CREDIT: Dennis Doyle, Carnegie Council
CREDIT: Dennis Doyle, Carnegie Council

European/Eurasian Security and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)

Aug 29, 2011

This paper was presented at a conference entitled "Carnegie Council's Program on U.S. Global Engagement: a Two-Year Retrospective."

The conference took place at the Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund from June 1-3, 2011. Organized by the Carnegie Council in cooperation with the U.S. Army War College, the conference served to review and report on two years of program activity, and to generate new ideas and resources among an international group of innovative thinkers on U.S.-Russian relations, nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, European and NATO security challenges for the future, including Afghanistan, and competition and cooperation in the Arctic region.

The U.S. Global Engagement program gratefully acknowledges the support for its work from the following: Alfred and Jane Ross Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Donald M. Kendall, Rockefeller Family & Associates, and Booz & Company.

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (often referred to as the CFE Treaty) was signed in Paris on November 19, 1990 between members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact. At its signing many analysts hailed it as "the cornerstone of European security," and it is clearly the most ambitious and far-ranging conventional arms control treaty in history. It underscored a transformation of European security that is still ongoing and whose end state is unclear.1

The events that framed this transformation have been both largely peaceful and remarkable. Only a year before on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, which had served as perhaps the primary symbol of the Cold War for nearly 40 years, was breached. Six weeks prior to the Paris signing, Germany formally reunified into a single nation. The 22 nations that signed this agreement have now subsequently increased to 34. One of the alliances, the Warsaw Pact, has dissolved and the other, NATO, has enlarged. A key signatory to this agreement, the Soviet Union, has disappeared and been replaced by a host of successor states. Finally, the nations that convened in Paris did so under the overall auspices of the Conference on Security Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). This organization has now grown to 56 members and become the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which reflects that it has now matured into an international organization. An adapted treaty that reflects many of these political changes was signed on November 19, 1999 at the OSCE Summit held in Istanbul, but at this moment still has not been ratified by the majority of the states involved. All must ratify for it to formally enter into force. At this writing the treaty is endangered by the lack of progress in ratifying the adapted agreement and a decision by the Russian Federation to suspend compliance.

This obviously begs several important questions that will be examined as part of this analysis. What is the role of the CFE Treaty as part of contemporary European security architecture? How has it performed since its signing and what is its current status? Finally, what steps must be taken to ensure that this agreement remains relevant and continues its "cornerstone" role?

National Interest, Strategy, and Arms Control

As we consider how the CFE Treaty fits into emerging European security architecture, it is important to consider first principles. What is the fundamental relationship between national interest, strategy, and arms control? Thucydides noted in his History of the Peloponnesian War that a primary motivator of Athenian foreign policy had been "interests."2 This remains as true for nations in the 21st century as for the city-states of ancient Greece. It is critical to underscore the point that arms control is not an "interest" or objective of state policy. Rather it is a "method or means" to achieve the "objective" of improved security which is an essential interest to any state. Though the focus of any negotiation is the details of the prospective agreement, the arms control process must always remain consistent with a nation's interests and the direction of national or alliance security strategy.

Strategic thinking has been the purview of European diplomats at least since the Congress of Vienna. Metternich, Talleyrand, Bismarck, or Castlereagh, would all agree that the national strategy of any country is built upon three variables: First, what are the "ends" of strategy or the goals the nation is trying to accomplish alone or in concert with friends and allies? Second, what are the "ways" or policies that are formulated in order to move the nation in the direction of a better future? Finally, what are the "means" or resources available to the government of any nation that can be devoted to securing these objectives, and how can they be husbanded in a fashion to maximize their potential?

As a result, modern European policymakers would agree that a connection exists between arms control and each nation's respective national security strategy. Both arms control and military operations are "ways" to achieve national strategic objectives or "ends." But at its very core, any arms control agreement depends upon a "harmony of interest" among the signatories that is consistent with their respective national interests and associated strategy. This "harmony" is based on careful analysis by each state that the benefits to be gained from entering the regime outweigh risks associated with reducing military forces and accepting a transparency regime that includes data exchanges and verification inspections. As a result, an implicit aspect of any multilateral arms control agreement is the "indivisibility" of security. The security of any state, no matter how large or small, is of equal importance. This is clearly reflected in the CFE Treaty by the fact that the initial treaty and any adapted agreement cannot enter into force until all states parties have ratified it. Efforts to overcome the current impasse over the CFE Treaty are in many ways a search for that "harmony" among the signatories.

Consequently, an arms control agreement is neither good nor bad when examined in isolation. Each treaty or agreement only has value as a policy "way" when there are underlying security concerns that, if mitigated, might reduce the possibility of conflict. This is why we do not see arms control agreements being discussed or promulgated between countries that have friendly relations. It is also why we have seen some agreements lapse when security conditions changed.

This also may be why it is often easy to dismiss the success of arms control, since we lose sight of its intent. A successful agreement is one that contributes to the prevention of conflict and enhances stability. But it is hard to correlate completely the cause and effect of policies and apply metrics against something that didn't happen. The end of the Cold War, demise of the Soviet Union, collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and emergence of new nations and actors in Europe over the past 20 years all occurred without violence. War did occur in the former Yugoslavia but this region was outside the area of application of the CFE Treaty, and Yugoslavia did not participate in the treaty process. It is not hard to imagine that such a period of upheaval could have resulted in major conflicts, but this did not occur. Consequently, it is important to remind ourselves that the level of transparency achieved by the CFE Treaty is particularly valuable and astonishing when one considers the security situation in Europe 25 years ago. In many ways this agreement has made the extraordinary routine.

Finally, arms control is dependent to some degree on other variables. Arms control is a political activity and cannot be divorced from other aspects of a nation's security/foreign policy or domestic agenda. Internal events, other issues between states, and the bureaucratic process of the participating parties have a direct bearing on how an agreement is negotiated and complied with.

The "Original" CFE Treaty and Adaptation

Conventional arms negotiations between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries first began with the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction Talks (MBFR) that commenced in Vienna in 1973. These discussions accomplished very little and were replaced in 1987 with the CFE negotiations. Despite the failure of MBFR, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, negotiators successfully crafted the CFE Treaty in three years between 1987 and 1990.

As a result, many commentators have argued that these negotiations had been successful while MBFR had failed because a new, more effective formula for the talks had been discovered. This is totally untrue. The real difference between 1973 and 1987 is that in 1973 neither the United States nor the Soviet Union truly wanted an agreement. The Nixon administration entered these discussions largely to defuse efforts in the United States Senate to unilaterally reduce American forces from Europe. The Kremlin entered the negotiations as a tool to try and drive a wedge between Washington and its European allies. By 1987, however, conditions had changed. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev realized that he needed a treaty to reduce the economic burden of deploying large conventional forces in Eastern Europe and as part of his efforts to reform the crumbling Soviet Union.

As suggested at the onset, the 22 members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) on November 19, 1990, following three years of negotiations. It established limits on the aggregate total of conventional military hardware for the two blocs, required substantial reductions in each nation's conventional arsenal, and created an intrusive regime of inspections and verification.

The talks commenced in January 1988 and the following mandate was agreed upon to guide these negotiations:

The objectives of the negotiation shall be to strengthen stability and security in Europe through the establishment of a stable and secure balance of conventional armed forces, which include conventional armaments and equipment, at lower levels; the elimination of disparities prejudicial to stability and security; and the elimination, as a matter of priority, of the capability for launching surprise attack and for initiating large scale offensive action.3

The final agreement required alliance or "group" limitations on tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters—known collectively as Treaty-limited Equipment (TLE) in an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. Each bloc was allowed the following:

Treaty Limited Equipment (TLE) Group Limit

Tanks 20,000

Artillery 20,000

Armored Combat Vehicles (ACVs) 30,000

Attack Helicopters 2,000

Combat Aircraft 6,800

Subsequent national limits for each treaty signatory were determined during negotiations among the members of the two respective alliances. Following the demise of the Soviet Union the successor states (within the area of treaty application) determined their respective limits from the total allocated to the Soviet Union in May 1992. The three Balkan states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) did not participate in the discussions the national limits for the "successor" states of the Soviet Union. They argued that they had been "occupied territory" and, therefore, their territory was no longer part of the treaty's area of application. Still, following their entry into NATO, all of them have indicated a willingness to accede to the adapted CFE Treaty once it enters into force.

Bloc limitations for NATO and the former Warsaw Pact were further restrained by a series of five geographic nested zones for land-based TLE with respective limits for each zone. This was done to achieve the goals established in the mandate to prevent the destabilizing concentration of conventional military armament. The four zones commence with a central region consisting of Germany, the Benelux, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. The term "nesting" signifies that, beginning with this initial zone, each successive zone subsumes all the preceding zones, plus adjacent states and military districts. Cumulative limits are assigned on holdings of Treaty-limited ground-based equipment in each zone. This construct has the effect of permitting free movement of equipment and units away from, but not towards, the central European region, which thus inhibits surprise attack in the area deemed, during the Cold War at least, to be the most vulnerable.

The Soviet Union (and subsequently the Russian Federation) further accepted the so-called "flank zone." This portion of the agreement places limits on ground-based systems in the Leningrad and North Caucasus Military Districts in the Russian Federation. Norway is part of the northern portion of the flank and the north Caucasus states, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova are in the southern portion. Limitations on helicopters and attack aircraft only apply to the entire area of application due to their ability to reposition rapidly.

New negotiations began after the signing of the treaty focusing on personnel strength of armed forces. This resulted in the Concluding Act of the Negotiations on Personnel Strength of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (referred to as the CFE-1A agreement). It was signed on July 6, 1992 and established limits of the personnel strength of military forces, with the exception of sea-based naval units, internal security forces, or those assigned to UN duties. CFE1A (unlike the CFE Treaty) is a politically binding arrangement as opposed to a legally binding treaty. It provided that the ceilings announced by each signatory would take effect 40 months after entry into force and further contained provisions for information exchange, notification, and verification.

Only one year after the signing of the initial agreement and as treaty implementation was commencing, Russian leaders began arguing for adjustments to their equipment limits. They began pressing concerns about Russia's equipment limitations, particularly in the flank region, and Moscow undertook a campaign to alter those limits. A final compromise was achieved at the first Review Conference (May 1996) that permitted Russia higher force levels in the flank zone, established a May 1999 deadline for Moscow to meet these adjusted levels, and reduced the overall size of the flank zone. Still, the problem of Russian force levels in this area would continue to bedevil negotiators. It was exacerbated by Russian military operations in Chechnya (which is in the flank region) and the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008. At the same time, treaty signatories 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 architecture, one without a Soviet Union or a Warsaw Pact.

These CFE Treaty adaptation negotiations continued from 1996-1999, through a period in which the European landscape continued to evolve. 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 again about changes that needed to be made to the treaty. Many are identical in theme to those that Russia is raising currently.

On November 19, 1999 (the ninth anniversary of the CFE Treaty) 30 leaders signed the adapted treaty. All 19 NATO members accepted lower cumulative national limits from 89,026 TLE to 79,967. All signatories accepted the new structure of limitations based on national and territorial ceilings, consistent with the principle of host nation consent for the presence of foreign forces on any country's territory. The agreement also provided enhanced transparency through increased quotas for mandatory on-site inspections, operational flexibilities to exceed ceilings temporarily, and an accession clause.

The states parties also adopted the "CFE Final Act." This document contains a number of political commitments related to the adapted treaty. They contain: (1) reaffirmation of Russia's commitment to fulfill existing obligations under the treaty to include equipment levels in the flank region; (2) a Russian commitment to exercise restraint in deployments in its territory adjacent to the Baltic; (3) the commitment by a number of Central European countries not to increase (and in some cases to reduce) their CFE territorial ceilings; (4) Moscow's agreement with Georgia and Moldova on the withdrawals of Russian forces from their territories. President Bill Clinton noted in his statement at the conclusion of the summit that he would not submit the agreement for review by the Senate until Russia had reduced to the flank levels set forth in the adapted treaty to include removing its forces from Georgia and Moldova.

The most important agreed change in this adapted treaty was that the parties took the old Treaty out of the Cold War framework—eliminating the bloc construct and reflecting the new reality of a Europe no longer divided. The original treaty's group limits were replaced by national and territorial limits governing the Treaty Limited Equipment of every state's party. The treaty's flank limits were adjusted for Russia, providing Russia considerably more flexibility for deployment of ACVs [Armored Combat Vehicles] in the Northern and Southern portions of the flank than it had under the original treaty. Corresponding transparency measures, which apply equally to Russia and all other states parties, were a crucial part of this deal. Having taken the group structure out of the treaty to reflect that Europe was no longer divided, Allies and other states parties committed to lowering their ceilings in the Adapted Treaty. These ceilings became more explicit in the Adapted Treaty text and codified in Istanbul. Actual conventional force levels are well below those ceilings and in the case of NATO members, well below the original group limits.

Other provisions were adopted to reflect the new security environment. Russia's concerns about the three Baltic republics achieving NATO membership were addressed by adding an accession clause to the Adapted Treaty. As previously mentioned, these states indicated their readiness to request accession once the Adapted Treaty entered into force. The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act contained a key sentence to address Russia's concerns about stationed forces on the territory of new member states. That sentence says:

NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.

Throughout this period of the 1990's the treaty signatories also dealt with a raft of implementation issues—the flank, destruction of Russian equipment—and reached, for the most part, a successful resolution to these concerns.

The Russian "Suspension"

On December 12, 2007, the Russian Federation officially announced that it would no longer be bound by the restrictions of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and suspended participation.4 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, and during a June 2007 extraordinary conference it provided a further detailed list of "negative effects" of the conduct of NATO states.5 These included overall NATO force levels, the flank limits, and other unspecified demands for additional transparency. In addition to these concerns, it was clear that Prime Minister Putin and Russian leaders in general were angry over a series of issues, including NATO enlargement, the independence of Kosovo, and plans to install American anti-ballistic missiles on Polish territory. Nonetheless, Moscow reassured the other treaty signatories that it did not intend to dramatically increase its force levels in the territory adjacent to their borders. Russian President Medvedev underscored Russia's seriousness about its Treaty concerns when he described the existing agreement as both "unfair" and "non-viable." At the same time Russian leaders have been quick to describe the contributions made by the treaty as valuable, and to further acknowledge the spirit of both trust and cooperation that it has engendered.

In terms of ratification, NATO members have argued since the Istanbul Summit in 1999 that their ratification remained contingent upon Russia complying with obligations it freely accepted when the Adapted CFE Treaty was signed, the most contentious being 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 and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has publicly argued that "there is no legal link" between the Adapted CFE Treaty and these commitments.6

Practically speaking, therefore, the Treaty is beginning to unravel. Russia has not provided data as part of the bi-annual data exchange since it suspended participation in 2007. Nor has Russia provided required information on changes to the location of ground treaty limited equipment (TLE), and it is no longer accepting (nor participating in) the treaty's routine and challenge inspection regime. 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 cannot be sustained forever. At some point, this state of affairs will cause other states parties to begin re-evaluating their own treaty participation. If that becomes the case, the treaty will truly unravel. This will have unforeseen implications not only for the ability to deal with other issues on the bilateral and European security agenda, but also possibly with respect to the defense postures among the states parties, as well as other arms control agreements. Even President Medvedev, in his speech, seemed to have indicated his preference for avoiding the treaty's "complete and final collapse."

In response, NATO endorsed a "parallel actions package" in March 2008 in an attempt to avoid the treaty's demise. The package represented a serious shift in the NATO position, as it called for NATO countries to begin the ratification process (which is some countries such as the U.S. 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.7 Unfortunately, the negotiations made little to no progress between March and August 2008. This effort was largely undermined by the deteriorating relations between NATO countries and the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the conflict in Georgia in the late summer of 2008. In fact, one expert observed that this conflict violated the principles contained in both OSCE documents as well as the preamble to the CFE Treaty. These documents call for states parties to refrain from "the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State," as well as the commitment to peaceful cooperation and the prevention of military conflict anywhere on the European continent.8 This situation has been further complicated by Moscow's subsequent decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations.

Following the meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in June 2009, the so-called "Corfu Process" began to examine European security challenges. By early 2010 an effort was undertaken in the Joint Consultative Group to develop a framework document that would simply contain principles of conventional arms control which all nations could agree upon. It was hoped that this would serve as a basis for new negotiations, and in the interim offer each state the option of either complying with the existing CFE Treaty or the list of specific requirements described in the framework document.

At the NATO Lisbon Summit in November 2010, the Alliance reaffirmed its continued commitment to the CFE Treaty Regime and all associated elements. The Final Communiqué noted that although agreement had not yet been achieved on how to "strengthen and modernize the arms control regime for the 21st Century," progress among the 36 participating states was encouraging. The allies further underscored the indivisibility of security for all states parties and urged continued "efforts to conclude a principles-based framework to guide negotiations in 2011." This process should build "on the CFE Treaty of 1990, the Agreement on Adaptation of 1999, and existing political commitments." While the ultimate goal remained to insure the continued viability of conventional arms control in Europe and strengthening common security, member states further recognized (as noted at the previous Summit) that "the current situation, where NATO CFE Allies implement the Treaty while Russia does not, cannot continue indefinitely."9

Still, little progress has been made, largely due to Russian insistence that it cannot accept any language in the framework document that recognizes "host nation consent" for stationed forces as an essential principle. It would seem that time is rapidly running out. The treaty requires a Review Conference every five years which, in accordance with this provision, must occur in 2011. It appears now this will happen in the late fall of this year. If no agreement can be reached on the framework document, the CFE Treaty may truly be in crisis.

What Have Been the Contributions of the CFE Treaty?

As suggested at the onset the CFE Treaty has long been referred to as the "cornerstone of European security." But in light of the dramatic changes in European security architecture that have occurred since 1991 many wonder if that will continue to be the case and, if so, for how much longer? Obviously this question looms large in the aftermath of the Russian suspension and subsequent conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation. Can this agreement assist in reestablishing a sense of cooperative security, or have both its credibility and utility been undermined permanently?

Many diplomats and military leaders still believe the treaty continues to be of vital importance to European security. Some argue, however, that its vitality is dependent upon all states parties accepting the following: (1) the 1990 CFE treaty, with its 1996 flank adjustments, must continue to be fully implemented; and (2) the 1999 Adapted Treaty must be brought into force. Only upon that foundation can the CFE states parties take a forward-looking approach to any additional changes that must be made to continue to ensure this Treaty's viability.

In retrospect, the agreement can only be truly evaluated against the backdrop of European security during this crucial period. Oddly, the treaty was signed to prevent, or at least reduce, the likelihood of conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Shortly after it was signed the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union both disappeared, so the true value of the treaty must be considered in the context of the dramatic transition that ensued. In fact, some have argued that the "cornerstone" metaphor is misplaced. The CFE Treaty has not been a static agreement—as Europe has weathered many changes, the treaty has been successfully adapted to accommodate those changes.

The treaty clearly proved important 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 (September 12, 1990) by the Federal Republic, German Democratic Republic (East Germany), France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States.10 This agreement also contained significant additional 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. Finally, the reunification 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."

In terms of the actual reductions of military equipment associated with the implementation of the original treaty, the numbers are truly impressive. Over 69,000 Cold War era battle tanks, combat aircraft, and other pieces of military equipment have been destroyed in the now 30 countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains. In many ways, the treaty changed the face of European security by "establishing new, cooperative political-military relationships."11

More than 5,500 on-site inspections have been conducted, which has created a new sense of political-military cooperation and openness.

The true value of the treaty and the associated transparency measures were demonstrated during the various conflicts in the Balkans. Short notice inspections in accordance with CFE were conducted of U.S. forces in Germany by Russian inspectors as the American troops prepared to depart for Bosnia in 1995. As a result, these military operations were conducted without a significant increase in tensions. The Dayton Accords that ended the initial conflict in the former Yugoslavia in 1996 also contain an annex that established a "CFE-like" agreement between the contending states. The treaty was crafted to be nearly identical to the CFE Treaty in terms of limits, definitions, transparency measures, et cetera. All of the Balkan states participating in this agreement expressed a desire to accede to the full CFE Treaty at some point in future. 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 to some degree Russian concerns about U.S. force deployments during this crisis.

In fact, many experts believe the inspection regime may have contributed more to the reduction of tensions and crisis prevention during this dramatic transition in European security than the actual reductions. Some argue that the agreement's greatest value may be the entire CFE system that encourages confidence through transparency. In the final analysis the existing treaty (as well as the adapted agreement) provides a forum for the major European states to debate, agree, and maintain a set of rules about conventional military power on the continent that is critical to overall stability.12

What Would Failure Mean?

One Russian commentator remarked that the treaty is "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." But this opinion is not shared by most treaty members and security experts. A group of distinguished Western diplomats, military leaders, and academics prepared a letter in 2008 that argued that the collapse of the CFE Treaty would "…undermine co-operative security in Europe and lead to new dividing lines and confrontations."

So, what would the impact on the future be if the CFE Treaty failed and the flow of routinely provided information on conventional equipment, inspections to verify that information, and constraints on the levels of that equipment were to disappear? What would be both Russian and Western perspectives on a situation in which there were no limits at all on the level and location of conventional weapons deployments or the conventional force levels of treaty signatories? What would the European security picture look like if the habits of cooperation developed through the CFE Treaty were undone?

Sadly, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that this could cause a dramatic realignment of European security. The loss of information and undermining of predictability would set the stage for historic animosities to resurface and lingering crises to potentially worsen. For example, there have been suggestions that Azerbaijan is counting on the failure of the treaty to provide it with an opportunity to increase its military forces. Such a development would clearly exacerbate tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. These two countries remain embroiled in a long simmering conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.13 This struggle has resulted in over 15,000 casualties since 1988 and over 800,000 Armenian and Azeri refugees. Furthermore, Russia would also lose any transparency over the military forces of existing or future members of the NATO alliance as well as the deployment of NATO forces on the territory of new members. Finally, the Baltic republics would not be allowed to accede to the existing agreement and, consequently, there would be no mechanism to effect transparency about military forces on their territory.

Many believe these developments might encourage an expansion in military forces or damage to other agreements. For example, some experts believe Russia might reconsider its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in an effort to improve its security posture. Russian President Putin threatened such action in a statement in February 2007. Loss of CFE would also remove a valuable crisis management tool from the security architecture and damage arms control as an instrument to enhance overall European stability. In this regard, Balkan observers believe the demise of the CFE Treaty might mean an end to the arms control arrangements contained in the Dayton Accords. Obviously, such a development could contribute to renewed violence in that troubled region.

The collapse of the CFE Treaty could spill over into other aspects of the Russia-NATO relationship as well. CFE's collapse could undermine the cooperative European security structures that have been built over the last 15-plus years. These efforts include the NATO-Russia Council, the OSCE, and prospects for building or enhancing future cooperation in other areas. Finally, if CFE is abandoned, its benefits would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace. It is hard to imagine how to build new arrangements if there is no foundation any more on which to construct them. Beyond that, if CFE is no longer a viable agreement, and the confidence-building aspects of the regime are destroyed completely, over time it is entirely possible that some states parties will likely seek alternative arrangements that will replace the security benefits they now derive from the treaty.

Finally, the dissolution of this agreement could also have a serious impact on relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. Moscow and Washington have had serious disagreements over the past decade and, at the onset of the Obama administration, their bilateral relations were perhaps worse than any time since the end of the Cold War.14 Early in the new administration, President Barack Obama called for hitting the "reset button" in the relations between the two countries and despite serious differences the two sides were able to negotiate the so-called "New START" agreement by the spring of 2010. This was subsequently ratified by both the United States Senate as well as the Russian Duma. While there was no explicit link between these negotiations and the CFE Treaty deadlock, it is clear that this success could improve the prospects for finding a resolution to the problem.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As we look to the future, Russian and NATO strategists must carefully consider the deadlock over the CFE Treaty and how conventional arms control more broadly can help reestablish a sense of cooperative security in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian conflict. Michael Wyganowski, a former Polish diplomat who headed Poland's delegation to the CFE Treaty negotiations in 1999, underscored the importance of the CFE Treaty following the conflict. He observed that the accord was being relegated further to the sidelines by a conflict that actually underscored the importance of limiting conventional arms holdings.15

With respect to the future of the CFE Treaty, there are, in principle, three paths ahead. The first option would be the status quo. Russia continues its suspension, and efforts to resolve these issues remain deadlocked. In this scenario, the treaty over time will collapse. Other states parties are unlikely to continue to implement a treaty while Russia continues to avoid its treaty obligations.

The second path is that NATO agrees to address Russian CFE demands and ratifies the Adapted Treaty despite the continue presence of Russian forces in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Moldova. This is also unlikely to happen. In July 2007 (one year prior to the Russian-Georgian War), the United States Senate passed Resolution 278. This resolution reaffirmed the Senates support for the treaty, described the Russian suspension as "regrettable," and further warned that this was a "step that will unnecessarily heighten tensions in Europe." In this environment it is very unlikely that the Obama administration would seek Senate ratification of the adapted treaty, absent Russian compliance with the Istanbul commitments.

The third path is to continue to seek agreement on the framework document of principles which could set the stage for new negotiations. If this cannot be achieved by the Review Conference in the fall of 2011, it may be an appropriate time for all NATO members to consider adopting the same position that the Russian Federation has taken and suspend the existing CFE Treaty. This should not be seen as an effort to end the treaty or to argue that the Russian Federation is in "material breach." Rather it is simply an acknowledgement that, after four years, the Alliance cannot continue to fulfill treaty obligations absent some reciprocity from Moscow. NATO members could simply state that the framework discussions are a good start and should continue. Still after four years of effort, it would appear these negotiations are at an impasse. A decision to at least temporarily halt the discussion of implementation of the Adapted Treaty or compliance with the existing treaty might clear the agenda and allow other areas of mutual interest between Russia and NATO to be discussed.

Clearly, a number of the core Russian concerns can best be addressed not by the wholesale abandonment of CFE—but the opposite, through entry into force of the Adapted Treaty or new negotiations. The Adapted Treaty provides the means through which Russia can ensure predictability in the levels and locations of NATO forces, as well as a means of inspecting these forces against the information that NATO provides. Consequently, a decision by Moscow to move in the direction of compromise is not based on altruism but rather on a careful calculation of Russian national interest. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov seemed to reflect this in remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York when he observed, "the only thing we want internationally is cooperation on the basis of full equality and mutual benefit." Still, it is unclear whether all of the Russian concerns can be resolved within the context of the CFE Treaty. Moscow has also recommended a new Pan-European Security agreement. Consequently, it would seem more likely that resolution to the disagreement over the CFE Treaty might be a valuable precursor that would allow for serious negotiations on a number of European security issues to occur.


A Western arms control expert once remarked that he felt like he was watching 300 years of European hostilities unfold during the course of CFE negotiations. Critics of this process are frequently captivated by the technical details of definitions, counting rules, stabilizing measures, inspection regimes, et cetera, and often overlook the connection between these points and larger security issues. Still while the "devil may lie in the details," this accord is rooted in the collective attempt of over 30 sovereign states to improve their respective security. Consequently, historical antagonisms have an impact, as well as contributing to the agreement's enduring value as Europe seeks a new architecture based on cooperative security.

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 the NATO or Russian 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 continues to contribute to Europe's security in crucial ways. Perhaps most importantly, the transparency and predictability that it provides serve as an important stabilizing element as European relationships continue to evolve and military 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.16

Russia and the West must avoid emotional rhetoric. Both sides must rely on the kind of careful analysis Morgenthau suggests in order to discover if a "harmony" of interests still exist. They must carefully consider the major areas of cooperation where long-term interests clearly overlap on issues such as international terrorism, energy, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and stability in Europe.17 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."18 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."19


1 Dorn Crawford, "Conventional Armed Forces in Europe(CFE)—A Review and Update of Key Treaty Elements" (Washington: U.S. Department of State, March 2009), p. 2.

2 Charles Robinson, Greek and Roman Historians, (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc, 1957), p. 71.

3 Crawford, p. 5.

4 Zdzislaw Lachowski, "The CFE Treaty One Year After Its Suspension: A Forlorn Treaty?" SIPRI Policy Brief, January 2009, p. 1.

5 Ibid, p. 4.

6 Wade Boese, "Russia Unflinching on CFE Treaty Suspension", Arms Control Today, May 2008.

7 Ibid.

8 Lachowski, p. 5.

9 NATO Public Diplomacy Division, "Press Release—Lisbon Summit Declaration", (Brussels: NATO Public Affairs, 20 November 2010), p. 9.

10 "Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany," NATO Review, No. 5, October 1990, pp. 30-32.

11 U.S. Department of State, "Fact Sheet—Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): Key Facts About the Current Treaty and Agreement on Adaptation (Washington: United States Department of State, 2009).

12 Sherman Garnett, "The CFE Flank Agreement" (Washington: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1997), p. 1.

13 Lachowski, p. 6. This view was underscored by senior Georgian officials during discussions in Tbilisi, Georgia in December 2010.

14 Dmitri Trenin, "Thinking Strategically About Russia," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 2008, p. 1.

15 Wade Boese, "Georgian Conflict Clouds Future Arms Pacts", Arms Control Today, September 2008.

16 Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Thompson, Politics Among Nations, 6th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), p. 165.

17David C. Speedie, "U.S.-Russia Relations: Under Stress, and In Need of Care," Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, April 9, 2008

18 NATO Strategic Concept, North Atlantic Council, Washington, DC, 23 April 1999.

19 Thom Shanker, "Gates Urges Cautious NATO Stance on Russia After Georgian Conflict", The New York Times, September 19, 2008, p. A5.

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