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

European Security and Arms Control

Sep 23, 2011

This paper was submitted by one of the participants at the 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.

U.S. Global Director David Speedie suggests reading this in tandem with the paper by Paul Schulte. Speedie writes, "The CFE issue remains contentious between Russia and the West, even in the warm glow of New START and an apparently cordial dialogue between Presidents Obama and Medvedev on arms control in general. Here two experts on the Treaty, one Russian, one British offer different perspectives, but with the same bottom line: CFE is worth saving."

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 European security situation could be seriously aggravated. Europe slides toward a new division. The arms control regime, which was negotiated at the end of the Cold war era and has been considered the backbone of the international security, faces unprecedented threats.

The West never had a strategy of integration of Russia into the community of democratic market countries after the end of the Cold War. There was a strategy to integrate Eastern Europe, and after that the Baltic states. But Moscow was never invited to join key Western institutions: NATO and the European Union. And this led to a new division of Europe.

The arms control regime is facing serious challenges. The United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty [Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] in 2002. Meanwhile Russia announced a "moratorium" on the CFE treaty [Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe]. Russia also is displeased with the INF treaty, which banned medium and shorter range nuclear missiles.

Two decades after the end of the Cold war, Russia and the West once again confront each other on a number of issues. The disagreements accumulate and may have dangerous consequences which can be devastating for both sides. Russia will hardly become a democracy and a modern market economy if there is a new confrontation with the Western Allies. And the West may antagonize a valuable partner for European and global stability at the moment when it faces an unprecedented American debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan, while China and India boldly gain a growing importance in the international system.

But it is premature to write off the strategic partnership between Russia and the West. The New START Treaty establishes predictability and stability of the nuclear balance for the next decade within the paradigm of mutual nuclear deterrence. This will help to change the strategic paradigm and eventually move to mutual assured security.

Although some disagreements will persist, both sides still can make new solid arrangements for cooperation in the security area for mutual benefit. These cooperative measures should deal with at least three issues:

  • 1. Modernizing the arms control regime;
    2. Coordinating BMD [Ballistic Missile Defense] efforts;
    3. Jointly resisting the victory of Taliban in Afghanistan.

Evolution of the Conventional Arms Control Regime in Europe

While most of the arms control treaties have been bilateral agreements between Washington and Moscow, the CFE treaty is a multilateral regime, which is vitally important for Europeans. Its collapse may lead to an unrestricted arms race in Europe.

Since during the Cold War, NATO and the Warsaw Pact maintained huge conventional armed forces in Europe, ready to immediately confront each other, the immediate purpose of the CFE treaty was to prevent a surprise attack. That was particularly important for the Western Allies, because the Warsaw Pact members enjoyed a substantial superiority in military personnel and most types of conventional arms, with the Soviet Union having more weapons than all NATO countries combined.

The CFE treaty negotiated together with the START-1 and INF treaties was a very elaborate and complicated arrangement which was based on the principle of numerical parity, originally accepted in 1972 when the USSR and the United States signed the ABM treaty and SALT-1 agreement, and confirmed in SALT-1, START-1, and INF treaties.

The CFE also established a unique transparency regime, which included comprehensive verification and monitoring measures, including exchange of information and on-site inspections.

But almost immediately after it was signed in November 1990, the CFE treaty was overtaken by the drastic political landslide in Europe. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved, Germany was reunited, and the Soviet Union disappeared. Nevertheless, the CFE came into a force and its key provisions, including destruction of 62,000 heavy weapons, mostly by former Warsaw Pact members, and the transparency regime, were implemented. The only problem was Russia's inability to reduce her forces in the flank zones, which was related to the war in Chechnya.

All former members of the Warsaw Pact, except former Soviet republics, plus Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, joined the North Atlantic alliance. The military and political balance in Europe fundamentally changed. NATO became the dominant military and political factor in Europe.

At the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997, the North Atlantic alliance made a political commitment to avoid a substantial deployment of foreign conventional forces and nuclear weapons on the territory of the new member-states. The new European reality was partially reflected in the adopted CFE treaty, signed in November 1999 in Istanbul, when aggregate block ceilings were abandoned and replaced by national quotas. Regional ceilings, except for the flank zones, were also eliminated, although NATO agreed to raise the levels for the Northern Caucasus and Leningrad military districts.

Nevertheless the adopted CFE treaty was not ratified by NATO countries, because Russia failed to implement her commitment, made in Istanbul, to remove her military bases from Georgia and Moldova, who objected to their presence.

Russia ratified the adopted CFE treaty in 2004. But after Washington decided to deploy BMD in Eastern Europe, Russia insisted on an emergency meeting of all member-states of the CFE treaty, where she demanded to eliminate the flank zones completely and insisted on some other concessions from NATO. After these demands were rejected, Moscow announced a "moratorium."

Thus the very existence of the CFE treaty is jeopardized, since without Russia the conventional arms control regime in Europe makes no sense at all.

What's Wrong with the CFE Treaty?

There is no doubt that the CFE treaty completely lost its raison d'ĂȘtre. There is no way to maintain the numerical parity between NATO and nonexistent Warsaw Pact. There is no threat of a surprise attack in Europe. Today all Russian forces in Europe are much smaller than the Soviet Group of Force in East Germany two decades ago.

One can raise a number of questions, criticizing the provisions of the original and adopted CFE, which seem unnecessary and even counterproductive.

1. The CFE ceilings are too high. For instance the original CFE treaty established the combined limit of 40,000 tanks for all participants. The adopted CFE level is 36,000. This is two times more than during the Second World War, after the invasion of Normandy. There is no scenario for the employment of all these except a new all-European war, involving NATO and Russia. All latest military conflicts, where CFE member-states participated, involved no tanks at all (Kosovo), a few dozen (Afghanistan), or a few hundred (Chechnya, Iraq). Thus the CFE justifies maintenance in Europe of huge force structures, relying on tanks and other heavy weapons. European countries spend each year dozen of billions of euros to preserve these useless weapons, while a very small sum is allocated for rapid deployment forces, which are much more relevant for peace keeping and GWOT [Global War on Terror] operations like in Afghanistan and Darfur.

2. The legal ceilings for five types of weapons for NATO have grown as a result of CFE adaptation from 20,000 to 26,000 tanks, from 30,000 to 40,000 ACVs, [Armored Combat Vehicles] and from 20,000 to 25,000 artillery guns. This is explained by the fact that seven Eastern European countries switched sides from the Warsaw Pact to NATO. If in 1990, NATO and the Soviet Union had approximately the same number of tanks and ACVs in Europe, in 2007, NATO enjoyed superiority by five to one.

3. There is a huge gap between the formal ceilings and actual holdings of five types of control weapons and military personnel. That difference was 8,000 tanks in 1999, when the CFE treaty was adopted, and reached 11,000 tanks in 2007. So the treaty allows, instead of further reductions, to build up the number of tanks within the established ceilings by 50 percent. The gap for ACVs is 30 percent, for artillery 50 percent, and for combat aircraft and attack helicopters about 100 percent. Germany alone can build additionally 2165 tanks, 877 ACVs, 1075 artillery guns, 619 attack helicopters, and 91 combat airplanes. She can also enlarge the level of military personnel by 67 percent. Of course, this will never happen, but the option is on the table. The same is more or less true about other NATO members, except for Turkey and Greece, which fill their quotas by 80-90 percent, but for different reasons. The United States fills its quota by only 5-10 percent, since most of American regular forces have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and there are no plans to return them to Europe. And Russia fills her CFE quotas of military personnel only by 40 percent; for tanks by 80 percent; for ACVs, by 87 percent; for artillery, by 93 percent; for combat aircraft by 52 percent; and for attack helicopters by 43 percent.

4. Since the adopted CFE treaty abandoned the principle of bloc parity, establishing only national territorial limits, the ceilings for each member were established in a completely arbitrary manner. They do not correlate to any objective factors, such as the volume of GDP, the length of borders, or the size of population. There is no rational to explain why Belarus has a ceiling of 1,800 tanks while France has a ceiling of 1,306 tanks, or why Italy has 1,348, and the United Kingdom has 1,015. Even more confusing are the numbers for the actual holdings in 2007. For instance Ukraine had 3,049 tanks and 4,250 ACVs, while Germany has only 1,904 tanks and 2404 ACVs, although German formal ceilings are much higher than the Ukrainian ones.

5. The restrictions on flank zones, which were retained in the adopted CFE treaty, while all other zone ceilings were dropped, left Russia as practically the only country which is limited in deployment of forces on her own territory (technically there also some restrictions for the former Odessa military district in Ukraine and some eastern regions of Turkey). Under the adopted treaty Russia's flank ceilings (Leningrad and Northern Caucasus military districts) were expanded from 700 to 1,300 tanks, from 580 to 2,140 ACVs, and from 1,280 to 1,680 artillery guns. But four NATO countries in the South (Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania) have combined ceilings of 7,380 tanks, 9,718 ACVs, and 8,368 artillery guns.

6. Another shortcoming of the CFE treaty is that it counts only some of the weapons, which do not seem to reflect the real combat efficiency of the modern weapon platforms. The recent wars demonstrated that the decisive role is performed by precision guidance weapons. About 90 percent of all the targets destroyed by air attacks in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were hit by American "smart" bombs and cruise missiles, while the impact of the "old" weapons was very limited. Thus, ironically, the CFE regime does not restrict the most important advanced military technology, capable of a surprise preemptive strike against a wide range of military and economic targets. It also does not restrict Navies, although naval aircraft and SLCMs played a huge role in recent military conflicts.

7. Finally, the CFE Treaty hardly can perform as an all-European conventional arms control regime, since almost half of the European countries do not belong to it. The list includes formal neutral states (Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, and Ireland), three Baltic states and former republics of Yugoslavia. The military forces of these countries do not play a major role in the European balance. But practically all of them maintain partnership with NATO and many participated in NATO-led peace keeping operations (Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan). Although Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia became NATO members in 2004, they didn't join the CFE regime, following the Western position that links ratification of the adopted CFE treaty to Russia's forces withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia.

Modernization of the Conventional Arms Control Regime

Despite all its shortcomings, the CFE should be preserved, which is possible only if its provisions are drastically modernized. The modernized conventional arms control regime in Europe is required, on the one hand, to maintain and expand military transparency and, on the other hand, to promote further reductions and downsizing of the Cold War legacy conventional arsenals. The present crises of the CFE Treaty requires bold and broad new initiatives. We need CFE-2. Only in this way we can ensure that a new unrestricted arms is prevented, and national defense efforts are focused on new security challenges.

  • 1. It makes sense to invite all European countries to join the new conventional arms control regime. Since the CFE can not be perceived as a West-East regime, all states, including Scandinavian and Balkan countries should be involved, as they are for instance involved on the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]. Membership in a military alliance is no more a precondition for the participation in the CFE regime. This will help to strengthen the European security in the Northern and Southern regions of the continent.

    2. The CFE ceilings, adopted in 1999 in Istanbul, should be replaced by new, much lower levels. As a first step, the CFE member-states should declare that they accept the levels of their actual holdings as a new ceiling, i.e. the actual numbers of military personnel and treaty limited weapons, and commit themselves not to exceed these levels in the future. Since the costs of weapons and military personnel skyrocketed in the last two decades, no member-state will be able for budgetary reasons to ever bridge the gap between the adopted ceilings of 1999 and actual holdings of 2007. These commitments in practical terms will not require any country to abandon their weapon modernization programs or transition from conscription based to all-volunteer armed forces. But the proposed action will eliminate the gap between the permitted ceilings and actual holdings of weapons.

    As a result the ceilings for all member-state will immediately drop by 30-50 percent. These measures will not cost a penny, except the paper of a declaration, admitting the status quo. NATO will still maintain an impressive superiority approximate 3:1 vs. Russia in all types of weapons and military personnel, although it will be a little bit smaller than under the terms of adopted CFE Treaty.

    3. The next step may require a declaration of intensions by member-states to reduce further the number of ground-based weapons (tanks, ACVs, artillery) by 20-25 percent within the next ten years. Since almost all countries are in the middle of the retirement period of the weapons built during the Cold War and are beginning to replace them with a smaller number of more capable but very expensive weapon systems, the 20-25 percent reductions of holdings does not seem to be a radical departure from existing modernization plans. The commitment to reduce could be made easier by stipulations that some of the retired weapons may be put in storage or mothballed.

    If this commitment is made, NATO will still maintain in Europe by the end of next decade the largest concentration of military power in the world.

    4. Another step should include immediate acceptance of the CFE treaty by the new members of NATO: Baltic states and others. Since their actual holdings of heavy weapons are very small, their participation in the new regime, including the freeze and further reductions, will only help to advance the European arms control.

    5. NATO must agree to the elimination of the flank zones. It makes no sense to restrict freedom of deployment on the national territory for Russia, but also for Turkey and Ukraine. It seems that technical solutions (raising the ceiling or reducing the area of the flank zones) are no more acceptable to Moscow. That's why the survival of the CFE will be impossible if flank zones are not abandoned. But it's possible to suggest voluntarily unilateral commitment to limit the forces in certain areas.

    6. The most difficult step is related to plans to invite to NATO some former Soviet republics, in particular Ukraine and Georgia. Ukraine's CFE quota is quite impressive. After the dissolution of the USSR Kiev acquired about 40 percent of the Soviet share of the TLE [Treaty Limited Equipment]. Today, Ukrainian ground forces are bigger than the ground forces of Germany. When former Soviet satellites joined the North Atlantic alliance they added to NATO a large number of weapons. Eastern European countries contributed more than a quarter of all ground weapons to NATO forces. If Ukraine is admitted to NATO, she will bring another 15 or 20 percent addition to NATO's levels. No doubt Moscow is taking a very negative view of Kiev's proposed membership in the alliance. If the admission is given a green light, there will be no chance to save the CFE regime.

The proposed steps can help to revive the impetus for conventional arms control regime in Europe, will preserve and expand transparency and will prevent an unrestricted new arms race. The CFE Treaty II will also create better conditions for NATO-Russia security cooperation in a number of areas. The proposed steps don't resolve the problems of "smart" weapons and naval forces. But they will help to provide the new life for the conventional arms control into the 21st century.

Cooperation in BMD

Russia is the only country which for more than 30 years has operated strategic ballistic missile defenses, deployed around Moscow. While some of these systems are outdated, Russia is developing a new generation of BMD systems. They included new modular radars and theater BMD interceptors S-400.

Russia strongly opposed the American plans for BMD deployment in Eastern Europe, claiming that they represent an element of the strategic BMD, which includes elements in Alaska and California, sea-based systems and future space-based components. The Bush administration made it clear that the BMD deployment is an open-ended process and a further upgrade may follow. Moscow also considers BMD deployment in Eastern Europe a violation of the NATO Founding Act pledge to avoid "substantial" deployment on the territory of the new members of the North Atlantic alliance.

Russian proposal on cooperation with early warning in Gabala opens a window of opportunity to resolve the problem. While the old Gabala radar can not be used for intercept purposes, the new Russian modular radar can. So access to the information collected by Russian radars helps to close the gap in existing American early warning systems. The information from Russian and American radars can be provided in real time to a center for information on missile launches, which Russia and the United States agreed to open in Moscow 11 years ago. But for legal reasons the center was never opened.

The cooperation in missile information collection can help to provide the data to battle management radars on American Aegis sea-based BMD systems, deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean. Aegis interceptors and S-400 systems can provide protection against the missiles which Iran possesses today, which have a range of about 2,000 kilometers.

These systems can also be coordinated with the missile defenses developed by NATO. It should be remembered that under the NATO-Russia auspices experts have already prepared specific stipulations concerning joint theater ballistic missile defenses.

While building joint BMD may be a very difficult task, it seems that coordinated deployment of Russian, American, and NATO ballistic missile defenses with the horizontal or vertical distribution of responsibilities is much more achievable. This cooperation can produce results much quicker than unilateral American deployment in Eastern Europe, since the U.S. Congress denied the administration request for construction of the GBI base in Poland next year.

More importantly, the very fact of serious Russian, American, and NATO cooperation in BMD will send a powerful political message to Iran. It may help to reverse Iranian intentions to build nuclear weapons and long range missiles for their delivery.


Afghanistan is a crucial test. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has encountered many challenges in that country, so far away from Europe. As a result the ISAF has not been very successful in destroying the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate even more when the United States recognizes its failure and begins to withdraw its forces. The shock wave of the defeat can be very serious. In any case there is little chance to expect a quick victory in Afghanistan. At best the task will be to maintain the status quo.

The situation in Afghanistan requires new efforts to maintain and expand the international coalition. Russia can become a major contributor to this effort. Moscow has important assets which can be very helpful to the ISAF. Russia has ground and air military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and many connections in Northern Afghanistan. While the Soviet experience in Afghanistan makes Russians unenthusiastic about new military involvement in this country, Russia clearly perceives Taliban and al-Qaida as her enemies.

Russia is also very much concerned about the drug traffic from Afghanistan. This problem has been greatly aggravated since the United States and NATO came to Afghanistan. Some Russians even accused the West of deliberately ignoring the drugs problem and not taking action against the drug producers. But lately this issue was recognized by the ISAF and some action has begun.

Probably Moscow might agree to accept greater responsibility for economic reconstruction of northern provinces of Afghanistan.

Moscow ratified the Statue of Forces Agreement, which provides a legal frame for transition and presence of NATO personnel and materials on Russian territory. Russia concluded bilateral agreements with Germany, France, the United States, and some other countries on transit questions and permitted movement of NATO personnel and cargo to supply the ISAF.

It seems that Afghanistan is a unique place where vital NATO and Russian security interests coincide. There they face common enemies: Islamic terrorists and drug traffickers. It makes sense for Russia and the West to combine forces to deal with these threats.

The involvement of Russian security forces in Afghanistan can be very helpful for the ISAF. But the problem of political control has to be resolved beforehand. One solution can be the NATO-Russia council, which can provide a place for political decision making.

If Russia and NATO really agree to cooperate in Afghanistan, that will produce a real strategic partnership. Russia can contribute there much more than any prospect members of NATO. Besides, Russia can play a key role to help extend the anti-Taliban coalition, engaging China, India, and even Iran to help the fight against the common enemy.

* * *

All these steps can be made under the umbrella of the new All-European Security Pact, proposed by President Medvedev, helping to create the security system from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

It seems that there is a real window of opportunity for the North Atlantic alliance and Russia to rethink their relationship, how to institutionalize it with legally-binding agreements and a permanent decision-making mechanism. So their common benefits will take priority over diverging interests.

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