This report was first published by IISS
Russia’s war against Ukraine marks a new era and a clear end to the post-Cold War period’s inclusive pan-European security architecture and the region’s unique arms-control framework. The new security environment imposes upon NATO allies an imperative to address their capability shortfalls and bolster the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture. However, arms control can still have an important security function. This paper explores how NATO states can boost their deterrence capabilities while pursuing avenues for reintroducing arms control into the European security architecture, providing certain conditions are met.
In 2023, regional security is being destabilised by Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, its disregard for the European security architecture and the Russian armed forces’ extensive use of missiles and uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) against Ukraine. Russia’s actions are fuelling a demand in Western countries for new offensive and defensive missile capabilities.
This degraded security environment imposes upon NATO allies an imperative to address their capability shortfalls and bolster the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture in response to Russia’s aggression. Many European NATO members are already expanding and modernising their armed forces. However, the Alliance faces challenges in formulating a cohesive force posture. There is debate about the appropriate extent of NATO’s military presence on its eastern flank, whether the United States should deploy new types of long-range ground-launched missiles in Europe, and the potential expansion of the Alliance’s nuclear-sharing arrangements to new member states.
Discussions are also taking place on improving European air and missile defence, notably through competing visions tabled by Germany and France. Berlin proposes quickly acquiring defensive capabilities to address perceived vulnerabilities, while Paris stresses prioritising Europe’s industrial resources over foreign procurement. A structured conversation on missile defence will require a thorough examination of the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine, a survey of the existing and emerging missile-threat landscape, and a consideration of the right balance between the offensive and defensive capabilities that best serve Europe’s deterrence requirements.
While Europe’s current political and security environment is not conducive to new arms-control initiatives, there are avenues for reintroducing arms control into the European security architecture, providing certain conditions are met. One such condition is Russia’s full withdrawal from Ukraine. NATO allies must conduct a sustained debate to formalise a coherent strategy that could build upon – but likely not replicate – the precedent set by NATO’s 1979 Double-Track Decision. Finally, strengthening the Alliance’s capabilities, including through potential deployments of intermediate-range land-based missiles to Europe, could help bring Russia to the negotiating table and should be seriously considered by all NATO allies.
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