. About a chemical weapons-free world. About a world where prosperity is accessible to all. About a world where human rights apply to all humans. A world where international organisations have the power and the capacity to ensure that justice, peace and prosperity are accessible in all four corners of our great planet. I wish you an extremely successful conference, and I hope to see all of you again very soon back in The Hague, city of international peace and justice.