German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has published an article in Der Spiegel magazine proposing a rethink of arms control measures to preserve peace in Europe. He points out that new technologies are being used to create weapons and that the line between nuclear and conventional weapons is becoming blurred, before going on to criticise the deployment of Russian missiles in Kaliningrad, although he does not provide any evidence to support his claim and admits that their deployment is not in violation of the INF Treaty.
The German foreign minister argues decisively in favour of the treaty being preserved, despite the US president’s recent public statement that he intends to withdraw from it. Maas believes that abandoning the INF Treaty would undo one of the greatest achievements in the area of disarmament. So, unlike the United States, Germany and its European allies will be pushing for it to remain in force, emphasises the foreign minister.
A key section of Heiko Maas’ article is his four-point proposal to strengthen international security.
He suggests a return to the practice of Europe, Russia and the US exchanging information on arms and arms control mechanisms; the establishment of a comprehensive regime of transparency for missiles and cruise missiles; China’s involvement for greater transparency in arms control matters; and the possible introduction of restrictions on high-speed strike systems and combat robots that could be used in military operations.
The German foreign minister’s initiative shows that Europe is growing uneasy over the United States’ skewed military policy, which could once again lead to the threat of a nuclear missile stand-off in Europe as happened in the 1980s following the NATO Double-Track Decision taken in December 1979.
With regards to the first point in Heiko Maas’ proposal, it would be worth remembering the 15 unresolved arms control issues that the US and other NATO member states have left hanging. These include American tactical nuclear weapons on European soil, Washington’s numerous violations of the INF Treaty involving the use of intermediate-range and shorter-range training missiles to check the effectiveness of its interceptor missile defence systems, the Pentagon’s deployment of the land and sea components of a global anti-missile shield in Europe and the maritime areas surrounding it, NATO’s build-up of substantial general purpose forces and Rapid Deployment Joint Task Forces, and the staging of large-scale military exercises of an offensive nature in many European countries.
To this list should be added the United States’ negative attitude towards both bilateral arms control treaties with Russia and multilateral ones. These include: the ABM Treaty (their unilateral withdrawal); the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (their refusal to ratify); the START III Treaty, the INF Treaty, and the Treaty on Open Skies (their violation); drafts of the international European Security Treaty and the Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (their refusal to even discuss these drafts); and several other treaties. It should also be mentioned that the United States’ withdrawal from the INF Treaty could completely destroy the painstakingly constructed system of treaties and agreements in place to prevent an arms race. If the German minister is so concerned about strengthening European security, then why does he not say a word about the European Security Treaty, the text of which has been lying ignored on the tables of NATO member states for years, including Germany’s? If it’s no good, then suggest something better.
In this regard, it is unclear exactly what kind of new arms control measures the German foreign minister is talking about when the current arms control agenda has not even been determined.
The second point of Heiko Maas’ proposal on the monitoring of ballistic and cruise missiles cannot be implemented without a specially crafted international treaty mechanism. There are 32 countries around the world capable of developing weapons systems like these, so will he be able to persuade them all to take such a step? The minister does not say.
With regard to possibly widening control over the INF Treaty’s implementation, the reciprocal inspections carried out in connection with it came to an end back in 2001. But how can there be talk of new inspections, whether as part of the INF Treaty or not, if, as of 26 October 2018, the United States has already violated it 95 times by testing its strategic missile defence systems with the real, rather than computer-based, interception of intermediate-range and shorter-range training missiles and intends to carry on violating it? And what about the land- and sea-based nuclear cruise missiles that, at the United States’ initiative, are not covered by existing restrictive military and political measures? There is no mention of these in Heiko Maas’ proposal.
The German foreign minister’s mention of China, meanwhile, is selectively one-sided. Beijing has never been a party to agreements on the limitation or reduction of nuclear weapons. One could just as well raise the issue of ensuring transparency with regard to the existing nuclear missile systems of Great Britain, France and Israel, which all have nuclear assets, while the first two also have strategic nuclear weapons.
Germany should be included on this watch list, since, for many decades now, the country has housed American nuclear bombs capable of carrying out both tactical and strategic missions, as should four other NATO member states that also agreed to host them (Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey). And why not also raise the issue of putting a stop to NATO’s provocative Baltic air-policing mission that has been carried out in the skies over Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia around-the-clock since 2004 and involves the dual-capable aircraft of all three of the West’s nuclear powers, as well as the strike aircraft of the German Luftwaffe?
The German foreign minister’s fourth point regarding hypersonic weapons systems can probably only be considered if there is a global consensus for an increase in mutual trust and respect between states, and only after NATO’s three main nuclear powers have abandoned their offensive nuclear strategies, which are still based on the premise of unconditional offensive nuclear deterrence and the key directive of carrying out the first preventive and pre-emptive nuclear strike against a large number of countries.
Thus, the four ideas put forward by the German foreign minister can only be of interest in a certain context and provided that they contain a sincere and genuine desire to strengthen European security without a build up of surplus arms and large-scale military activities in a forward base area. Such initiatives could attract interest as long as they do not disrupt the legal framework for arms reduction and are implemented on the principle of security for all rather than security for some at the expense of others.
Unfortunately, Heiko Maas’ plan to strengthen arms control is poorly thought out and does not take adequate account of the true state of affairs in this area. His proposal puts the diametrically opposed military and political policies of the United States and Russia on an equal footing internationally and is also unbalanced with regard to China. The individual points, meanwhile, are nothing more than wishful thinking and bear no relation to the actual development of the arms control process currently being reduced to nothing thanks to Washington and its closest NATO allies, including Germany.