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former IAEA Director-General

Russia Unflinching on CFE Treaty Suspension
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Wade Boese

Russia is denying foreign arms inspections as part of its decision last year to stop abiding by a treaty limiting conventional weapons in Europe. Claiming the current situation "cannot last indefinitely," the United States and its NATO allies are seeking to induce Russia to reverse its suspension with a proposal to resolve long-standing disputes related to the treaty.

Accusing Western countries of acting in bad faith under the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, Moscow Dec. 12 announced that it would freeze implementation of the pact. (See ACT, January/February 2008 .) The treaty, which limits the tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft that its 30 states-parties may station between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains, has no suspension provision.

Russia contends that because the treaty has a withdrawal option, a state-party may take actions short of that step. NATO members disagree, and there is some discussion, particularly within the U.S. government, on whether to declare Russia in noncompliance.

Meanwhile, some NATO members recently have "tested" the Russian suspension by requesting treaty inspections in Russia. Moscow has refused all of them, according to officials of NATO governments who spoke in April with Arms Control Today. One official noted that no other states, including close Russian ally Belarus, have followed the Kremlin's lead.

NATO warned in a March 28 statement that Moscow's suspension "risks eroding the integrity of the CFE regime." Still, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary-general of the 26-member alliance, said April 4 that he is "not in [a] panic." He indicated his attitude would remain calm as long as both NATO and Russia continue to support a revised version of the CFE Treaty, which was negotiated in 1999 but has yet to enter into force.

The Adapted CFE Treaty sets national weapons limits for each country instead of imposing equal bloc limits on NATO and the defunct Warsaw Pact like the original treaty. Although outdated, the Cold War-era agreement remains in force until all of its states-parties ratify the newer instrument. Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have completed that action, while Ukraine has finished all the necessary steps except depositing its instrument of ratification.

Russia is upset that the 22 NATO members bound by the 1990 agreement have not moved to ratify the 1999 version. NATO had maintained that Russia must first fulfill commitments to withdraw its military forces from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova. Russia made those political commitments at the Istanbul summit at which the Adapted CFE Treaty was concluded and signed. (See ACT, November 1999 .) 

Russia adamantly refutes the linkage. After an April 4 NATO-Russia Council meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued "there is no legal link" between the Adapted CFE Treaty and the so-called Istanbul withdrawal commitments. He described the "crisis surrounding the CFE Treaty" as one of the "serious obstacles" to better NATO-Russian relations.

The alliance has offered Russia a "parallel actions package" to end the stalemate. The proposal calls on NATO countries to begin their national ratification processes, some of which could take several months or longer, while Russia resumes its military withdrawals from Georgia and Moldova. Once Russia completes its withdrawals or reaches some other settlement acceptable to Georgia and Moldova, all NATO members would strive to complete ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty.

After the accord takes effect, NATO pledges it will seek to address other long-standing Russian concerns. For instance, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia-the four current NATO members not bound by the original CFE Treaty-have indicated they will join the adapted agreement and take on arms limits. The older accord does not have an accession option.

NATO members also vowed in the March 28 statement to consider future changes to their weapons ceilings "where possible." Russia complains that NATO's collective arms holdings are growing as the alliance expands. Since the original treaty's negotiation, NATO has added 10 members and recently offered membership to Albania and Croatia, committed to add Macedonia, and announced the intention to invite Georgia and Ukraine.

NATO further indicated that it would hear out Russian arguments on the "flank zone" limits, which restrict the amount of weapons Russia can deploy in its northern region near Norway and the Caucasus region in the south. Russia wants those limits abolished but supports keeping the zone limits on other states, such as Norway, Turkey, and Georgia. NATO, which has previously agreed to relax Russia's flank zone limits, opposes Moscow's current demands.

Progress on the NATO plan is complicated by the fact that the remaining Russian forces in Georgia and Moldova are in separatist regions. Russia argues that its troops, approximately 200 in Georgia and 1,200 in Moldova, are needed to help prevent renewed conflict. NATO maintains that foreign forces must have the consent of the government where they are located, which is not the case in Georgia and Moldova.

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Posted: June 11, 2008