The Decline of Cold-War-Era Regimes Could Lead to an International Security Crisis

    Polina Sinovets

    Security, Europe

    Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    The decline of international-security regimes is inevitable—in part because the majority of them were created during the Cold War.

    One of the most visible tendencies of the twenty-first century is the gradual decline of the global international-security regimes. Created in the years of the Cold War, they ensured international stability, provided a framework for relations between major powers as well as between those and smaller states, and prevented major wars. As these regimes decline, international relations become less structured and less predictable; the role of military power grows. The first to suffer are weaker states, which can no longer rely on the protection of international law; in the meantime, tension among great powers increases and they appear inching toward direct conflict, which could escalate to major war.

    The world has not seen instability on the same scale since before World War II. In the meantime, weapons have become much deadlier, even if the ultimate—nuclear—weapons are put aside for a moment.

    The decline of international-security regimes is, to an extent, inevitable. The vast majority of them were created during the Cold War while the more recent ones are simple additions. Deep down, these regimes were intended to address the reality that no longer exists—a bipolar world dominated by two superpowers, which exercised relatively tight control over the rest of the planet. The embodiment of that system was the UN Security Council with its five permanent members and the right of veto. After the Cold War ended, it seemed that the world would become unipolar, dominated by the United States and its allies. Yet, dispersion of power continued. New major players emerged, such as China and India; Russia recovered from the recession of the 1990s and joined the new “great game.” The regimes that were intended to regulate East-West relations are poorly fit to regulate the new reality.

    As a result, the security structure suffers from not only the lack of efficiency, but also the lack of credibility, which is demonstrated in the multiple international-crisis tendencies as well as certain protest movements.

    Two developments embody that crisis—the demise of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which provided security assurances to Ukraine as it rescinded nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union, and the deadlock of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control, which could result in complete collapse as early as in 2021 after the expiration of the New START Treaty, which limits U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arms.

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