One of the pillars of nuclear arms control became history on Feb. 2, with the expiry of the 60-day deadline that the United States had given Russia to save the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia blithely let the deadline pass. But so did the European Union, abetted by Germany. Europe is now entering a potentially dangerous period and must play a much more active role in the nuclear-arms debate.
The INF treaty prohibits the stationing of medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe. Its near-certain demise dims prospects for extending the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty when it expires in 2021. And without a contractual nuclear-arms framework between Russia and the U.S., the international Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons cannot survive.
Non-proliferation depends on the two nuclear superpowers' willingness to subject themselves to arms control and verification. If the U.S. and Russia instead engage in a nuclear arms build-up, smaller powers will follow suit, because they believe that doing so makes them invulnerable. North Korea and Iran are just the first examples of this.