Speech ”Finland and Arms Control” at the 40thAnniversary of Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention (VERIFIN) and the Finnish Research Project on the Verification of Chemical Disarmament


Dear Director General of the OPCW, Mr Üzümcü,

Dear Director of VERIFIN, Professor Vanninen,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would say that only a year ago most experts and policy makers would have agreed that using Weapons of Mass Destruction in a large scale is nearly unthinkable, particularly by a government of a state actor. The main scenario, which also was deemed to be a remote one, was an isolated incident caused by a terrorist group that one way or another had got hold of these horrific weapons.

If this celebration had taken place in October 2012 and not now, I guess we would all have been thinking along these lines. We quite rightly would have emphasised the crucial role of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in ensuring that chemical weapons are never used again. But by the same token we probably would have been rather optimistic. Using chemical weapons was something that belonged to history.

But today the OPCW is facing a situation where chemical weapons have once again been used as instruments of warfare. Allegations of chemical weapons being used in Syria had been made already earlier, but now we know for certain that they were used on a large scale in Damascus, Syria, on 21 August 2013.  There is strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks as it is the only one that possesses chemical weapons agents and means of their delivery in a sufficient quantity.

This is a lesson for all of us. Use of WMD is and can be the reality of today. The work of organisations like OPCW is even more important and more urgent than we ever imagined.

Finland stands ready to contribute to the UN and OPCW efforts on destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons. We plan to make a financial contribution to the OPCW Trust Fund.  We are also willing to provide personnel and expertise to the efforts of OPCW on Syria. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 40th anniversary of VERIFIN, Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, is being celebrated today in a situation which dramatically highlights the importance of its work.

 Today the institute is an operational laboratory, designated by the OPCW for analysis of on-site samples, as well as one of the leading centres in the world in developing new methods for verification of disarmament of chemical weapons. Over the years VERIFIN has also supported the work of the OPCW in various other ways. It has actively participated in creation and updating of the OPCW Central Analytical Database, training of OPCW analytical inspectors, evaluating the results of OPCW proficiency tests and arranging workshops.

Since 1990 VERIFIN has trained over 900 chemists from numerous developing countries. More precisely, participants from 133 countries have taken part in VERIFIN’s courses. Through VERIFIN’s dedication and expertise, Finland has paid special attention to the implementation of Chemical Weapons Convention. Finland is a candidate to the OPCW Executive Council for a two year term beginning next spring. My country will foster the goals of the Convention with all its strength if elected.

I want to pay tribute to the personal contribution of leaders of the Chemical Weapons project and VERIFIN – Professors Jorma K. Miettinen and Marjatta Rautio, and the current Director, Professor Paula Vanninen, to the purpose of disarmament of chemical weapons. Dr Vanninen serves in her personal capacity in the Scientific Advisory Board of the OPCW. Most of the funds to the activities of the Institute are provided by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finland is a staunch supporter of permanent, multilateral and, where possible, universal institutions in the business of global governance. This is the best way to ensure continuity and democratic decision making where everybody gets his or her voice heard.

The Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW constitute a near universal regime with 189 states parties on board. This is a very good achievement. On the other hand, it has become clear that ”near” and ”almost” are not enough. Only full universality, effective participation of all members of the international community, is a condition where we can feel safer.

Like in many, many other areas, Finland thinks that in arms control and disarmament too, the United Nations plays and should play a central role. The UN system must also have the capacity to monitor and ensure that international arms control and disarmament treaties are implemented. Just a few days ago I returned from the High Level Segment of this year’s UN General Assembly where these issues were high on the agenda.

UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is not a universal forum – unlike the United Nations to which it is closely connected – but it is still a representative one with members from all regions in the world. Many of you know that the work of the CD has been paralysed for political reasons for years. Consensus is something that we should always try to achieve in international politics, but CD unfortunately is not an example of the merits of a consensus rule but of its curse: a small number of countries – or it can be only one – blocks all attempts to continue productive work. The paralysis of CD is a sad story, and Finland supports all efforts to get this forum revitalised again. 

Despite the self-inflicted anaesthesia in Geneva, multilateral arms control efforts do not stop. The security problems and needs for progress are too pressing.

The most recent landmark is the International Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Finland has been in the core group of states promoting the ATT.

The Treaty was adopted after a difficult negotiation process in April 2013 and Finland advances its entry into force as expediently as possible by promoting signatures and ratifications. Finland, among the first to do so, signed the Treaty on 3 June 2013 and aims to ratify the ATT as soon as possible.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank both the Finnish negotiation team and the international NGO community for their contribution to this global effort.

Broad based multilateralism is always our preference. We want universal, UN based rules and mechanisms.  At the same time we know that also other kinds of methods than universal mechanisms can be used to promote universal aspirations.

Finland was invited from the beginning to join the series of Nuclear Security Summits initiated by President Barack Obama in 2009. We participate in the preparations of the next Summit to be held in The Hague next March.

Finland takes part in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT) and will host its large plenary meeting in Helsinki in 2015.

There are many other similar processes and regimes where we are involved. These  too should be seen as opportunities to champion the goal of international security. Selective and ad hoc processes cannot replace universal institutions but they are now and then called for to complement the work done in the multilateral system.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear Weapons are as far as we know the most destructive of all weapons. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) continues to be a cornerstone of the international arms control regime. It creates a framework for nuclear non-proliferation, for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and for nuclear disarmament. All its pillars are important. The NPT also creates a framework in building confidence between the nuclear and non-nuclear states. Finland actively supports the implementation of the decisions taken at the NPT review conference in 2010 while preparing for the next review conference in 2015.

The NPT was established to counter the threat of nuclear proliferation to new states. It has of course become clear that we need to do more than just control state actors. Nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist groups or another non-state actor is deemed to be a major risk and subject to increasing international attention at least from 9/11 attack twelve years ago.  One of the most important directives in this respect is the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass-Destruction in particular to non-state actors. The resolution imposes binding obligations on all States to adopt non-proliferation legislation and to establish appropriate domestic controls. Finland is an active member of the enhanced international cooperation on such efforts, including through programmes carried out or financed by the European Union.

I also already mentioned Finland’s coming role as the host of one major event dedicated to combating nuclear terrorism in 2015.

How about the nuclear possessor states themselves? 

President Barack Obama has launched new initiatives during his presidency. We welcome this activity.

We commend bilateral arrangements between the Russian Federation and the United States on reduction of their strategic arms as well as other joint initiatives.

We invite all nuclear possessor states to a dialogue and encourage them to take an open approach on nuclear disarmament. We need discussion and mutual understanding on these complex issues.

To illustrate the persisting threat that the nuclear weapons pose to us all, let me share another thought that the name Damascus brings to mind in connection to nuclear arms. This time it is not related to Damascus, Syria, but Damascus in Arkansas, in the United States.

This small town with 400 inhabitants has become famous for an accident that took place there in 1980 in a launch site of intercontinental nuclear missiles. During maintenance of the missiles a service man dropped a socket into a silo. The socket broke the surface of a missile in the silo and caused a leak in its fuel tank, which next day led to an explosion of the leaked fuel. Because of the explosion in the missile silo, a nuclear warhead was released, and it landed only 30 meters from the site. The warhead did not explode, but an unimaginable catastrophe was not far away.

The list of known accidents involving nuclear weapons is long. It would be optimistic to assume that there have not been more incidents that for one reason or another are not yet public.

My second point is that nuclear accidents, and even the possibility of unintentional nuclear war cannot be excluded.

The Damascus example underlines the need to continue hard work in order to promote nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear security.

Finland is committed to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The question for us as experts, activists, policy makers and concerned citizens is what is the most effective and sustainable way to achieve it. Experience shows that best results are usually achieved through work where all stakeholders do participate. My Ministry is currently working on an update of nuclear disarmament issues and our policies. Finland wants to play a constructive role in these efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude with some words on the preparations for the Conference on the establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The Conference was planned for the end of 2012. This schedule turned out to be to too optimistic as it was not possible to convene the conference with the participation of all states in the region.

Nevertheless, all states of the Middle East have expressed their willingness to continue preparations. This is significant given the current turbulence in the region itself. At the same time it is true that the different views on the Conference need to come closer.

The cooperation between Under-Secretary Jaakko Laajava, the Finnish Facilitator, and the Conveners –the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States – is excellent. The Conveners and the Facilitator meet regularly.

Since the appointment of the Facilitator in October 2011, he and his team have carried out numerous rounds of various discussions. These contacts have helped to narrow the existing gaps and bring partners closer to a joint understanding. A significant amount of preparatory work for the Conference has already been done, and the Facilitator and his team have further intensified their efforts. They will continue their discussions with all stakeholders: the states of the region, the conveners, the nuclear-weapon states, other states, relevant international organizations, civil society, academia and think-tanks, and all other relevant actors.

The Facilitator and the Conveners have suggested that the Conference itself would be relatively brief with the aim of reaffirming the common objective of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and identifying follow-on steps seeking to make progress to that end. The ensuing regional cooperation and expert level work would then need to occur both within the arms control domain and in the area of confidence-building for the process to be sustainable.

Here I want to thank Director-General Üzümcü for his personal contribution to this project and ask him to convey to The Hague my gratitude for the indispensable support and expertise of the OPCW staff throughout the preparations.

Thank you.