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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs at the 12th Chemical and Biological Weapons Protection Symposium

Speech by Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs at the 12th Chemical and Biological Weapons Protection Symposium, 8 June 2016.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this 12th Chemical and Biological Weapons Protection Symposium here in Stockholm.

When the very first symposium of this kind was held, back in 1983, the world was a very different place in many ways. We were in the middle of the Cold War, with arms races extending to both nuclear and chemical weapons. The Soviet Union was involved in an offensive biological weapons programme in disregard of the Biological Weapons Convention. And Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran and would soon release such horrors against Kurdish civilians in both Iran and Iraq. Luckily those days are behind us. The end of the Cold War made it possible to move forward on chemical and biological disarmament, and to achieve great things such as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

However, in other ways, in the words of French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose – the more things change, the more they stay the same. Russia's aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea has precipitated a new sense of mistrust between East and West. In the Middle East, the Syrian regime is implicated in using chemical weapons against its own people, and experts of the former Saddam Hussein regime are allegedly helping terrorists develop chemical weapons capability. Attempts to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention collapsed in 2001 and have failed ever since.

Despite such gloomy prospects, the Nobel Prize awarded to the OPCW a few years ago bears witness to the success of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The norms against biological and chemical weapons are almost universally accepted. The destruction of chemical weapons in the possessor states seems to be approaching completion despite serious delays. The UN and OPCW-led missions to investigate and monitor the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons programme in the midst of a terrible civil war and an ongoing humanitarian disaster show that East and West can accomplish great things when we decide to work together for a common cause.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The theme of this conference – science and technology for protection against biological and chemical weapons – is a vital link in our ability to deal with the dangers of these weapons of mass destruction, and I am proud of the contribution that Sweden continues to make by holding these conferences every three years.

In fact, Sweden has been punching well beyond its weight in the fight against chemical and biological weapons for many years:

  • The important contributions of Rolf Ekéus, Hans Blix and Åke Sellström as leaders of successive UN missions are well established. However, it is less known that Swedish experts from the Swedish Defence Research Agency have contributed to all UN investigation teams since the mid-1980s, in Azerbaijan, Iraq and Mozambique. Sweden contributed one of the experts in the small team that developed the agreed guidelines for the Secretary General's mechanism in the late 1980s, and Dr Åke Sellström helped update that system following the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • The Secretary General's Mechanism remains our best multilateral response to a potential biological weapons attack. Accordingly, Sweden organised the first training workshop for experts on the UN Roster in 2009. Last year, as the Ebola outbreak became a reminder of the risks involved, the first workshop to consider the setting up of a network of analytical laboratories for biological weapons was held here in Stockholm. Later this year, in cooperation with the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, Sweden will host a further training session for experts and another laboratory workshop in support of the Secretary General's mechanism.
  • At the request of the then UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms Angela Kane – my neighbour here on the podium – Sweden provided air transport resources to the UN investigation in 2013. The chemical analysis laboratory of the Swedish Defence Research Agency in Umeå supported that mission, and continues to analyse samples in support of the OPCW's important work in Syria.
  • The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency continues to help the OPCW develop its system for delivering assistance in case of use or threat of use of chemical weapons.

Sweden will continue to provide political, financial and technical support to the international community's capacity to address contingencies involving chemical and biological weapons. Both the UN and the OPCW are continuing to do valuable work to address the chemical weapons issue in Syria, and my Government is looking forward to contributing further to this work as a member of the OPCW Executive Council –since last month – and, I hope, as a member of the Security Council of the United Nations starting next year.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction constitutes top priority for my Government, and a priority that I am personally very committed to. Let me give you a few examples:

  • One of the first actions I took as incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs in October 2014 was to have Sweden join the Humanitarian Initiative and the De-alerting Group. We have also become a member of the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. All these initiatives are designed to bring new impetus to the nuclear disarmament process.
  • Last month, Sweden participated actively in the Open-ended Working Group in Geneva, bringing forth ideas to help elaborate agreed recommendations to submit to the United Nations. Having proposed the setting up of an Open-ended Working Group to move forward on nuclear disarmament at the time of the last NPT Review Conference, I welcome this opportunity, and hope that nuclear weapons possessor States will also engage in constructive dialogue on nuclear disarmament in the future.
  • I have re-established an International Law and Disarmament Delegation, with broad participation from the Swedish Parliament, Swedish authorities, think-tanks and civil society, and have asked them to examine more closely and advise me on the issues of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems and a possible nuclear weapons ban.
  • I have tasked the Swedish Defence Research Agency with developing a new generation of the Swedish Automatic Unit for Noble Gas Acquisition – or SAUNA system – in support of the monitoring network of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
  • Only a few weeks ago, my Government appointed a disarmament ambassador, Ms Eva Walder, who will represent Sweden in multilateral negotiations and help advance and develop Swedish disarmament policy.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

This symposium takes place at a pivotal time, when we are facing new and evolving threats posed by chemical and biological weapons, and I referred to some of these earlier in my statement. I understand that such dangers will be the theme of this afternoon's session. It will also be an important focus of the comprehensive review of UN Security Council resolution 1540 at a meeting two weeks from now. New science and technology for protection, detection and response are vital to defend against these threats, and that means that your work here this week is very important indeed.

I wish you every success in your deliberations.

And I am now very pleased to declare the 12th Symposium on the Protection against Chemical and Biological Weapons officially open.

Thank you.