Dangerous Illusions

Europe Needs an Arms Control Reboot

Crisis in Ukraine
A pro-Russian separatist tank in near Luhansk, Ukraine, last year.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Europe has entered into a dangerous spiral of escalation, but there are ways to handle the dangers, Mr. Steinmeier writes.

  • Facts


    • Russia challenged Europe’s basic principles of peace when it annexed Crimea, he says.
    • After taking peace for granted for two decades, Europeans must now recognize that everything is suddenly at stake again.
    • Current arms control and disarmament regimes have been ignored by Russia or have become obsolete.
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Europe’s security is under threat. As little as we could have imagined that just a few years ago, this concern is now at the very top of our political agenda. Even before the Ukraine conflict, there was a new sense of confrontation in political blocs that had long been considered overcome. It was no longer perceived as antagonism between communism and capitalism, but as a dispute over the right social order – about freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights – and as a struggle over geopolitical spheres of influence.

With its annexation of Crimea, in violation of international law, Russia has challenged the fundamental principles of Europe’s architecture of peace. The conflict structures have changed dramatically, as hybrid forms of confrontation and non-state players gain importance. New technologies also bring new dangers: offensive cyber capabilities, armed drones, robotics, electronic tools of war, laser weapons and standoff missiles. New operational scenarios involving smaller units, greater strike capability and faster mobility, are not covered by the existing transparency and control regimes. We face the threat of a new, dangerous arms race.

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