Journal Article - CSS Policy Perspectives

Arms Control: For and By Europe

| September 2020

The nuclear arms control architecture that underwrites European security is crumbling. Europe cannot achieve global nuclear disarmament or build its own credible deterrent, but it can clear the path for the next generation of arms governance through joint action.

Europe is unprepared for the resurgence of great power politics. As Russia, China, and the United States intensify their global competition, they show little care for preserving the residual security architecture built on agreements accumulated over the past half-century to limit weapons and offer transparency.

European security strategies over the past three decades consciously shifted away from military and defense toward transformative engagement with its neighbors. These strategies were made possible by European integration, the American security guarantee within NATO, and the legacy of US-Soviet agreements.

Most of these agreements have collapsed, or are about to. The last two years saw the United States pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Open Skies Treaty. This comes on the back of the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, and Russian abrogation of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty in 2007. The last standing US-Russian arms control treaty, New START that limits deployed strategic nuclear arms, is due to expire in February 2021. Prospects for its extension are uncertain.

Unrestrained power politics also subvert the broader post-Cold War international order. Russia shed legal inhibitions in its seizure of Crimea, military involvement in Eastern Ukraine, and nefarious lethal, cyber, and disinformation activities in Europe and the United States. While amassing conventional forces along NATO borders, Russia has been modernizing its nuclear arsenal, including a large cache of non-strategic weapons.

The Trump presidency, though it might prove an exception to the US long-term commitment to its allies, exposes Europe’s vulnerability to Washington’s whims. Further, the fate of the INF Treaty showed how the US focus on containing China’s rise could imperil European security. While the US withdrawal from the Treaty was driven by Russia’s noncompliance, it was also helped along by the US’ desire to counter China’s INF-range missiles in East Asia. Consequently, Europe is now exposed to Russia’s unconstrained deployment of INF-range missiles.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bollfrass, Alexander K. and Mariana Budjeryn. Arms Control: For and By Europe.” CSS Policy Perspectives, (September 2020) .

The Authors