Having been crumbling already for years, international arms control architecture is now in a perilous state. Existing arrangements have either been losing their effectiveness or outright failing due to Russia’s non-compliance, whilst Russia’s aggression against Ukraine might have delivered the final blow to this system.
Even after the war in Ukraine has ended, it will take years to re-establish the level of trust necessary to, again, engage with Russia on arms control. The return to the pre-war ‘business as usual’, where the dialogue will resume as if never interrupted, is unlikely. Arms control dialogue with Russia ‘at any cost’ cannot produce an acceptable result.
Arms control as we have known it, with its legally binding and verifiable agreements, may have come to an end. The trends emerging from the expert discussions are more focused on a different set of instruments, such as political commitments, risk reduction, or transparency and confidence building measures.
Development of new technologies, proliferation of new weapon systems, the rise of China as a global player, and increasing role of non-strategic nuclear weapons in Russian and Chinese military doctrines will all have an impact on global arms control. The fate of the New START Treaty will have a decisive effect on the future of arms control and the prospects of the nuclear non-proliferation regime already under immense pressure.
This report attempts to summarise the developments in arms control architecture over the last decades and accentuate the trends that might be consequential when designing the arms control system of the future.
The year 2023 has already demonstrated that arms control is less relevant in Russia’s security thinking. Moscow exploits the existing arrangements mainly as leverage to influence the US and NATO’s policy towards Ukraine or obtain concessions regarding its proposals on the new European security arrangements.
The role of arms control in European security might be in decline, but the key elements of European security architecture are still in place, and most states continue to implement them. NATO allies – when discussing and designing arms control or confidence-building measures – shall consider how these instruments advance the security of allies.
Under the current circumstances, the priority is to strengthen defence and deterrence of the Alliance. This is the only way to lay the groundwork for a constructive arms control dialogue with Russia.
Download and read: The Future of Arms Control: Ready to (Dis)Agree? (PDF)