The CFE Treaty: Building European Security

By McCausland, Jeffrey D. | Strategic Forum, October 1995 | Go to article overview

The CFE Treaty: Building European Security

McCausland, Jeffrey D., Strategic Forum


* The November 17th final implementation date for the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty is in jeopardy due to Russian insistence that they cannot abide by the limitations imposed on their forces in the treaty's "flank zone." Domestic political factors in the West and in Russia, rather than purely foreign policy or military considerations, complicate finding a solution.

* Russian "flank zone" fixes, increasing the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACV's) and artillery pieces allowed in the Caucasus, could be interpreted as significant thus allowing hardliners on both sides to insist on resubmitting the treaty to national legislatures for ratification.

* A proposed Western compromise permits more Russian equipment in the zone than originally allowed, but less than is there now. The objective is to find an interim solution until next Spring when a scheduled treaty review will allow a review of "flank zone" requirements and limitations in the context of the treaty as a whole.

Historical Context

The CFE Treaty, signed even as the Cold War ended, is without question the most comprehensive and complex conventional arms control accord in history. Treaty objectives include: 1) improving stability and security in Europe by creating balanced conventional forces; 2) decreasing levels of conventional armaments and equipment; and 3) precluding the capability for launching surprise attacks or large-scale offensive operations.

However, the dramatic changes in European politics that occurred between December 1988 and December 1991 altered the context of the agreement, almost immediately replacing its purposes with new requirements. CFE was of critical importance in the disengagement of the two military blocs, the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the repositioning of the Soviet Army to Soviet territory, and the creation of a security framework that allowed a united Germany to be perceived as less threatening. As the final date of implementation (November 17, 1995) approaches, the agreement is endangered by Russian insistence that they can no longer abide by the force limitations in the so-called "flank zone." CFE could thus contribute to deterioration of Russia's relations with the West instead of helping build a new European security architecture.

The CFE Treaty

The CFE Treaty's 110 pages encompass 23 articles, several protocols, and two annexes. Two legally binding statements and four other political documents are also associated with the accord. The agreement limits five categories of weapons in the European territory of the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact (WTO). The area of the agreement is subdivided into geographic sub-zones intended to force relocation of Soviet forces eastward from the inter-German border and to prevent their concentration within the Soviet Union. A portion of southern Turkey is excluded from the treaty due to Turkish concerns about Syria and Iraq.

Despite the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the bloc-to-bloc character of the treaty will continue until at least the Review Conference in 1996. Overall limits for each alliance are: 20,000 main battle tanks; 30,000 ACV's; 20,000 artillery pieces; 6,800 combat aircraft (excluding trainers, strategic bombers, and land-based naval aircraft); and 2,000 attack helicopters. NATO and WTO have negotiated entitlements for its members consistent with these ceilings. At Tashkent on May 15, 1992, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the successor states negotiated limitations for each state. Additional adjustments were made upon the division of Czechoslovakia.

The treaty contains other specifications required of an agreement of this complexity--careful definitions, proper methods of verification, requirements for periodic exchanges of information, and establishment of the Joint Consultative Group (JCG) to monitor problems during implementation. …

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