Lessons from the Past: Arms Control in Uncooperative Times


Since the end of the Cold War, arms control has often been perceived as a cooperative endeavor, particularly in Europe. Although the global arms control regime has been deteriorating for some time, Russia’s war in Ukraine seems to have led to the virtual collapse of this paradigm. In combination with a more assertive China, arms control is being pushed back into a more competitive context that has defined Euro-Atlantic and global politics during and prior to the Cold War.

In their new policy brief for the European Leadership Network, Dr. Alexander Graef and Tim Thies look at what kind of arms control might be feasible today. They draw six lessons from the past for arms control in uncooperative times:

1.    Arms control remains possible even under conditions of strategic rivalry
2.    Arms control is rarely a stand-alone tool but part of a comprehensive strategy
3.    Arms control cannot prevent deliberate escalation but can alter its costs
4.    Arms control helps to increase confidence, not trust
5.    Arms Control can buttress post-conflict stabilization
6.    Arms Control can help manage global power transition

The authors argue, however, that a mere return to the tool and methods of the Cold War era is inadequate due to the rise of China and the role of emerging technologies. To address these challenges they provide five policy recommendations that together can help to stabilize the evolving military competition between the great powers.

You can read the policy brief here.