June 9, 2010
The future of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), the arms control agreement that has served as the foundation of military confidence and transparency on the European continent since the end of the Cold War, is in doubt due to a long-standing impasse among the States Parties to the Treaty. The impasse stands in contrast to the progress on nuclear arms, most notably the US-Russia negotiations that led to the signing of a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty at Prague in April, 2010.
The goal of the CFE Treaty was to reduce the spectre of military aggression in an area of application that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains, the region of the world that had the highest concentration of military equipment during the Cold War. The Treaty had its origins in the long-running Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction negotiations that emerged out of the period of detente in the early 1970s.
The CFE placed limits on five categories of conventional armaments and equipment that were deemed essential to military offensives, namely main battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery/multiple launch rocket systems, combat aircraft, and assault helicopters. The Treaty established a verification regime to monitor compliance through on-site inspections of national military installations and annual exchanges of data on States Parties' holdings of Treaty-limited equipment (TLE). Signed in Paris in 1990, the Treaty came into force in 1992. Since then, approximately 60,000 tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, and aircraft were removed from service in accordance with CFE provisions .
In 1999 the States Parties negotiated a follow-up agreement to adapt the CFE Treaty regime to the new security environment in Europe after the Cold War. The Adapted CFE Treaty (ACFE) replaced the 1990 Treaty's military bloc and zonal TLE regime with a system of limitations based on national and territorial ceilings, shifting the Treaty's focus from an alliance-based pact to a multilateral arms control regime.
Often overlooked is the role the Treaty played as the inspiration for the post-conflict control of military forces after the break-up of Yugoslavia. The arms control provisions of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the "Dayton Peace Accords," set out offensive military equipment categories, limitations, and verification requirements for the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska) that were similar to those of the CFE Treaty.
The impasse holding up further Treaty implementation involves disagreements about the deployment of States Parties' forces beyond national boundaries and about Treaty ratification. Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine ratified the ACFE. NATO signatories signalled their intention to ratify the new agreement only after Russia met commitments it signed on to at the November 1999 OSCE conference in Istanbul. The "Istanbul Commitments," as they came to be called, involved a political pledge from Moscow to remove its military forces from Georgia and Moldova. Russia later declared that it made progress toward meeting these commitments and frequently criticized NATO signatories' postponement of ratification on the basis of fulfillment of a pledge that was political, and not legal, in nature. Russia's concern about non-ratification stemmed from the expansion of NATO membership eastward, a development that in Moscow's view put Russian forces at a military disadvantage in terms of equipment holdings. The stationing of American forces in Romania and Bulgaria, and the proposals for the emplacement of ballistic missile defence installations in Central and Eastern Europe, added to Russian concerns .
Matters came to a head in 2007 when NATO proposed a set of "parallel actions" to move forward on CFE ratification in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's warning that NATO non-ratification would lead Russia to unilaterally suspend Treaty implementation. The aim of NATO's proposed parallel actions package was to have Alliance members move expeditiously toward ratification of the ACFE while Russia followed through with commitments concerning Georgia and Moldova. No agreement was reached. In December 2007 Russia announced its decision to suspend its legal obligation to implement the Treaty.
W(h)ither the CFE Treaty?
There is a very real possibility that the CFE Treaty will go the way of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- an agreement that died after the US decided to withdraw entirely from its ABM obligations. The August 2008 Russo-Georgian war and Moscow's recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence from Georgia make the job of resolving the CFE impasse even more intractable. Although NATO heads of state and government signaled their intention to resolve the impasse over Treaty compliance with Russia at the Alliance's Strasbourg/Kehl Summit, little progress has been made on the disputes between Moscow and Brussels. In what is perhaps a sign of the times, an op-ed column US Vice-President Biden authored last month reaffirmed the importance of reciprocal limitations on conventional forces in Europe but did not mention the CFE Treaty . The Treaty's troubles do not necessarily portend the renewal of conventional arms races, but the loss of the CFE would be a major setback for military transparency at a time of growing mutual suspicion between Russia and NATO.
 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. "Extraordinary Conference of the States Parties to the CFE Treaty." 12-15 June 2007. http://www.osce.org/conferences/cfe_2007.html?page=24854
 Putin, Vladimir. "Speech at the 43rd Conference on Security Policy." February 10, 2007. http://www.securityconference.de/archive/konferenzen/rede.php?menu_2007=&menu_konferenzen=&sprache=en&id=179&
 Biden Jr., Joseph R. "Advancing Europe's Security." The New York Times, May 5, 2010.