Arguably, there is a need to connect the dots between four somewhat separate discourses: military rearmament in Russia, conditions for peace in Ukraine, rebuilding defense in the West and prospects for future arms control.
A recent article posted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute argued:“A formal dissolution of the (CFE) Treaty would undermine Western normative commitments to military transparency. In the long run, it could lead to a loss of expertise on how to conduct inspections and information exchange, which might become relevant again in the context of ending Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia currently has no interest in reducing its conventional forces or limiting its flexibility. To the contrary, Moscow has announced changes to its force posture that, if successful, would see the establishment of an army corps in Karelia, new divisions in the occupied Ukrainian territories, and the re-establishment of the Leningrad and Moscow military districts, which were dissolved in 2010.
Western officials should consider what European security will look like after Russia’s war against Ukraine. Any conceivable end-game scenario would arguably result in a high concentration of conventional forces and equipment in the region, even after a ceasefire or preliminary political settlement. A continued strategic conflict between Russia on the one hand and NATO and Ukraine on the other, which is likely, would always risk renewed military action. Under these circumstances, knowledge about how to conduct inspections and information exchange about conventional armed forces and major equipment might come in handy. Once lost, it will be difficult to rebuild the necessary expertise from scratch.“
As Sweden is following Finland into NATO, it will be important to prepare for deliberations on future arms control likely to take place inside the Alliance in a not-too-distant future. NATO played a central role in the negotiation of the Conventional Armed Forces (CFE) treaty and the agreements on CSBMs after the Cold War – as well as the updated CFE never ratified by the parties after the end of the Warsaw Pact. But the future and viability of the CFE model is very much under discussion inside the alliance. It does not even in the best of time seem to add much significant information to NATO about possible destabilizing factors. And the national ceilings established would need to be reviewed in light of what is necessary after the Russian full-scale aggression against Ukraine. After all the West is increasingly focusing also on conventional deterrence, which requires considerable rearmament.
Any future arms control system in Europe that would make a difference therefore needs to be tailor-made to subregional requirements, using the latest available verification technologies. To what extent such a model could be developed in the Northern part of Europe would need to be very carefully studied. And obviously, it all would have to be based on a genuine Russian political will to cooperate.
Finland and Sweden will find themselves in a completely different position than as nonaligned nations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They may be a part of zones where proposals for allowed force levels could be put forward. And they, like everyone else, could be proposed to be subject to stringent and intrusive verification provisions. Understanding what this means for small and medium-sized states will be extremely important.
For the private sector, all of this holds at least the same level of importance as the negotiations during the early 1990s of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The private sector will be tasked with developing verification technologies. At the same time, there will be concerns about commercially sensitive data, and there will be worries about prohibiting research and development that may also be important for civilian products.
Prudent political leaders often, for good reasons, refuse to speculate about uncertain future developments. Much of what may happen further down the road cannot be explicitly dealt with in official strategy documents. This is something which is highly relevant, when considering Ukraine and its peace formula to overcome the Russian threat.
The Ukrainian position obviously concentrates on what is necessary to restore Ukrainian territorial integrity and the international support necessary to secure a prosperous Ukraine for the future.
The peace formula does not deal with what needs to happen in and with Russia, in order to create conditions for peace between Russia and the West. This article highlights one particularly sensitive area of discussion which has been off the table for quite some time in the West: arms control.
During the period of widespread unilateral disarmament in Europe, arms control was not seen as a major issue. Once it was clear that Russia could not be trusted, analysts widely discarded arms control as a viable instrument for peace. Notably, confidence and security building measures were seen as a way to mislead the other side about intentions. And lofty political commitments were often not respected, notably the Budapest commitments undertaken by Russia in 1994 in order to secure a nuclear weapon free Ukraine.
An unconditional total surrender of the aggressor, as happened after the Second World War is less problematic in terms of arms control than the negotiated settlement which was made after the Cold War between NATO and the then-Warsaw Pact. An unconditional surrender squarely puts the burden on the aggressor in terms of arms control, whereas a negotiated settlement such as the CFE treaty puts the requirements on both sides, not least in terms of verification.
The CFE treaty was negotiated under the auspices of the OSCE, which initially when elaborating confidence and security building measures operated under the assumption that all measures should be equally applied to all participating states.
This notion was highly problematic for nonaligned states such as Sweden and Finland with a vulnerable defensive posture which required less than total transparency. Even more this was the case for the Baltic states, which when they joined NATO chose to stay outside the CFE treaty. Defensive preparations against a possible surprise attack for good reasons require a considerable level of secrecy.
Taking Stock of the Current Situation: the Danger of a Frozen Conflict with Russia
The Russian full-scale aggression against Ukraine since 2022 is increasingly evolving into a protracted war. There are concerns regarding the ability of the US to make decisions that uphold its support for Ukraine, both during the current and potential future Biden administrations, and even more so if Donald Trump were to be elected as president.
Numerous European states are confronted with arduous choices as they endeavor to rebuild their national defense, while simultaneously providing substantial support to Ukraine. The prospect of diminished American assistance, in addition to the existing burdens, is undeniably daunting. Given this backdrop, it is only natural that many are currently worried about a frozen conflict in Ukraine, leaving numerous questions unanswered and creating opportunities for Russian rearmament and the redeployment of forces, particularly in the northern direction, thereby posing a significant threat to the Baltic states.
It is self-evident that if a ceasefire were to be agreed upon, it would seem imperative to combine commitments with rigorous verification mechanisms, complemented by punitive measures, in order to prevent any possibility of renewed hostilities. Anything less than a Ukraine victory, will again put the Nordic Baltic region in a dangerous situation.
New Verification Possibilities
At the same time, the current situation presents favorable prospects in that there exist, and will continue to develop, significant opportunities to verify compliance, which were absent during the negotiation of the CFE treaty. In those days, this primarily entailed control over the quantitative stocks of verifiable equipment. NATO and the former Warsaw Pact were each limited to 20,000 tanks, 30,000 ACVs, 20,000 heavy artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircrafts, and 2,000 attack helicopters within the treaty’s area of application.
Commercially available satellite data only possessed a resolution of approximately three meters during that period. Needless to say, the precise location and quality of said equipment were of utmost importance for maintaining peace.
In recent years verification possibilities have been enormously improved and there is already a discussion about how this could be applied to future arms control agreements: The utilization of remote monitoring with active tags could significantly diminish the need for on-site inspections while simultaneously enhancing the level of confidence in verification, all at a reduced cost and without the intrusiveness of foreign inspectors. Although the ideal scenario would involve combining active tags with regular inspections, their independent use would serve as a crucial transparency measure and a significant interim step that could assist the United States, Russia, and NATO in rebuilding trust as highlighted in an article published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist in 2023.
Using artificial intelligence, it should also be possible to make sense of millions of pieces of data from satellite imagery and non-governmental verification investigators such as Bellingcat to alert governments about dangerous trends.
But as indicated above the devil is in the detail what it comes to finding a model for future arms control in Europe, and even more so if one includes sub-strategic nuclear weapons.
To be continued…