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A Baltic Test for European Arms Control

Summary:
BERLIN – Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014, its political and military relations with the West have deteriorated sharply. Russian military redeployments, exercises, and threats have increased insecurity across Europe. NATO has responded by increasing its military presence in Central Europe, fueling fears of encirclement in the Kremlin. To head off the risk of an arms race or military confrontation, both sides must urgently agree to reciprocal measures to limit military capabilities and engage in arms control. Of course, Russia and NATO have very different ideas about a peaceful and stable European security order. But the same was true during the Cold War, and the two sides made progress by using arms-control instruments to manage their relationship and

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BERLIN – Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014, its political and military relations with the West have deteriorated sharply. Russian military redeployments, exercises, and threats have increased insecurity across Europe. NATO has responded by increasing its military presence in Central Europe, fueling fears of encirclement in the Kremlin. To head off the risk of an arms race or military confrontation, both sides must urgently agree to reciprocal measures to limit military capabilities and engage in arms control.

Of course, Russia and NATO have very different ideas about a peaceful and stable European security order. But the same was true during the Cold War, and the two sides made progress by using arms-control instruments to manage their relationship and mitigate the risk of war. Today, however, there is substantial disagreement among NATO members about the preconditions, content, and format of possible arms-control talks with Russia.

Last August, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested that all interested countries in Europe should attempt to “re-launch” arms control in Europe “as a tried and tested means of risk reduction, transparency, and confidence building between Russia and the West.” Such a “structured dialogue,” Steinmeier argued, should move beyond existing agreements.

Six weeks later, the United States robustly rejected that proposal, asserting that, as long as Russia remains on its current course, there is “simply no basis” for new arms-control talks. Instead, the US argues, existing agreements should be revitalized.

Germany’s proposal may well be too ambitious. But America’s proposal is not ambitious enough, and, perhaps more important, it ignores the failure of past attempts to modernize key accords, such as the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and the Open Skies Treaty. A better approach – more feasible than Germany’s and more effective than America’s – would be a push by both countries for Steinmeier-style arms control in just one European region: the Baltic rim.

Since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, mistrust between NATO and non-NATO members in the Baltic region has intensified, making that region particularly vulnerable to conflict. NATO now must strike a balance between, on one hand, meaningful reassurance for its own Baltic and Central European members and deterrence vis-à-vis Russia, and, on the other hand, continued cooperation and dialogue with Russia. In this sense, the Baltic Sea region could become a proving ground for political strategies to ease tensions between NATO and Russia.

NATO has always considered deterrence and arms control to be two pillars of a strategy for maintaining European stability. For this reason, re-launching arms control for the Baltic...Continue reading here

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