European security is under threat.
The entire system of existing arms control agreements is being eroded. With almost every channel of negotiation deadlocked, the Old Continent is facing the most challenging crisis it cannot ignore. The danger of a new arms race looms large. History has many examples of international crises and tensions that developed a momentum of their own and resulted in conflict. The voices calling to urgently address the issue are getting louder.
Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says, European security is at risk unless a new arms control agreement is in force.
In an article published by German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on August 26, Steinmeier called for «concrete security initiatives» including regional caps on armaments, transparency measures, rules covering new military technology such as drones, and the ability to control arms even in disputed territories.
New military capabilities, including the use of drones, must be taken into account, the foreign minister insisted, adding that «true verification» of arms would be vital to any successful pact, along with the inclusion of regions «whose territorial status is controversial». The minister suggested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could be the forum for talks.
Steinmeier has previously criticized NATO for staging military maneuvers in Eastern Europe, which he said amounted to «saber-rattling and shrill war cries» that could worsen tensions with Russia.
Mr Steinmeier is not alone. His proposal dovetails with what a group of former foreign and defense ministers said on August 24.
Russia and NATO must agree on common rules to handle unexpected military encounters to reduce the risk of inadvertently triggering a war between Moscow and the West. Calling for a high-level NATO-Russia meeting, the group of 14 – including former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, ex-German defense minister Volker Rühe and colleagues from Britain, France, Spain and Turkey – said rules for communication at sea and in the air were paramount.
The issues related to security and conventional arms are actually not covered by any comprehensive agreement in force. There is a dangerous void here, especially since the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) became a thing of the past. Initially signed by representatives from 16 NATO states, as well as by six members of the Warsaw Pact, on Nov. 19, 1990 in Paris, the CFE went into effect in 1992. It established comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment in Europe (from the Atlantic to the Urals) and mandated the destruction of excess weaponry. The treaty proposed equal limits for the two «groups of states-parties», the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. NATO’s expansion at the expense of the Soviet Union’s former allies has created an imbalance of forces. The Adapted CFE Treaty was drawn up in 1999 to replace the treaty’s established limits for each bloc with a system based on national and territorial ceilings on arms and equipment for each signatory state. The quota for the number of forces practically did not change. The agreed limits for NATO exceeded three times the ones established for Russia. Unlike the Russian Federation, NATO countries did not ratify the agreement. The flanking zone limitations for Russia were neither cancelled, nor reconsidered. NATO required the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria – absolutely insignificant contingents – as a condition for the ratification of the treaty. Russia slammed the condition as an «artificial linkage». The three Baltic States refused to become parties to the treaty when they joined NATO. The Adapted CFE did not encompass naval forces where NATO has substantial superiority. Over the last few years, Russia has followed policies to fulfill the terms of the treaty, while at the same time, a number of NATO countries have essentially breached its requirements, periodically refusing to provide information to the Russian side or allow inspections. Pouring oil on the flames was the decision to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. This is not a breach of the CFE Treaty but goes strongly against its spirit.
In 2007, Russia «suspended» its participation in the treaty and on 10 March 2015, citing NATO’s de facto breach of the treaty, Russia formally announced it was «completely» halting its participation in it.
The West rejected Russia’s initiative to discuss a new European Security Treaty with the draft document made public in 2009.
As a result, the Vienna Document is the only mechanism in place at present, but it’s certainly not enough to curb the rising tensions.
The OSCE’s Treaty on Open Skies, too, is limited in application.
The gist of the problem is that over twenty years of cooperation have never translated into the type of strategic relationship that NATO and Russia had hoped for and formally enshrined in numerous political documents.
The initiative to relaunch the negotiation process does not belong to the West. In March 2015, Russia expressed its readiness for negotiations concerning a new treaty regarding the control of conventional weapons in Europe.
It has never rejected further talk on Conventional Arms Control in Europe (CACE).
New security arrangements should take into consideration the changes the world is going through. A new arms control treaty should be expanded to new technologies. Long range conventional precision guided weapons, armed unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), offensive cyber capabilities, robots, and the weapons based on new physical principles need to be addressed by any agreement to come. Naval forces have been so far excluded from the process. The time has come to rectify this omission and include sea-based weapons and carrier-based aircraft into the agenda.
And it’s not about weapons only. What Europe needs is further development of the confidence-building and security measures (CBSMs) contained in the Vienna Document. Dangerous military activities and excessive build-up of conventional arms exacerbate the risks of new armed conflicts that should be prevented by multilateral transparency mechanisms in a timely detection of destabilizing build-up of arms and in creation of opportunities for a dialogue to lift concerns.
A new deal should not boil down to the correlation of conventional and nuclear weapons only. It should address the issue of European security in a broader sense. The debate over the European security order is long overdue but goes well beyond NATO. The Russia-NATO dialogue should eventually feed into a broader conversation on the European security order, through existing institutional arrangements between NATO and the European Union, as well as NATO and the OSCE facilitated by the Secretary General’s new representative to the OSCE announced at the NATO summit held in Warsaw. NATO-Russia talks could usefully contribute to the agenda of others, and get the ball rolling on a much needed exercise of reestablishing the rules of the European security order. It’s a pity that the discussions within the OSCE never amounted to a new architecture – something long sought by Moscow.
Europe is facing significant internal as well as external challenges, security is paramount and the moment is right to launch a meaningful discussion with Russia on the European security order in a realistic manner taking into account mutual concerns and interests. Respect for each other’s views and interests is a prerequisite for success. It should not be a dialogue of the deaf – something demonstrated at the recent Russia-NATO Council’s meetings. The would-be talks should recognize a strong self-interest on both sides in transparency and predictability to avoid miscalculations and reduce risks as the relationship has clearly become confrontational. The conditions should be created to work out differences without the threat of military force.
Obviously Russia and NATO have plenty of possibilities for cooperation, including the situation in Afghanistan, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, countering piracy, cooperation in the Arctic, combating terrorism to name a few. This is the time to reactivate the negotiating track. After all, diplomacy worked well even at the height of the Cold War. The Initiative launched by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier provides the opportunity not to be missed.