Moscow takes another step away from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe of 1990

11.03.2015

On March 10th of this year, at a regular meeting of the Joint Consultative Group (JCG) of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), A.Y. Mazur, the head of the Russian delegation, issued a statement that suspended the Russian Federation’s participation in the group’s meetings, effective March 11, 2015.  “Therefore, Russia is suspending its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, announced in 2007, completely.”

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed in Paris on 19 November 1990, and came into force on 17 July 1992.  Its original participants were six former Warsaw Pact states and sixteen NATO states.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when several independent states took shape on its former territory, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine joined the CFE.  At that time, the Baltic States’ territories were excluded from the CFE Treaty’s area of application.  In November 1999, an Agreement on the Adaption of the CFE Treaty was signed, thereby doing away with the bloc system and transitioning to a system of national and regional levels.  The agreement was ratified by Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine (although Kiev never entirely completed the ratification process).  NATO countries have refused to ratify the agreement on the pretext of Russia’s supposed non-compliance to the “Istanbul Commitments,” which, under NATO’s interpretation, include the complete withdrawal of Russian armed forces from Georgia and Moldova, and specifically from Abkhazia and Transnistria. 

In 2007, an emergency conference of the states participating in the CFE Treaty was held in Vienna at the behest of Russia.  In this meeting, the Russian delegation made an official statement on the suspension of Russia’s participation in implementing the provisions of the Treaty in the event of further delays in the process of ratification of the Agreement of Adaptation by NATO member states, as well as several issues of non-compliance to the basic conditions.  Since the statement made by the Russian delegation went essentially ignored, on July 13th, 2007 President Vladimir Putin signed a decree, titled, “On the Russian Federation’s Suspension of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and Related International Agreements.”  Nevertheless, Russian officials continued to participate in the meetings of the Joint Consultative Group, hoping to use it as a platform to negotiate the parameters of a new regime of conventional armed forces control in Europe.  Still, today marked the last step towards formally withdrawing from the CFE Treaty, in accordance with the procedures prescribed in the agreement.

Undoubtedly, the statement by the head of the Russian delegation at the March 10th meeting of this year enlivened the ritual boring atmosphere of their weekly conference, which in recent years have been reduced to the reading of the standard agenda, and rarely goes much longer than ten to fifteen minutes.

However, the statement by the Russian delegation said, “The Russian party does not mean to convey with the step a refusal of further dialogue on conventional arms control in Europe, if and when our partners are ready.  We are still willing to work together on a new CFE regime, which would meet the interests of both Russia and other European countries.”

Nevertheless, it is obvious that the CFE Treaty in its original form has its relevance, and Russia is not going to return to it. 

The Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty, which has not been ratified by NATO countries, has also lost its relevance can hardly serve as a basis for continued dialogue in the arms control field.  We either need a new agreement or a refusal of legally binding arms control instruments in favor of the development of a system of confidence-building measures in the security field, as well as the enhancement of bilateral and multilateral military cooperation.

Signing a new contract in the current environment is problematic, as the Russian approach requires a radical revision of the existing system of constraints, and its extension to include new categories of weapons, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and carrier-based aircraft.  It is unlikely that NATO countries are ready to move in that direction.  If new categories of weapons are made the subject of monitoring, and not limitation, then their approach may be less stringent.

The most realistic option for so called “hard security” is the development of confidence-building measures in the field of security.  This would require making the adaptation of the Vienna document into a current reality.

Moreover, based of the experience of all military conflicts over the past twenty years, true predictability and transparency cannot be achieved without including the full coverage of existing naval forces as confidence-building measures (though not necessarily under the Vienna Document).   The utility of this would involve not only an exchange of information on the composition of naval forces, but also an appropriate notification system.

In this context, the development of a system of bilateral and regional agreements on confidence building measures through increasing the transparency of military activities, particularly along border areas, could be considered. 

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