Executive Summary of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Executive Summary of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


Aiming to preserve the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty as the "cornerstone of European security," President Bill Clinton and 29 other national leaders signed an agreement adapting the Cold War-era treaty to the present European security environment on November 19-nine years to the day after signature of the original treaty. Despite a sweeping restructuring, the treaty objective of promoting European security and stability through lower arms levels, limits on the massing of forces and military transparency remains the same.

More than merely eliminating references to the former Soviet Union and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact, the adapted treaty jettisons the Cold War rationale of balancing two hostile military alliances and instead emphasizes individual country rights, limits and obligations. In a package of associated political commitments referred to as the Final Act, several states also pledged additional weapons reductions and to forgo increases in future weapons levels.

The original treaty remains in effect until the adapted agreement is ratified by all 30 states-parties, at which point the adapted treaty will enter into force.

From Bloc to National Limits

Under the original treaty@ NATO and the Warsaw Pact were each allotted limits of 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored combat vehicles (ACVs), 20,000 artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircraft and 2,000 attack helicopters-materiel collectively referred to as treaty-limited equipment (TLE). With the 1991 break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the 1997 offer of NATO membership to the former Eastern bloc members of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, these bloclimits lost all relevance. The original treaty's outdated nature is underscored by the fact that it requires the new NATO members to coordinate weapons-level changes with Russia and other former Warsaw Pact members in order to stay within the Eastern bloc limit.

The adapted treaty discards these obsolete, alliance-wide limits and replaces them with national ceilings for the same five weapons categories. For the adapted treaty, countries proposed their own limits, with the understanding that they would take a "restrained approach" and work toward the overriding objective of "achieving a significant lowering in the total amount of TLE in Europe."

Together, the 19 members of NATO lowered their cumulative national limits from 89,026 TLE to 79,967. Current NATO weapons holdings only add up to 64,091 TLE, so no actual reductions will be required. While amounting to a paper cut, this reduction does decrease the weapons build-up potential of alliance members, thereby reassuring Russia. Individually, only two NATO states, Aegean rivals Greece and Turkey, increased their weapons limits, though only in the category of attack helicopters. The United States reduced its limits by more than 40 percent, from 13,088 TLE to 7,582. But, like the alliance in general, U.S. actual holdings of 3,465 TLE (as of January 1, 1999) are far below its new limits. For its part, Russia reduced its TLE limits by transferring the entitlement for 385 weapons to Kazakhstan, which did not previously have any weapons entitlements under CFE.

Out With Zones, In With Territorial Ceilings

To guard against weapons accumulations for launching surprise, large-scale offensives, the original treaty restricts the deployment of tanks, ACVs and artillery through a concentric-zone-structure, whereby the smallest zone, located in the center of Europe, has the lowest limits, and successive zones emanating outward have increasingly large limits. Though the possibility of such an attack is much more remote today, the rationale of preventing the build-up of military forces in a specific geographic area remains sound.

In keeping with the shift from a bloc structure to a national one, the adapted treaty eliminates the zones and sets territorial ceilings for each state. These territorial ceilings cap the total amount of ground TLE, both national and foreign-stationed, that a country can have within its borders-a much more restrictive system than the concentric zones, which permitted much larger force levels greater freedom in significantly bigger areas. …

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