1. THE LIFE OF THE EU WITH/WITHOUT NATO
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 6/03/2019
* Splits between Germany and Poland vis-à-vis Russia signal deeper divisions in the alliance, oneswhich threaten European security
Vladimir Putin threatens the West – once again. In his state of the union speech last week he warned that “Russia will be forced to create and deploy new types of weapons” that could be used not only against Europe but also the United States. Sabre-wattling is not a new tactic by Putin, even if his announcement comes close to an arms race declaration.
This is Russia’s response to the US withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The risk of a dangerous escalation is real. For now it is still the political, rather than military, fallout that may prove devastating for Europe’s interests. And the two key countries that stand to be most affected by this looming crisis are Germany and Poland. But – critically – the signs are that they are hardly up to the challenge. Putin’s Russia may well be the only beneficiary of their failure.
It is folly to believe Europe’s choice is between nuclear rearmament or doing nothing: NATO could respond both militarily and diplomatically.
- The US decision to abandon the INF treaty is not surprising. That it took it without orchestrating a joint NATO follow-up plan says a lot about Washington’s changing approach to the once-solid notion of “shared security’ with Europe.
- There has arguably been no clearer proof of how little Donald Trump cares about Europe’s unity – at a time when it is increasingly challenged by external powers.
- America’s European allies granted support for his decision to suspend the treaty, but they have no idea how to achieve security in the face of the rocket games played by both the US and Russia. It is on this question that Germany and Poland have most obviously come up short, at a time when they need to have a shared approach in order to shape the NATO response.
Germany is still traumatised by the rearmament debate of the 1980s, when the deployment of American Pershing II and Cruise missiles led to massive protests and the creation of a powerful pacifist movement.
Any response to Russia’s violation of the INF treaty which involves deploying American rockets on European soil (either in Germany or in Poland) is a huge taboo for a large part of Germany’s political class and society.
Its foreign minister, Heiko Maas, declared from the outset that rearmament is not the answer – which no doubt appeals to a domestic audience but is a nonsense in terms of strategy, even if, as Maas suggests, the ultimate goal should indeed be a new multilateral arms control treaty. The chances for such a new treaty are close to zero as neither the US or Russia appear at all interested in considering one.
Meanwhile, Poland’s national-populist government has made plain it considers that Russia’s non-compliance with arms control agreements requires no new diplomatic invitations. Warsaw’s idée fixe is a bilateral strategic partnership with the US which would involve a permanent military base (the so-called “Fort Trump”), arms contracts, and cooperation on some international issues.
The Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, recently made headlines by telling Der Spiegel that, given the collapse of the INF treaty, he would support the deployment of American missiles in Europe.
The ministry quickly corrected that comment, saying Czaputowicz had spoken about the presence of the US nuclear weapons in Europe in general, not new rockets. But there is little doubt that Warsaw would indeed welcome them. Nor is there much doubt as to how Germany would react to such a development.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu