The Post-Cold War Settlement in Europe: A Triumph of Arms Control

By Mandelbaum, Michael | Arms Control Today, March 1997 | Go to article overview

The Post-Cold War Settlement in Europe: A Triumph of Arms Control


Mandelbaum, Michael, Arms Control Today


If a cure for cancer were discovered, what would be the response? There would be admiration for the discoverers and celebration of the discovery. It would be a great, triumphal public event.

For the political equivalent of cancer, a cure has been discovered. The greatest scourge of our century is war. The worst and most destructive wars-World Wars I and II-have begun and been fought in the heart of Europe. The Cold War began and ended there. The danger of a major war in Europe was the central obsession of the American government for much of the 20th century, and rightly so. But that danger is now at its lowest level in decades, perhaps in all of Europe's modern history. What is the reason for this? What is the equivalent, for war in Europe, of a cure for cancer? It is, among other things, arms control. The post-Cold War settlement now in place in Europe is a triumph of arms control. That statement raises three questions. First, how and why could this statement be true? Second, if it is true, why has this achievement been so little appreciated? And third, why does it matter whether this achievement is appreciated? In my book, The Dawn of Peace in Europe, I argue that there is a new security order in place in Europe, one that differs from the two most familiar ways of organizing security: balance-of-power politics and world government. Balance-of-power politics has been the source of such stability as Europe has enjoyed for most of its recorded history, including during the Cold War years. World government is a utopian dream that has been envisioned and advocated but never implemented, and that might not be a source of celebration if it were implemented, which it almost surely will not be.

The theme of The Dawn of Peace in Europe is that, in the wake of the Cold War, Europe has established a third method for achieving security, which I call common security and that owes something to the concept of cooperative security that was developed at the Brookings Institution. Within this common security regime, Europe is still made up of sovereign states. There is no supranational authority. The states of Europe are still armed. But peace in Europe does not depend-as it has for most of Europe's recorded history-on a finely balanced hostility between and among the most powerful European nations. The new common security order has dramatically reduced both the incentives and the capabilities for war.

The incentives have been reduced by the great political changes of 1989 and 1991. It is important to understand the events of those years as not only liberating the people involved, from whom the yoke of communism was lifted, but also as reducing substantially the threat of war. Communism itself, and the imperial domination that came with it in Europe, were standing causes of war. As long as communism and a communist European empire lasted, those oppressed would struggle to break free and those of us who were already free would struggle against the threat that communism posed.

Not only the end of communism, but also the beginnings of democracy contributed to peace in Europe. For democracy is associated with peace. There is, of course, no iron law that democracies are necessarily and always peaceful. And the most problematical country in Europe for the purposes of European security, Russia, is not fully democratic. Nonetheless, there has been since 1989 and 1991, a marked and remarkable surge of democratization across formerly communist Europe, and that contributes to the unprecedentedly peaceful character of relations between and among sovereign states there.

The military capabilities of the countries of Europe are also less threatening now than in the past, and this has been accomplished by arms control. Specifically, it has been accomplished by the remarkable series of accords that were signed beginning with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] agreement of December 1987, and culminating with the START II accord of January 1993. …

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