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, 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.
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.
There is a fear that Europe is being dragged back to the Cold War.
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.
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.