The impotence of conventional arms control: why do international regimes fail when they are most needed?

Amid tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russia pulled out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe in March 2015. The Russian case is another example of a country disengaging from conventional arms control when relations with other member states deteriorate. This raises an important question: can arms control regimes aimed at preventing conflict survive periods of tension and preserve peace? This article argues no. It demonstrates that the prospect and stability of conventional arms control regimes depend on healthy international relations. In times of tension, governments rely on military institutions for advice and absorb military biases incompatible with arms control. Therefore, these regimes fail when most needed and are impotent as instruments of peace. Beyond conventional arms control, the article hints at the fragility of nuclear agreements such as the 2015 Iran deal and the 2010 New START between the United States and Russia.

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