Arms Control and the U.S. Russian Relationship



The 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe regulates the armed forces of 30 states in Europe. Conceived as a negotiated settlement to the Cold War's military standoff in Europe, the CFE Treaty is a complex document that contains many different legal undertakings. For present purposes, however, three aspects of the treaty are particularly relevant: the national ceilings on military equipment, the system of "zones" and special regional subceilings, and the information exchange and verification provisions.

The CFE Treaty established quantitative ceilings for five categories of "[t]reaty-limited equipment" (TLE) - 20,000 tanks; 30,000 AVCs; 20,000 artillery pieces; 6,800 combat aircraft, and 2,000 attack helicopters - that applied equally to two "groups of States Parties" within the treaty's area of application, a region stretching from the "Atlantic to the Urals" (ATTU). The treaty leaves up to members of each group of states how to allocate their aggregate equipment entitlements. Effectively, therefore, the amount of equipment afforded to each state in this intragroup allocation has become its national ceiling.

The original signatories of the CFE Treaty specified their initial allocation of the alliance-wide ceilings when the treaty was signed in November 1990. Later, in order to bring the treaty into force after the disintegration of the U.S.S.R., the Soviet entitlements were divided among the new states that had emerged on its territory. This was done at the May 1992 summit of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries in Tashkent and was formalized at the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) summit on July 9 - l0, 1992. The CFE's final numerical limits became legally binding on November 17, 1995; 40 months after the treaty entered into force. The first 40 months of


the treaty's application were designated the "reduction period," during which the parties were obligated to reduce a predetermined amount of TLE according to prescribed procedures. As a result of the CFE's reduction requirements, some 50,000 pieces of military equipment have been destroyed or converted across Europe.

In addition to the ATTU-wide national ceilings in each of the five categories of treaty-limited equipment accepted by individual state parties, the CFE Treaty also contains a system of regional subceilings. The treaty defines four "zones" with special sublimits - three nested and overlapping central zones and a separate flank zone. The three central zones are concentric: the inner zones are wholly contained within the outer ones and have lower ceilings. The fourth zone is the so-called flank zone. In the west, the flank zone consists of Iceland, Norway, Greece, and Turkey. In the east, the flank zone consists of Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, as well as Russia's Leningrad and North Caucasus military districts (MDs) and the Odessa MD in Ukraine.

Thus, the CFE's flank ceiling places a restriction on where, within their own territories, Russia and Ukraine can deploy their military equipment. Like the national ceilings, the regional sub-ceilings became legally binding on November 17, 1995. The CFE Treaty contains extensive provisions for verifying that its ceilings and restrictions are being honored. The parties to the treaty must annually provide detailed information on their national armed forces inside the area of application. The treaty also obliges its parties to receive on-site inspections of their military facilities in the area of application conducted by other parties to the treaty. The specific purpose of these inspections is to allow states to ascertain whether or not the other parties to the treaty have complied with its provisions, but the CFE verification regime also helps to institutionalize a higher level of transparency and confidence building among Europe's military forces.

The national ceilings on armaments of the 30 parties to the treaty and the very extensive transparency and verification provisions together provide the cornerstone of the post-Cold War European security arrangements.



The CFE Treaty confronted three distinct and dissimilar challenges in 1996. The first was Russia's violation of the CFE flank ceilings. The second was Russia's violation of a politically binding side agreement concerning equipment moved east of the Urals prior to treaty signature. As described below, both of these problems were resolved in early June of this year. The third issue is the question of whether the treaty must be "modernized" or overhauled to accommodate Europe's new and emerging geopolitical circumstances, an issue that is closely linked to the prospective enlargement of NATO into East-Central Europe.

When the CFE Treaty's numerical ceilings on military equipment became legally binding on November 17, 1995, Russia had more equipment than allowed in the flank zone. Although Russia was in compliance with its overall CFE ceilings, the pressing strategic needs perceived by the Russian government in the Caucasus led it to station more military equipment on its southern flank than the CFE Treaty permits.

Russia's prospective violation of the flank ceiling came as no surprise. Moscow had been asking for a revision of the flank ceiling since March 1993. Until the fall of 1995, however, there was no serious effort by any of the treaty parties to resolve this issue prior to a violation. NATO offered instead to discuss the matter at the May 1996 CFE Review Conference, insisting on full compliance in the meantime. Washington was largely distracted by other foreign policy issues, while the alliance was stymied by Turkey's refusal to countenance any meaningful concessions to Russian noncompliance. For its part, Russia, because of its perceived requirement to garrison the Caucasus and prosecute the war in Chechnya, was adamant in its refusal to reduce its equipment holding in the flank zone to the agreed level.

As Russia's violation of the flank ceilings became imminent in the fal of 1995, the United States spearheaded a last-ditch effort to avoid an outright Russian violation. Washington abandoned its insistence that Moscow confinue to comply with its exact treaty commitments, after which the parties to the treaty agreed in principle to accommodate Russia's perceived strategic needs by alter-


ing the geographic scope of the flank zone. Specifically, the CFE Treaty's map would be redrawn so that an as yet undetermined number of Russian counties or military regions in the northern Caucasus would be shifted from the flank zone into the central zone, diereby allowing Russia to retain its desired levels of holdings in the south. To make this concession more palatable, Russia agreed (again, in principle) to accept increased constraints and transparency measures in the areas removed from the flank zone. The 30 parties to the treaty reached agreement on this basic framework for setding the flank problem just prior to the legal imposition of the flank ceilings on November 17, 1995, and were, therefore, able to announce their satisfaction that Russia was "committed to complying" with the CFE Treaty.

In June 1996, all 30 CFE signatories at their review conference in Vienna agreed to allow Russia a higher level of forces in flank areas for the next three years, in effect exempting these zones from CFE Treaty limitations. In turn, Moscow promised to freeze the number of treaty-limited items in these areas at current numbers and to reduce this equipment to treaty-permitted levels by 1999.

Another problem has been the stationing of Russian equipment east of the Urals. In the weeks before the CFE Treaty was signed, the Soviet military hurriedly shipped some 57,000 pieces of military equipment from Europe to Asia. Since the CFE Treaty applied only to military equipment in the ATTU zone from the time of signature, the massive Soviet transfer of equipment was properly regarded by Western officials as an attempt to circumvent the treaty's ceilings and destruction requirements. Accordingly, Western diplomats pressed Moscow for a pledge to destroy some or all of the equipment moved east of the Urals under CFE-like verification provisions. On June 14, 1991, the Soviet government made a politically binding agreement to destroy or convert into civilian equipment approximately 25 percent of the items it had withdrawn from the ATTU prior to signing the treaty. This destruction and conversion was to be done in a way that would provide visible (that is, to American satellites) evidence that the equipment had been destroyed or rendered militarily unusable.


Russia failed to comply with this polifically binding commitment during the CFE Treaty's 40-month reduction period, citing financial constraints. Again at the June review conference, Russia agreed to destroy the remainder of this equipment by the year 2OOO.

In the West and in Russia, the CFE Treaty faces other related, but contradictory, political pressures. The planned enlargement of NATO into East-Central Europe has caused some Western experts to consider what changes, if any, would be needed in the CFE Treaty to accommodate new NATO members. Smoothing the enlargement of NATO is the West's principal foreign policy goal with respect to the CFE Treaty.

Russian officials assert that NATO enlargement would be permissible only in the context of a prior revision of the treaty - if at all. NATO is not a signatory to the treaty and, from a legal viewpoint, its enlargement would have no impact on the CFE agreement. Russian assertions that NATO expansion violates the CFE are therefore not correct. Nevertheless, the political reality is that NATO expansion and CFE are firmly linked in the Russian mind. From a political standpoint, the alliance cannot ignore the fact that Russian officials claim that the expansion of NATO over Moscow's objections would give Russia sufficient cause to withdraw from CFE.

Moreover, Russian military experts argue that the combination of the CFE Treaty, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and the prospect of NATO enlargement have created the threat of a shift in the conventional military balance that is unacceptably large relative to the advantages enjoyed by Moscow during the Cold War. This has led to Russian calls for a fundamental revision of the CFE Treaty, something which they have called treaty "modernization." Moscow seems to have in mind a nuclear-free zone in Eastern Europe; strict restrictions in Eastern Europe regarding the deployment of foreign forces, prepositioning of equipment, and exercises; national equipment ceilings; full freedom to move weaponry within national borders; all 53 OSCE members joining the CFE regime; looser and less expensive verification requirements; and Western economic assistance for the destruction of Russian equipment.


In short, Russia seeks to undo the present balance of forces in Europe codified by the CFE Treaty and the subsequent national ceilings placed on member states, and to blunt the military consequences of NATO enlargement into East-Central Europe and beyond. WHe this may seem only fair in Moscow, virtually none of the other signatories to the CFE Treaty share this Russian objective, especially given the nationalist rhetoric now prominent among leading Russian politicians.

As of this writing, the administration has no formal views regarding how, if at all, the CFE Treaty might be adapted, including whether the equipment of new NATO members might be related to CFE allocations and limitations.


  1. Russia's adherence to its overall national ceiling and to its CFE inspection requirements have been satisfactory. Thus,the essential security purposes of the CFE regime with respect to U.S. national interests are working. The United States should take no steps within the treaty that would undermine this crucial fact.

  2. While keeping the concerns of Turkey in mind, the issue of Russia's violation of CFE flank ceilings should not be allowed to jeopardize the essential features of the treaty. The June 1996 agreement reached at the Vienna Review Conference, to which Ankara agreed, was a sensible solution to this problem.

  3. Russia's compliance with its politically binding agreement to destroy or convert some of the equipment moved east of the Urals is a secondary issue that should not threaten the CFE regime. Again, the June 1996 Vienna accord is a satisfactory settlement of this issue.

  4. The United States should be prepared to discuss a "modernization" of the CFE Treaty (CFE II), but should not agree to any fundamental revisions of the CFE regime. Russia's principal operational objectives in a new round of CFE negotiations would probably include stopping, slowing, and/or minimizing the military effects of NATO enlargement; removing the flank ceilings entirely; and shifting the conventional force balance in


    Moscow's direction (whether by raising Russia's national ceilings or lowering the aggregate of the new NATO). Since the other parties to the CFE Treaty would share few of Russia's objectives in a CFE II negotiation, the prospects for successfully revising the CFE Treaty must be regarded as dim, especially because the consensus rule of multilateral arms control negotiations allows any one state to veto any particular proposed provision of an accord.

  5. The United States should rebuff Russian arguments that assert that NATO expansion is linked legally because of CFE Treaty language to numerical ceilings on military equipment. The CFE Treaty was carefully worded to avoid any linkage between alliance membership and the national ceilings on military equipment holdings. This is why the treaty text refers not to NATO and the Warsaw Pact, but to a Western and an Eastern "group of States Parties." Thus, the entry of Poland, for example, into NATO would not legally force the alliance to reallocate some of its aggregate equipment entitlements to Poland (implying one-for-one reductions in the equipment holdings of some other NATO state).

  6. However, despite this discrete legal point regarding the CFE Treaty text, the United States should recognize the powerful political connection as seen in Moscow between NATO enlargement and CFE obligations, and seek to minimize damage to the CFE regime occasioned by the addition of new members to the alliance. The United States should constantly keep in mind the interrelationship in Russia among NATO enlargement, prospects for U.S.-Russian arms control, and the future of bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow. As for CFE, perhaps a political solution could be found in which the equipment totals of new NATO members could be included within the overall Western allocations, not least because many Western countries are presently below their equipment entitlements. This formula, however, could only apply to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, and would not be practical if NATO decided to invite more new members after this prospective first phase.


    More broadly, many Russians argue that a decision by the alliance to proceed with enlargement will kill all arms control cooperation between Moscow and Washington. This Russian threat should not be taken at face value, and, in any case, cannot be the basis of U.S. arms control policy across the board, especially with respect to START II. But it would be equally unwise to ignore completely the strong linkage Moscow has established between NATO's admittance of new members and the subject of this report.

    This obviously is not the place to discuss in detail the pros and cons of NATO enlargement. Nevertheless, if the alliance cannot find a way to deal with this issue without producing a sustained and ruinous crisis with Russia, few of the prescriptions in this report are likely to be acceptable in Moscow. Thus, as Washington makes its decisions regarding the pace, substance, and scope of alliance enlargement, it needs to factor into its decisions the general importance of U.S.-Russian arms control as enumerated in the Introduction to this report. This is a case in which many tradeoffs are possible and some may be sensible.

    With respect to the general subject of NATO enlargement, the Task Force is as divided as the U.S. strategic community at large. Some Task Force participants strongly oppose the very idea of the alliance taking on new members under present circumstances; others support the concept with equal vigor. If, however, NATO enlargement does go forward within the next year, as seems likely, the Task Force recommends the compromise that follows below. These prescriptions, while assuming NATO enlargement, are more restrictive than Washington's current official position, which at this writing has kept the shape and pace of alliance expansion open-ended and has not definitively foreclosed through formal NATO decision the deployment of nuclear weapons and/or foreign troops on the soil of new alliance members. The suggestions below are meant most importantly to maintain the integrity of NATO and its capacity to act decisively in a crisis; to buttress Western interests east of old NATO territory; and to proceed in a way that seeks to minimize the effect of NATO enlargement on Russia's relations with the West in general and on U.S.-Russian arms control in particular.


  7. NATO should, at a summit meeting in early 1997, offer membership to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, which would enter the alliance before the turn of the century.

  8. Simultaneously, NATO would indicate that it had made the internal decision in consultation with those new members that under present circumstances it saw no requirement to station nuclear weapons or foreign troops on the soil of these three nations, which would, however, be full participants in the alliance's integrated military structure.

  9. At about the same time, the European Union would announce that the three Baltic states would enter the EU and Western European Union before the year 2000.

  10. The entrance of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary into NATO before the turn of the century would naturally produce a prolonged period in which the alliance would assess and absorb the consequent effects on NATO's planning, procedures, and decision-making. Any other potential new alliance members would be considered only after this protracted phase in which those three new members are fully blended into NATO and it is assured that an even further enluged alliance would not lose its effectiveness.

  11. In parallel with these steps, NATO heads of government should mount a coordinated effort to convince President Yeltsin and his government (or his successor) to agree to establish a formal and intense consultative arrangement between NATO and Russia.