Arms control is not a panacea. It has never managed to transform a relationship, it just "freezes" the situation. Yet by stabilizing mutual expectations it might contribute to confidence-building.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and article Reviving Arms Control in Europe suggested to rebuild bridges with Russia in order to avoid a dangerous arms race between Russia and NATO. Dr. Hans-Joachim Spanger, Head of Research Group and member of the Executive Board of the Peace Research Institute, Frankfurt, discussed the Steinmeier initiative in interview with www.valdaiclub.com:
How effective are now principles of simultaneous deterrence and détente, which worked for 70 years. Are "tried and tested means" and the principles of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik effective in the field of confidence-building measures and arms control in modern conditions? According to Steinmeier, deterrence is clear to everyone but the détente is not felt. He calls for building bridges. How can they look to meet modern realities?
The "tried and tested" dual strategy of deterrence and detente does not refer to Brandt's Ostpolitik but to NATO's Harmel Report of 1967 which preceded Brandt's chancellorship and was (re)confirmed at The Warsaw Summit of NATO in July 2016. By the way, it has not "worked for 70 years" as it was not relevant anymore from 1990 until 2013 when after the Cold War there was no need for deterrence.
And this points to the problem with this dual strategy: In 1967 adding detente to deterrence clearly marked progress, adding deterrence to detente, however, as is the case these days clearly is a step back from what had been achieved already. It thus reflects how bad the relationship actually is.
The current European security regimes and agreements do not work. In 2007, Russia suspended its participation in the CFE treaty (Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty). According to Steinmeier, OSCE Vienna Document 2011 on confidence-building measures does not work, the Budapest Memorandum lost sense and even Open sky Treaty is observed infrequently. Basically new negotiations with Russia have to start from scratch. How this can be effective and produce concrete results?
These agreements require a closer look at each of them. The application of the CFE treaty has in fact been suspended, first by Russia (because NATO did not ratify its "adapted" version) and later by NATO. This, however, only concerns the transparency measures as the holdings of the relevant weapon systems have dropped well below the agreed ceilings. The Vienna Document still works, but in fact deserves an update which addresses newly emerged concerns (such as the new emphasis on smaller units and greater speed). The Budapest Memorandum was clearly violated by Russia (which together with the UK and the US pledged to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine); but this only reconfirmed obligations of the UN Charter and the CSCS Final Act and hence was not an arms control agreement. So there is no need to start from scratch, but to refine and adapt existing agreements - and uphold legal obligations.
Steinmeier said that the new agreements on arms control in Europe should include modern systems and methods (drones, lasers, cyber attacks, robots, etc.), as well as new military capabilities and strategies, such as hybrid warfare. In the field of advanced technologies and conventional weapons systems the West has advantages over Russia. Is the West ready for restrictions in this field?
Arms control negotiations almost always start with proposals that favor only one side and almost always end with a compromise that addresses the concerns of both sides. Otherwise there will not be any results. The MBFR talks on conventional weapons in Europe are a case in point dragging on for years during the 1970s with no tangible result.
There is, however, a kind of structural problem that concerns NATO proper. Whereas Germany has always been a staunch advocate of arms control - and Steinmeier's proposals are to be seen in this tradition - in most cases it ran up against stiff opposition on the part of the US which since the Clinton administration has not shown a great propensity to accept negotiated caps on its military capabilities and options. The cool reception of Steinmeier's initiative testifies to this.
In new agreements with Russia on European security it is necessary to fix somehow the current status of Crimea. If you avoid this problem, the agreements could be inadequate. Can it be suitable for the West?
Crimea clearly poses a problem for arms control - as did the unrecognized "frozen-conflict" territories in the past. Including these implies recognition, excluding them creates loopholes. So Crimea might easily amount to a stumbling block which, however, does not necessarily preclude arms-control talks.
Steinmeier referred to the fact that Russia has repeatedly asked NATO to debate over weapons in Europe. According to Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee, "we should elaborate a set of initiatives that could be the basis for agreements in principle in the field of security and arms control. " If the negotiations do begin, will they affect the anti-Russian rhetoric of a number of Eastern European countries?
Kosachev's remark is certainly to be welcomed, the more so as one can hear quite different voices in Moscow, and not only from the military. In present circumstances starting talks about what both sides perceive as threatening is valuable in itself.
However, arms control is not a panacea. It has never managed to transform a relationship, it just "freezes" the situation, if you wish. Yet by stabilizing mutual expectations it might contribute to confidence-building. And in current circumstances this is certainly a valuable aim to which Steinmeier points when he characterizes arms control as "time-tested means to foster transparency, risk reduction and confidence-building".
Can the Steinmeier initiative be a sign that the EU ruling circles worry about the possible refusal by the US to defend the European countries in the future as before, if any incident with Russia occurs?
No, by no means. This would grant the lunacies of Donald Trump by far too much credit. Moreover, if it were so, these proposals should have come from those East Europeans who currently nurture most the classic alliance fear of abandonment . But they call for "coupling"- hence armament - rather than the opposite (this too reminiscent of the Cold War habits).