In 26 August 2016, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an article with an appeal by Frank-Walter Steinmeier to “re-launch of arms control in Europe as a tried and tested means of risk-reduction, transparency, and confidence building between Russia and the West”. In parallel, an English version was published in Project Syndicate. Steinmeier´s reference to the lessons learned from the Cuban Missiles Crisis and Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik indicates the dramatic need to overcome the breakdown of arms control in Europe by “heeding the lesson of détente”:
European security, to the surprise of many, is under threat once again. So, once again, Europe’s security must top our political agenda.
Even before the Ukraine conflict began in 2014, there were growing signs of a brewing confrontation between rival blocs…
Arms-control agreements, history has demonstrated, are not the result of existing trust – they are a means to build trust where it has been lost. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation. Soon after the crisis – when the US-Soviet relationship was at an all-time low – both superpowers decided that it was time to work across the divide, through small and concrete steps. This principle was also at the heart of Willy Brandt’s Neue Ostpolitik in the 1960s and 1970s. …
To mitigate this risk, we should advance a concrete goal: the re-launch of arms control in Europe as a tried and tested means of risk-reduction, transparency, and confidence building between Russia and the West…./ Russia has repeatedly called for a new debate on conventional arms control in Europe. It’s high time to take Russia at its word!
Re-launching conventional arms should be based on one principle that was at the heart of Brandt’s Ostpolitik: Security in Europa must not be framed as a permanently adversarial process.
Ever since the Harmel Report, which redefined NATO strategy back in 1967, the West has followed a two-track approach to its relations with Russia: deterrence and détente. NATO renewed its commitment to this dual strategy at its Warsaw Summit earlier this summer. We adopted the necessary measures to provide military reassurance, and at the same time reaffirmed our political responsibility for cooperative security in Europe.
However, there is a difficulty inherent in the dual approach: deterrence is real and visible to everyone. But détente must also be real and visible if it is to play its part. Whenever this policy balance is lost, misperceptions arise, and little remains to counteract the risk of escalation.
Today, new and deep rifts have opened up between Russia and the West, and I fear we will not be able to close them in the near future, however hard we try. No one should underestimate the challenges we face in this regard, especially given manifold crises – in eastern Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere – at a time when we are not immune from renewed escalation or further setbacks. Only one thing is certain: If we don’t try, peace in Europe and beyond will be tenuous. So we should heed the lesson of détente: however deep the rifts, we must try to build bridges.
Unfortunately, the existing arms-control and disarmament regimes are crumbling. Russia is no longer implementing the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which led to the removal of tens of thousands of tanks and heavy weapons from Europe in the years after 1990. Likewise, the transparency and confidence-building mechanisms enshrined in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s 2011 Vienna Document have grown increasingly ineffective, and Russia opposes the steps needed to modernize them.
The OSCE’s Treaty on Open Skies, too, is being limited in its application. And Russia’s annexation of Crimea has rendered obsolete the Budapest Memorandum. The trust that was carefully accumulated through decades of hard work has been squandered.
Yet, at the same time, Russia has repeatedly called for a new debate on conventional arms control in Europe. It’s high time to take Russia at its word!
Re-launching conventional arms should be based on one principle that was at the heart of Brandt’s Ostpolitik: Security in Europa must not be framed as a permanently adversarial process. Security is not a zero-sum game. Increased security for one side must not be perceived by the other side as reducing its own security. So, in my view, a re-launch of arms control must cover five areas. We need agreements that:
- define regional ceilings, minimum distances and transparency measures (especially in militarily sensitive regions such as the Baltic);
- take into account new military capabilities and strategies (smaller, mobile units, rather than traditional, large armies, taking resources such as transport capabilities into consideration accordingly);
- integrate new weapons systems (for example, drones);
- permit effective, rapidly deployable, flexible, and independent verification in times of crisis (carried out by, say, the OSCE);
- can be applied where territorial status is disputed.
On these complex issues, we want to launch a structured dialogue with all those who share responsibility for European security. The OSCE, which Germany is chairing this year, is one important forum for such a dialogue.