Elisabeth BrawAssociate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies
If the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is the star among arms control treaties, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is arguably the foundation. Is this warhorse (forgive the pun) of nuclear treaties in jeopardy? For the moment, it doesn’t seem so: Why would key countries pull out of a nuclear treaty that has been instrumental in keeping the world safe?
Today there is, however, clearly a danger of erosion of international treaties, instruments, and institutions. Treaties have no power in their own right—not even democracy does. Their success depends on the support of their signatories. If something—a treaty, an institution—is taken for granted, and everyone feels at liberty to pick at it, it will inevitably begin to fall apart. If we’re not careful, the NPT could begin to erode too.
The NPT may not need immediate rescue, but Europe—both the EU and its member states—can play a vital role in making sure it doesn’t erode. European countries can take it upon themselves to be defenders of the NPT. The more relevant an international treaty appears in the eyes of voters around the world, the harder it is for their leaders to assail that treaty.
John R. DeniResearch Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College.
Europe cannot rescue the nuclear nonproliferation regime because it is unwilling to impose compelling penalties on or increase the costs to those responsible for the regime’s failure.
An arms control regime, especially one involving adversaries, cannot succeed unless there are costs associated with the violation of it. If, for example, Russia violates the INF Treaty and perceives no penalty, such as the United States and/or its allies deploying similar weapons in Eastern Europe, there is far less incentive for Russia to return to compliance. Europe as a whole is obviously uninterested in investing in intermediate-range, nuclear-capable delivery systems or some other comparable capability that would cause Russia to reassess the costs and benefits of violating the INF Treaty.
During the crisis that ultimately led to the INF Treaty, the West wisely pursued a two-track strategy: it offered to negotiate with the Soviet Union on intermediate-range systems while simultaneously deploying similar systems meant to counter the Soviet advantage. Today, Europe is pursuing a one-track strategy: hand-wringing, which imposes no costs on Moscow and ignores the reality of great power competition with both Russia and China.
The views expressed are his own.
Ben HodgesPershing Chair at the Center for European Policy Analysis and Partner at Berlin Global Advisors
Only if European leaders are willing to be firm, unified, and clear-eyed in dealing with the Kremlin and with Tehran. We knew for years that the Russians were in violation of the INF yet would not confront the Kremlin and hold it accountable.
The Kremlin flaunts international law in general or twists interpretations of existing agreements to suit its own purposes (also known as lawfare). The Kremlin routinely blocks transparency requirements as seen by its refusal to allow the OSCE to do its job in the Donbas. Its illegal seizure of Ukrainian navy vessels and twenty-four Ukrainian sailors and the ongoing “borderization” of Georgia are other well-known examples.
So, yes, Europe can help rescue a nuclear nonproliferation regime if there is a strong verification protocol with transparency—something to which the Russians only agree when they are met with resolve and a united U.S.-European front. I would say the same with regard to Iran. I hope that French President Emmanuel Macron’s bold leadership at the G7 is a step in that direction.
Ulrich KühnDeputy Head Of Arms Control And Emerging Technologies At The University Of Hamburg
At fifty, the NPT looks more like a zombie, neither dead nor entirely alive. But Europe won’t be the one rescuing the treaty, for a number of reasons.
First, even though arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation policies are in bad shape, the NPT is not in acute danger of collapsing tomorrow. Still too many countries attach at least some positive value to it. However, that might change in the future, particularly as more countries are pushing the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Ban Treaty).
Second, on the NPT as much as on any security policy topic, Europe is deeply divided. Ireland and Austria support the Ban Treaty. Germany, Sweden, and others are skeptical. France and the UK are modernizing their nuclear forces and continue to support the Iran nuclear deal—while Poland is doing almost anything to please the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. A coherent European stance on nuclear issues is absent.
Third, the countries that could strengthen the NPT—first of all America, Russia, and China—are locked in great power competition and refuse to support instruments of mutual restraint. Insisting on the nonproliferation side of the NPT without paying attention to the disarmament side of the bargain will only further weaken the treaty.
Shimon SteinSenior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at the Tel Aviv University
The short answer is that rescuing the nonproliferation regime on their own is above the pay grade of the Europeans, who have different interests regarding the subject at hand. What is currently at stake is the future of the nuclear order, which is at risk of unraveling. More broadly, there is a need to adjust the current nuclear order so that it reflects not only the changing global power dynamics—that is, the inclusion of new players (first and foremost China)—but also the emergence of new technologies, which has a destabilizing impact on security and stability.
For that to happen, you need the old and new global powers (to which the Europeans don’t belong) to engage constructively in trying to reach a new consensus. That will require discussing the concept of strategic stability, which will entail revisiting the concept of nuclear deterrence as well as the nonproliferation regime.
Against the backdrop of a deteriorating international arms control environment—examples include the termination of the INF Treaty, the likely non-extension of the New START, and the modernization and expansion of U.S., Russian, and Chinese nuclear arsenals—and the more immediate challenge of rescuing the upcoming 2020 NPT Review Conference, the EU can, as a party concerned, take diplomatic (and civil-society) initiatives. These should be aimed at creating a sense of urgency among the global powers for the need to agree on policies and actions that curb the proliferation of nonconventional weapons as well as take more meaningful steps toward disarmament.