The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty has long been referred to as the "cornerstone of European security." But in light of dramatic changes in the European security architecture since 1991, many wonder if it will continue to be and, if so, for how much longer?
Obviously this question looms large in the aftermath of the conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation.
Can this agreement assist in reestablishing security in the North Caucasus or has both its credibility and utility been undermined permanently?
Many diplomats and military leaders still believe the treaty is of vital importance to European security. Unfortunately, however, the Russian Federation has suspended implementation of the CFE Treaty. Moscow took this action due to the fact that the 22 NATO members bound by the 1990 agreement have not ratified the 1999 Adapted Treaty. NATO members have argued that their ratification is contingent upon Russia complying with obligations it freely accepted in the Adapted CFE Treaty, including the full removal of all Russian military forces from the territory of the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova. Russia adamantly refutes this linkage. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has publicly argued that "there is no legal link" between the Adapted CFE Treaty and these commitments.1
Practically speaking, therefore, the Treaty is beginning to unravel. Twice—once in December 2007 and again in July 2008—Russia failed to participate in the bi-annual data exchange. Nor in the last year has Russia provided required information on changes of location in ground treaty limited equipment (TLE). And it is no longer accepting, nor participating in, the Treaty's routine challenge inspection regime. Russia is no longer at the table for Joint Consultative Group meetings in Vienna. Russian President Medvedev's comments underscored Russia's seriousness about its Treaty concerns, calling this "unfair" arms control agreement "non-viable."
The implications of this situation for the future health of the CFE Treaty are serious. Although other parties continue to implement the treaty in full, a situation in which Russia is not implementing core treaty provisions is unsustainable. At some point, other parties will begin re-evaluating their own treaty participation.
NATO endorsed a "parallel actions package" in March 2008 in a clear attempt to avoid this situation.. The proposal called for NATO countries to begin the ratification process (which in some countries such as the United States might take several months) while Russia commenced its withdrawals. Once the forces had been removed from Georgia and Moldova, NATO countries would strive to complete ratification of the Adapted Treaty quickly. NATO members also pledged to address many Russian security concerns once the Adapted Treaty was in place. For example, all new NATO members that are not treaty signatories (Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) have agreed to accede.
NATO also announced that following final ratification it would be willing to discuss Russian concerns about future weapon ceilings and limitations placed on Moscow in the so-called "flank zones" that border Turkey, Norway, and the Baltic Republics.2 Unfortunately the negotiations made little to no progress between March and August 2008. They have now been largely undermined by the deteriorating relations between NATO countries and the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the conflict in Georgia.
How Did We Get Here?The current CFE Treaty was signed at the Paris summit in 1990 by the 22 NATO and Warsaw Pact members and, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, entered into force among 30 parties in 1992. Only one year after that, as the treaty implementation had just gotten underway, top Russian officials began pressing concerns about Russia's equipment limitations in the so-called "flank zones" that border Turkey, Norway, and the Baltic Republics, and undertook a campaign to get those limits changed.
Responding to Russian concerns in 1996, all 30 CFE parties agreed at the CFE Review Conference to provide Russia more flexibility in the flank region through a redrawing of the flank map. The "Flank Agreement" entered into force in 1997. At same the time, treaty parties had already begun, as agreed at the 1996 CFE Review Conference, to embark on a "modernization" of the treaty, in order to adapt it more broadly to the changed European security landscape, one without a Soviet Union or a Warsaw Pact.
These CFE Treaty adaptation negotiations occurred at a time when the European landscape was evolving. Of direct relevance to the treaty and conventional forces, NATO began its process of enlargement. The enlargement process, together with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, brought to the surface a number of Russian concerns. Many of these were identical in theme to those that Russia is raising today. The Adapted Treaty, signed in Istanbul in 1999, addressed many of these concerns and had the strong support of all treaty parties, including Russia.
The question is: If the CFE Treaty unravels, what does Russia lose and what do the other parties to the agreement lose? Is the Treaty truly, as one Russian commentator put it, "a true relic of the Cold War and an example of how outdated agreements negotiated 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' perpetuate adversarial relationships?" Do the facts support this assertion?
It does not appear so. A group of distinguished Western diplomats, military leaders, and academics prepared a letter in 2008 arguing that the collapse of the CFE Treaty would "…undermine co-operative security in Europe and lead to new dividing lines and confrontations". Under the existing regime, more than 4,000 on-site inspections have been conducted and vast amounts of data on conventional forces have been exchanged in a routine that has become integral to European security and stability. Since its inception, over 58,000 pieces of equipment have been destroyed and thousands of compliance inspections conducted as part of its implementation. Conventional forces in five major weapons categories continue to be limited, together with measures that require notification for adjustments in the location of ground treaty limited equipment (TLE). These transparency measures are enhanced in the Adapted Treaty to include additional information on movements of combat aircraft and attack helicopters within the treaty's area of application.
In retrospect, however, many experts believe the inspection regime may have contributed more to the reduction of tensions and crisis prevention than the actual reductions. The treaty proved valuable in assuaging concerns about German reunification and provided transparency during the withdrawal of massive Soviet forces from Eastern Europe. These withdrawals occurred following the signing of the treaty on the German reunification (12 September 1990) by the Federal Republic, German Democratic Republic (East Germany), France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States.3
This agreement also contained significant restraints on military operations. Germany agreed to only deploy territorial units that were not integrated in the NATO command structure on the territory of the former East Germany. Bonn further agreed that no foreign troops would be stationed in its eastern states or "carry out any other military activity there" while the withdrawal of Soviet forces was ongoing. The treaty also specified that "foreign armed forces and nuclear weapons or their carriers will not be stationed in that part of Germany or deployed there" though Germany did insist on the ability to interpret "deployed".
The value of the transparency measures associated with this accord was again demonstrated as American forces prepared for deployment to the former Yugoslavia following the signing of the Dayton Accords. Short notice inspections in accordance with CFE were conducted of U.S. forces in Germany by Russian inspectors as they prepared to depart for Bosnia in 1995. As a result, these military operations were conducted without a significant increase in tensions. Finally, in 1999 a Russian inspection was also conducted at Aviano airbase during the U.S.-led air campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo. This helped allay Russian concerns about U.S. force deployments during this crisis.
With the rising threat of transnational issues such as nuclear proliferation and terrorism, the fate of conventional weapons in Europe may not top the priority agenda of our leadership. But while the original purpose of the treaty—to reduce the risk of conflict and short-warning attacks between two blocs—may be a thing of the past, the CFE treaty can continue to contribute to Europe's security in crucial ways.
Perhaps most important, the transparency and predictability that it provides will continue to serve as an important stabilizing element as European relationships continue to evolve and forces are modernized.
As we consider the way ahead it may be useful to examine the thoughts of Hans Morgenthau, one of the most celebrated scholars of international relations in the 20th century. Morgenthau observed the following three points when considering diplomacy and state policy. First, diplomacy must be rescued from crusading spirits. Second, diplomacy must look at the political scene from the point of view of other nations. Third, the objective of foreign policy must be defined in terms of national interests and supported by adequate power.4
Russia and NATO must avoid emotional rhetoric and rely on careful analysis in order to discover if common interests still exist. Both sides must carefully consider the major areas of cooperation where long-term bilateral interests clearly overlap on issues such as international terrorism, energy, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and stability in Europe.5
Alliance members should closely review the Alliance Strategic Concept that was signed in 1999. This document observed that arms control continues to have "…a major role in the achievement of the Alliance's security and objectives in future."6 But at the same time NATO leaders should not allow their Russian counterparts to have any illusions. The Alliance must insist that Moscow comply with the obligations to remove its troops from Georgia and Moldova as preconditions to ratifying the Adapted Treaty.
Furthermore, if Russia continues to suspend participation in the treaty, at some point in early 2009 NATO leaders should consider ending Moscow's participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Forum for Security Cooperation. Russian negotiators should carefully consider the comments by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. He observed that though relations between Russia and the West had experienced critical situations still "in the end, common sense, pragmatism, and mutual interests will always prevail."7
1 Wade Boese, "Russia Unflinching on CFE Treaty Suspension," Arms Control Today, May 2008.
3 Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany" NATO Review, October 1990, pp.30-32.
4 Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Thompson, Politics Among Nations, 6th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), p. 165.
5 David C. Speedie, "U.S.-Russia Relations: Under Stress, and In Need of Care," Carnegie Council, April 9, 2008
6 NATO Strategic Concept, North Atlantic Council, Washington, DC, 23 April 1999.
7 Thom Shanker, "Gates Urges Cautious NATO Stance on Russia After Georgian Conflict," The New York Times, 19 September 2008, p. A5.