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Steinmeier’s arms control re-launch

The Day’s experts on German foreign minister’s better European security initiative
1 September, 2016 - 11:08

On August 26, the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s opinion article entitled “More Security for All in Europe: Re-launch of Arms Control.” He wrote, in part: “Russia’s annexation of Crimea violated international law and called into question the very foundations of Europe’s security architecture. Moreover, the nature of conflict, as Ukraine has demonstrated, has changed dramatically. So-called hybrid warfare and non-state actors are playing ever-greater roles. New technologies – offensive cyber capabilities, armed drones, robots, and electronic, laser, and standoff weapons – carry new dangers. New combat scenarios – smaller units, higher fighting power, faster deployment – are not covered by today’s existing arms-control regimes. The danger of a new arms race looms large.”

He said that, in his view, a re-launch of arms control must cover five areas: agreements that should (a) “define regional ceilings, minimum distances, and transparency measures (especially in militarily sensitive regions such as the Baltics)”; (b) “take into account new military capabilities and strategies (smaller, mobile units, rather than traditional, large armies, taking resources such as transport capabilities into consideration accordingly)”; (c) “integrate new weapons systems (for example, drones)”; (d) “permit effective, rapidly deployable, flexible, and independent verification in times of crisis (carried out by, say, the OSCE)”; (e) agreements that could be “applied where territorial status is disputed.”

The Day asked its experts for comment, particularly how they thought a dialog with Russia could begin and on what terms and conditions.


John HERBST, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center:

“Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s proposal on arms control in Europe has several interesting elements. First of all, it is good to see a leader of the Social Democrats in Germany say that ‘Russia has violated basic principles of peace – territorial integrity, free choice of alliances, and recognition of international law – that are non-negotiable for us in the West.’ It is also good that he publicly states that at Warsaw, NATO ‘renewed’ its dual approach to Russia of ‘deterrence’ and ‘detente.’ So, the German Foreign Minister, like his Chancellor, understands the importance of deterring the Kremlin. That it is important for the security of Europe.

“But is it time for a dialog on arms control with Russia? There is a danger that such a proposal coming at this time from the West would be read as weakness in the Kremlin. After all, the current crisis in Europe is a product of Kremlin aggression, ongoing aggression. During the Cold War, Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia led to a freeze in contacts with the West. Does it make sense to start a new dialog now while Russian soldiers and weapons are still in the Donbas? Perhaps it would be useful to offer arms control talks as an incentive to end Moscow’s aggression. The talks could begin once Kyiv fully controls its border with Russia, all Russian troops and weapons are out of the Donbas, and there is peace in Ukraine’s east.”


Volodymyr OHRYZKO, ex-Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Kyiv:

“There are points made in his [Steinmeier’s] article one can hardly deny, like Russia failing to comply with international treaties, particularly the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, or that the Minsk and the open skies agreements just don’t work, that the Budapest Memorandum remains on paper. He correctly points out in the opening paragraph that, today, the point at issue ‘is not defined by antagonism between communism and capitalism, but by a dispute over social and political order – a dispute about freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights – as well as by a struggle for geopolitical spheres of influence.’

“However, the German foreign minister’s conclusions make one wonder. He believes it’s time we got back to Willy Brandt’s Neue Ostpolitik. It is true that he was a great statesman who proposed the only correct policy aimed at making positive changes in the east of Germany, best summed up as change through rapprochement. This strategy would bear fruit many years later. His new Eastern policy would climax in the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the emergence of a united Germany. However, I don’t think that any parallels can be drawn between the current political realities and those witnessed by Brandt, simply because no government would then attempt to tamper with any national frontiers, not even at the peak of the Cold War.

“What Russia has done and continues doing is simply unprecedented, so referring to Brandt appears historically irrelevant. Steinmeier believes that, apart from deterrence, there should be a specific cooperation proposal. I’m all for it, but I’d suggest that Mr. Steinmeier come up with a clear-cut proposal addressing Russia, namely that the Russian troops be withdrawn from Crimea and Donbas and the status quo be restored. That way some basis for mutual confidence could be established, something without which nothing works in international relations. Then it would be possible to start taking steps aimed at enhancing confidence.

“As it is, there are other proposals that sound rather adequate, sensible, but have nothing to do with the key point on the agenda, [European] security, Russia’s violations of international law, I mean the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war [in the east of] Ukraine. Mr. Steinmeier mentions ‘Ukraine conflict.’ He must be aware that what happened in Crimea wasn’t a conflict but the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. He knows but keeps this knowledge to himself.

“All told, Mr. Steinmeier’s initiative may well camouflage the ongoing war, the annexation of Crimea, rather than help resolve the situation, considering that these harsh realities appear to be taken for granted. No steps are being taken to settle the issue once and for all. Instead, there is talk about drones, minimum distances, and so on. I wish Mr. Steinmeier realized the simple truth that no proposals will be accepted, not by Ukraine in the first place, unless the key issue of restoring the status quo is settled, along with paying damages. Otherwise discussing a new kind of relationships, ‘risk-reduction, transparency, and confidence building between Russia and the West’ sounds like a misconception or can be regarded as a special move aimed at freezing the existing situation. I don’t want to believe that either assumption could prove true with regard to Mr. Steinmeier.”


Mykola KAPITONENKO, executive director, Centre for International Studies, Kyiv:

“[Steinmeier’s opinion] article leaves one with an ambiguous impression. The first part about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, violating international law, calling into question ‘the very foundations of Europe’s security architecture,’ taking us back to the Cold War, tallies with what many Ukrainian observers have had to say and predict, with concern, over the past two and one-half years. However, after making traditional war-and-peace statements, the author proceeds to make proposals that can be interpreted both ways. Probably building peace bridges should be expected from the German government. Few if any doubt that the Kremlin has built a strategic impasse in Europe, just as few, including in Russia, doubt that the problem has to be resolved. Should the existing situation continue, there would be no winner in the end – and this is especially true of Moscow. The big question is: Who will pay for peace and how much? For us Ukrainians, the most important issue is that the future of our country never becomes the price to be paid. In this sense, the German foreign minister’s proposals do not sound convincing. They’re about taking half measures, aimed at deterring Russia while inviting it to cooperate. Most likely, neither will work in the end. Disarmament is a topic that has been traditionally raised in European diplomatic history at a time of strategic impotence. It was raised in an attempt to prevent both world wars, failing both times. During the Cold War, strategic arms limitations talks were the result of, never the reason for, the policy of detente. Russia must be brought to justice for blatantly violating international law, destroying the foundations of [international] security. The Kremlin should rack its brains trying to find a way out of the impasse it has caused, and come up with initiatives. Otherwise, the idea of disarmament against the backdrop of an armed conflict in the heart of Europe, with arms expenditures increasing across the world and Russia’s saber rattling, may sound like a bad joke.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day