Whilst protests and potential revolutions rock the Middle East, and comparisons are made with 1989, the post Cold War Euro-Atlantic security elite meet in Munich for the annual security conference. This has in recent years been the venue of choice for major announcements affecting European security, and in particular relations between NATO and Russia. Completing what has at times felt like a very Cold War debate, it is expected that the new START instruments of ratification will be exchanged between US and Russian foreign ministers at the conference. The Russians have already said that any further steps in the arms control process will need to be more multilateral, presumably pulling in the British and French nuclear arsenals. Prior to the event, Senator Sam Nunn, Igor Ivanov (former Russian FM) and Wolfgang Ischinger (Chairman of the conference) published a paper calling for a ‘Post-nuclear Euro-Atlantic Security Order’. This proposed a short list of urgent, practical steps involving: increasing launch warning times; cooperation on missile defense; increasing security of nuclear weapons; dialogue on tactical nuclear weapons; bringing CTBT into effect; multilateral control of the nuclear fuel cycle; and further reductions in nuclear forces. Ishinger last week proposed that European leaders now finally act to remove all nuclear warheads and related infrastructure from Europe, and to unite the continent, with Russia, in a security architecture. This is a view that I have heard German politicians of all main parties and officials voice in private during several recent events. This Munich conference could indeed play the global and independent visionary role it claims.
Unfortunately, the political will has until now been lacking where it really matters. President Obama’s State of the Union last week largely implied consolidation of gains made in 2010, choosing political realism in the face of an opposition in Washington emboldened by electoral gains in November. The gains in Obama’s ‘Prague agenda’ have been so meager, that for progress to falter now would be truly catastrophic. For too long Europe has looked to Washington for leadership, in deterring the Soviets in the 20th century, and now to driving the disarmament process. Just as the Egyptian people have plucked up the courage to forge their own destiny, so too Europeans would do well to remember just how far they have come since 1989, and consider how they can determine the future of security on their continent by clearing away the detritus of past confrontation and look forward. The deployment of free-fall nuclear bombs in Europe is just such a legacy. If we are not willing to remove them soon we have little hope of establishing the cooperation with Russia needed for so many challenges we face.
These are the personal views of the author.
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