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A Baltic Test for European Arms Control

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.