Foreword Russia and the West are on the brink of a renewed confrontation. Driven by mutual perceptions of insecurity, both NATO and Russia are ramping up their defenses along the Baltic fault line. Some of these increased military activities are inherently dangerous. If not managed properly, close military encounters in adjoining airspaces and on the neighboring seas risk unintended escalation, possibly up to the nuclear level.
One of the last remaining pillars of mutual restraint, the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, is subject to heated compliance disputes. At the same time, Washington and Moscow are heavily investing in new and redundant nuclear systems.
The renewed confrontation and the lack of communication might bring back the kind of harrowing crises we had during the Cold War.
The good news is that there are still areas of cooperation in the pursuit of common interests, such as the Iran nuclear deal, the talks on Syria, and the smooth implementation of the New START agreement. Washington and Moscow continue to show interest in maintaining what they define as ‘strategic stability’ – that is, the mutual confidence that neither side is upsetting the nuclear balance. As much as this concept falls short of President Obama’s vision of a world free from nuclear weapons, it still constitutes the most basic pre-condition for dialogue and restraint.
Today, dialogue and restraint are needed more than ever since the end of the Cold War. In order to prevent misperceptions, miscalculations, and the potential return of a costly arms race, both Washington and Moscow have to rediscover the instruments of diplomatic dialogue, military-to-military exchanges, and verifiable arms control.
As much as the proponents of enhanced deterrence are currently dominating the debate, a crucial lesson from the Cold War is that deterrence needs to go hand-in-hand with arms control. Addressing the mutual build-up of arms in the Baltic area, resolving the on-going INF Treaty compliance crisis, and discussing the challenges to further nuclear cuts are thus paramount tasks for the coming years.
Without restraint and dialogue the next generation will inherit again a dangerous and costly adversarial relationship, permanently on the brink of possible disaster.
This report contains a number of bold proposals on how to better manage relations between the West and Russia in order to avert worst-case scenarios. Specifying that cooperative solutions are possible without giving up on the fundamental interests of each side, it warrants a close look by officials in both Moscow and Washington.
William J. Perry