This article is reposted with kind permission from the Outrider Foundation who commissioned this piece.
Dialogue and consensus are key to maintaining a strong partnership.
Last October, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. As a reminder, the U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty in 1987. It completely eliminated all ground-based missiles with a range between 310 and 3420 miles (500 to 5500 km). Russian missiles in the banned range are not a threat to the United States, but they could threaten U.S. Allies in Europe. The treaty provided a great deal of security to European partners. Without it, they are more vulnerable.
After Trump’s announcement, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has tried to maintain a public image of unity. But, in private, most Allies harbor deep concerns over Trump’s approach. German Chancellor Merkel asked the United States to at least delay withdrawal until 2019. And, the U.S. did indeed wait until February 2, 2019, to suspend its obligations under the Treaty and to begin the process of withdrawal. The treaty will now formally end on August 2, 2019.
How will the Alliance respond to a post-INF World?
Europeans still put great stock in the INF Treaty and will continue to consider ways to save it. One proposal would allow Russia to inspect the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defence launchers located in Romania, while the United States would inspect the Russian 9M729 missile. Or, European Allies might prohibit U.S. missile deployments on European soil, provided Russia moves their missiles outside of striking distance of NATO.
“Even if we are unable to save the INF Treaty, we cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.” — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, January 11, 2019.
Back to the Future
There is a fear that Europe is being dragged back to the Cold War. Yet the risks today are very different from the existential ideological confrontation of the 20th century. NATO now borders Russia itself. Cruise missile technology has advanced rapidly, meaning decision-makers would have less time to respond to an attack. And, given that some new weapon systems are capable of both conventional and nuclear use, there is a greater risk of nuclear escalation through miscalculation or misperception.
During the Cold War, consultation among Allies was key to creating the INF Treaty. In the 1970s and 1980s, the United States and European Allies agreed to deploy nuclear-armed Pershing Missiles in response to new Russian missile deployments. But, this was contingent on pursuing arms control with Russia to get rid of these weapons. Without agreement on this ‘dual-track’ approach, many European Allies would have struggled to accept U.S. missile deployments.
‘Are we getting closer to the 60s when we had an uncontrolled Cold War? Are we heading to a situation where we must see that it’s the end of diplomacy?’ — Finnish Foreign Minister Sauli Niinisto, February 16, 2019.
Finding a new Transatlantic Consensus
Today, there is an urgent need to remember the importance of dialogue. Yet, Trump’s assertion that he did not need to consult his allies about the withdrawal, “because I don’t have to speak to them,” shows a flagrant disregard for Alliance solidarity.
NATO needs to respond with unity, by consensus, and with all European voices heard. U.S. announcements about developing and deploying missiles at the ‘earliest possible date’ before formal decisions are made, undermine European expectations of open consultation on nuclear issues.
Traditionally Europeans have expected the United States to lead on nuclear issues in the Alliance. But this expectation is based on the understanding that the United States would operate in the interests of the whole Alliance. European countries troubled by the U.S. approach will now expect a stronger say. Even Allies such as Poland, who may be more willing to accept U.S. deployments, recognize the danger to Alliance cohesion. Poland has confirmed that any deployment would need to be decided collectively by Allies.
Europeans need to consider how to deter Russia. But, they also need to consider what future relationship they aspire to have with Russia. Despite the deep lack of trust between the two, both can take steps to gradually rebuild that trust.
The U.S. decision to leave the INF Treaty further widens a growing transatlantic rift. A fractured Alliance only emboldens Russia. Indeed, it is an outcome they seek. The United States needs to hear European concerns. If the U.S. fails to listen in the next phase of the INF crisis, it could damage its capacity to lead in Europe. And If NATO is unable to reach a new consensus it will struggle to stop a return to nuclear competition in Europe. All would do well to remember the importance of diplomacy and dialogue for creating sustainable security.
‘Blind rearmament can’t be the answer’ — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, February 16, 2019.
Finding Unity in Disunity: NATO dialogue on INF more important than ever
NATO has attempted to project an image of unity in the wake of President Trump’s October 2018 announcement of his intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty. But most European Allies harborharbour deep concerns over his approach to arms control. Acceding to appeals from Chancellor Merkel to at least delay withdrawal until 2019, the US announced on 2nd February its suspending of obligations under the landmark Treaty that eliminated intermediate range conventional and nuclear ground-launched missiles from Europe. It now formally expires on the 2nd August.
The INF Treaty is deeply valued by the Europeans, and capitals will continue to consider ways they can save the Treaty. Ernest Moniz of NTI has joined the choir of voices calling for NATO to propose mutual inspections of alleged INF violating systems. According to the proposal, Russia could inspect the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defence launchers deployed in Romania and the United States could inspect the 9M729 missile, both involving alleged violations of the Treaty.
European Allies may consider a formal public commitment to reject the deployment of ground-launched missiles on European soil in return for Russia moving deployed missiles from within striking distance of NATO territory. Indeed, whilst deeply critical of Russia and placing the blame firmly in their court, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stated he did not foresee the need for NATO deployments. On 11th January German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has echoed this sentiment:
‘Even if we are unable to save the INF Treaty, we cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.”
This hints at a fear of Europe is being dragged into a post-INF future unprepared. Recently, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto asked ‘are we getting closer to the 60s when we had an uncontrolled Cold War?’.
Yet the risks today are very different from those of the 1980s, besides the obvious absence of the depth of existential ideological confrontation. Cruise missile technology has advanced rapidly, faster missiles that can loiter and change flight trajectory compress decision-making time rapidly. Given that NATO now borders Russia itself, any deployed missiles could be much closer to Russian political, military and industrial infrastructure, if NATO were to change its deployment policies. Add to this the risks of battle-proven dual-capable systems that blur the line between conventional and nuclear warfare and the prevalent use of cruise missiles in conflict today.
Moreover, the US decision to leave the INF Treaty further widens the transatlantic rift exposed by Trump’s Presidency and particularly the decision to leave the Iran Deal, delayed reaffirmation of the US’ Article V commitments to European security, and the nature of Trump’s accusations of European free-riding on defence spending. Of course, NATO has always sought, and at times struggled, to find a transatlantic consensus on nuclear issues. In the 1970s and 80s, consultation with Allies was key to creating the dual-track approach that led to the NATO’s decision to deploy Pershing Missiles in Europe while pursuing the arms control discussions to remove these missiles that resulted in the INF Treaty. Without consultation and consensus, some Allies could have struggled to accept US INF missile deployments whilst others might have felt abandoned by the US if they had not responded.
Today, the need for dialogue is evidently clear. Trump’s assertion that he didn’t need to consult his allies on withdrawal, ‘because I don’t have to speak to them,’ shows a flagrant disregard for Alliance solidarity and for the interests of European’s security, particularly as this Treaty governed missile ranges so obviously linked to European states and not directly to the United States. Even though Europeans have come to agree that Russia is violating the INF Treaty, there is still resentment both over the US decision and the manner in which it was made.
There may well now be a broader debate on NATO nuclear posture and approaches security. How will the Alliance respond to a post-INF World? Here, it must consider what its deterrence needs are against Russia, what specific response to Russia is feasible and can garner support amongst all member-states, and what future relationship with Russia does NATO aspire to create? Whilst NATO’s experience with Russia involves a deep lack of trust on both sides, NATO has an opportunity to consider how it might act to gradually rebuild that trust. If it fails to make the first steps but requires Russia (which is in a weaker security position to NATO) to take the first steps or to demonstrate contrition, then there will be no improvement and the judgement of Russia as untrustworthy will become self-fulfilling.
NATO needs to respond with unity, by consensus, and with all European voices heard. US announcements that they intend to ‘develop and deploy ground-launched missiles at the earliest possible date’ and US undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson saying ‘we’re now talking about conventional systems’, before formal decisions have been taken, appear hasty and undermine European expectations of open consultation. The INF problem is not limited to nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. A major deployment of modern conventional cruise missiles in Europe could be seen as significantly destabilising.
European voices are and will continue to be louder on nuclear issues. As Chancellor Merkel bluntly put it, ‘we’re stuck with the consequences’ but ‘blind rearmament can’t be the answer’. Even Allies such as Poland, who may be more willing to accept US deployments, recognise the dangers to Alliance cohesion and have confirmed that any deployment in Poland would need to be decided ‘collectively by allies’.
Traditionally Europeans have expected Washington to lead on nuclear issues in the Alliance, on the understanding that the United States would operate in the interests of the whole Alliance. However, European capitals troubled by the US approach will now expect a stronger say. If Washington decides to ignore European concerns in the next phase of the INF crisis, it could damage any capacity to build a sustainable relationship with Russia. With the possibility of the United States trying to push modernisation and new deployments on Europe (nuclear or conventional), states would do well to remember the principles of consultation and consensus if unity is to be anything other than a thin veneer disguising cracks.