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Let's reshape arms control in Europe

29.11.2013 - Interview

Gemeinsamer Beitrag der Außenminister Polens, Dänemarks und Deutschlands, Radoslaw Sikorski, Villy Sovndal undGuido Westerwelle, in der „Financial Times“. Erschienen am 29. November 2013.


Over the past 20 years 70,000 tanks, combat aircraft, helicopters and other military equipment have been destroyed in Europe as a result of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (C.F.E.) introduced at the end of the Cold War. It was a major instrument in the cooperative Euro-Atlantic security architecture. It not only paved the way for the destruction of military equipment, it also established an inspection and verification regime that led to an unprecedented level of transparency.

Since then, new challenges have emerged in other parts of the world (international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction), with serious repercussions for Europe. Former foes in the Euro-Atlantic area are facing these threats together. To make this cooperation effective we must build trust among us. This trust must stem from a stable security architecture in Europe, including a viable system of arms control and confidence-building measures.

But this system is now in crisis. Implementation of the C.F.E. treaty has partly come to a halt. We risk losing the fruits of years of work and confidence building. Some may ask why bother if Europe is at peace today?

In short: because recent history has shown that local and sub-regional conflicts can develop into military confrontations with serious consequences for Europe and neighbouring regions. Peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area have not come about by themselves. Trust and confidence as a necessary basis need to be constantly earned and maintained.

We, the ministers of Poland, Germany and Denmark, met on September 27 in New York to confirm our initiative to develop a new generation of conventional arms control in Europe. The world has changed and so have the threats. Military capabilities have developed in an almost revolutionary manner. The confrontation of military blocs is a thing of the past. If we want to maintain and improve a viable system of cooperative security in Europe we need to redesign it to take these new realities into account.

A new system must be built on the basis of existing structures and should focus on confidence-building measures and increased transparency. It should confirm the basic principles of international law and neighbourly relations. Since real and perceived threats still vary among countries in the Euro-Atlantic area, a modernized agreement should, if interested states call for it, provide instruments tailored to subregional needs.

We also need to think about the capabilities of armed forces rather than the sheer quantity of equipment. Counting battle tanks or combat helicopters remains important, but to understand the true potential of today’s highly mobile conventional armed forces we need a much broader approach that captures qualitative aspects and complex capabilities.

Much has been achieved through the C.F.E. Treaty. Now is the time to take serious steps toward a new generation of conventional arms control in Europe. We will work with our partners to make this happen.

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