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European Security

Russia Adopts New Security Concept

IN A SWEEPING 21-page document that addresses a range of internal problems and highlights perceived international threats, Russia appeared to lower its threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. The new national security concept, which Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin signed January 10, is intended to "more distinctly outline the definition of a multipolar world and the way Russia will work on safeguarding national interests," according to Sergei Ivanov, secretary of Russia's Security Council. (See excerpts of the concept.)

The document, which replaces the security concept adopted in December 1997, will be complemented by a soon-to-be-finalized military doctrine currently circulating within the Russian government. The new military doctrine will supercede the present one, which was adopted in 1993, and will reportedly elaborate on and clarify Russian defense guidelines, including those concerning the use of nuclear weapons.

Updated Nuclear Posture

While the 1997 national security concept allowed the first use of nuclear arms only "in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation," the new concept states that nuclear weapons may be used to "repulse armed aggression, if all other means of resolving the crisis have been exhausted." This more relaxed condition for the use of nuclear weapons appears to be a response to the decline of Russian conventional forces, which has accelerated in recent years because of Russia's economic troubles.

NATO's effective use of high-precision weapons in Yugoslavia last spring and Russia's recent difficulties in Chechnya have emphasized the weakness of Russia's conventional forces. "Russia, for objective reasons, is forced to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, extend the nuclear deterrent to smaller-scale conflicts and openly warn potential opponents about this," Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, stated recently in an interview with the Russian newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda.

Last summer, in what appears to have been a dress rehearsal for the new nuclear posture, Russia announced that it had conducted strategic "war games" that simulated a conventional NATO attack on an isolated part of Russian territory. In the exercise, termed "Zapad-99," Russian conventional troops were unable to repel the NATO attack, prompting Russia to use several nuclear weapons.

Russia's threatened use of nuclear weapons to deter conventional attacks is reminiscent of NATO's use of nuclear threats during the Cold War to deter superior Russian conventional forces from invading Western Europe. NATO's most recent strategic concept, approved last April at its 50th anniversary summit in Washington, acknowledged the alliance's vastly improved conventional position and stated that "the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated...are therefore extremely remote." At the same time, the alliance explicitly rejected a call for a no-first-use policy and placed no specific limits on the use of nuclear weapons.

In 1982, Leonid Brezhnev, then general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, established a nuclear no-first-use policy, but Russia abandoned the posture in 1993. China has a long-standing commitment to not using nuclear weapons first; the United States, Britain and France have all consistently resisted adopting a no-first-use policy.

Russia's Relationship With the West

The new concept is striking in its repeated admission of national weakness and focuses primarily on internal issues-the economy, terrorism, separatist movements and environmental degradation-as the primary dangers to Russian society. It also identifies the United States and its allies as serious threats to Russian security. The document criticizes "attempts to create an international relations structure based on domination by developed Western countries in the international community, under U.S. leadership and designed for unilateral solutions...in circumvention of the fundamental rules of international law."

Such attitudes are symptomatic of a gradual reassessment of Russia's relationship with the West that has been spurred by a series of threatening events in the last few years, beginning with NATO expansion and followed by the U.S.-led airstrikes against Yugoslavia and recent Western criticism of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. "Whereas in the past in the Russian security concept...it was stated that Russia has no opponents or enemies in the world, now it is clearly stated that one of the primary possible threats to Russian security and foreign policy interests is the policy of the United States," Alexei Arbatov, a member of the Russian Duma, said in a February 2 telephone briefing from Moscow.

Some analysts have attributed the new concept's confrontational posture to Putin's more hard-line stance towards the West. But the concept's early drafts were crafted and approved by the Russian Security Council under President Yeltsin (albeit in collaboration with then-Prime Minister Putin), and published in draft form last November. After review by the Russian legislature and bureaucracy, the concept was signed by Putin, reportedly with only a few minor changes. Thus, while the concept's release just prior to a presidential election is probably not coincidental, its timing is largely a function of bureaucratic process.

Russia's increased criticism of the West has not gone unnoticed in the United States, but the Clinton administration is downplaying the importance of the new national security concept. "We...do not believe that it represents a significant major departure from Russia's concept issued in 1997 or that it makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely," State Department spokesman James Rubin said in a January 19 briefing.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Executive Summary of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty

Wade Boese

News Analysis

Aiming to preserve the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty as the "cornerstone of European security," President Bill Clinton and 29 other national leaders signed an agreement adapting the Cold War-era treaty to the present European security environment on November 19-nine years to the day after signature of the original treaty. Despite a sweeping restructuring, the treaty objective of promoting European security and stability through lower arms levels, limits on the massing of forces and military transparency remains the same.

More than merely eliminating references to the former Soviet Union and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact, the adapted treaty jettisons the Cold War rationale of balancing two hostile military alliances and instead emphasizes individual country rights, limits and obligations. In a package of associated political commitments referred to as the Final Act, several states also pledged additional weapons reductions and to forgo increases in future weapons levels.

The original treaty remains in effect until the adapted agreement is ratified by all 30 states-parties, at which point the adapted treaty will enter into force.

From Bloc to National Limits

Under the original treaty, NATO and the Warsaw Pact were each allotted limits of 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored combat vehicles (ACVs), 20,000 artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircraft and 2,000 attack helicopters-materiel collectively referred to as treaty-limited equipment (TLE). With the 1991 break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the 1997 offer of NATO membership to the former Eastern bloc members of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, these bloc-limits lost all relevance. The original treaty's outdated nature is underscored by the fact that it requires the new NATO members to coordinate weapons-level changes with Russia and other former Warsaw Pact members in order to stay within the Eastern bloc limit.

The adapted treaty discards these obsolete, alliance-wide limits and replaces them with national ceilings for the same five weapons categories. For the adapted treaty, countries proposed their own limits, with the understanding that they would take a "restrained approach" and work toward the overriding objective of "achieving a significant lowering in the total amount of TLE in Europe."

Together, the 19 members of NATO lowered their cumulative national limits from 89,026 TLE to 79,967. Current NATO weapons holdings only add up to 64,091 TLE, so no actual reductions will be required. While amounting to a paper cut, this reduction does decrease the weapons build-up potential of alliance members, thereby reassuring Russia. Individually, only two NATO states, Aegean rivals Greece and Turkey, increased their weapons limits, though only in the category of attack helicopters. The United States reduced its limits by more than 40 percent, from 13,088 TLE to 7,582. But, like the alliance in general, U.S. actual holdings of 3,465 TLE (as of January 1, 1999) are far below its new limits. For its part, Russia reduced its TLE limits by transferring the entitlement for 385 weapons to Kazakhstan, which did not previously have any weapons entitlements under CFE.

Out With Zones, In With Territorial Ceilings

To guard against weapons accumulations for launching surprise, large-scale offensives, the original treaty restricts the deployment of tanks, ACVs and artillery through a concentric-zone-structure, whereby the smallest zone, located in the center of Europe, has the lowest limits, and successive zones emanating outward have increasingly large limits. Though the possibility of such an attack is much more remote today, the rationale of preventing the build-up of military forces in a specific geographic area remains sound.

In keeping with the shift from a bloc structure to a national one, the adapted treaty eliminates the zones and sets territorial ceilings for each state. These territorial ceilings cap the total amount of ground TLE, both national and foreign-stationed, that a country can have within its borders-a much more restrictive system than the concentric zones, which permitted much larger force levels greater freedom in significantly bigger areas. Explicit advance consent of the host state is required for the stationing of any foreign TLE on another's territory to guard against unwanted deployments.

Twenty countries, including Russia and NATO's three newest members, set their territorial ceilings equal to their national ceilings. In effect, this requires a country's own TLE holdings on its territory to be lower than its national ceilings if the country wants foreign forces stationed within its borders. For Russia, long-opposed to NATO expansion, this constitutes an important check on NATO ground weaponry deployed in the newest alliance members and assures Moscow that NATO expansion will not cause a cumulative rise in weapons stationed in those countries.

At the same time, however, NATO sought to ensure that it could conduct military exercises, as well as deploy forces in times of crisis, on the new NATO members' territory. As a result, the adapted treaty allows countries to host temporary deployments that exceed their territorial limits by up to 153 tanks, 241 ACVs and 140 artillery pieces.

In exceptional circumstances, some states-those outside the original treaty's flank zone-may exceed their limits by as many as 459 tanks, 723 ACVs and 420 artillery pieces. Though Russia strongly opposed these exceptional temporary deployments, which are equivalent to two NATO divisions, alliance members viewed them as necessary to guard against "second-class membership" for new NATO members and to preserve alliance flexibility.

NATO rejected Russian efforts to impose territorial limits on combat aircraft and attack helicopters because it viewed such limitations as unverifiable given the mobility of those weapons.

The Evolution of the Flank Zone

While making no reference to a flank zone, the adapted treaty retains the flank zone's function of limiting weapons accumulations in northern and southern Europe. The former flank countries all agreed to set their territorial ceilings equal to their national ceilings, and all are limited to hosting only basic temporary deployments.

Specific limits, though relaxed, are also retained on the ground TLE Russia deploys in its northern and southern flanks, as well as on the ground TLE Ukraine deploys in its Odessa oblast. Since inception of the original treaty, Moscow has pressed for the abolition of the flank zone, claiming it is discriminatory because Russia and Ukraine are the only two states with limits on where they can deploy their own weapons on their own territory. Trying to address Russian complaints, the states-parties agreed in May 1996 to allow Russia's original flank limits of 1,300 tanks, 1,380 ACVs and 1,680 artillery apply to a smaller area, while the original zone itself would have higher limits of 1,800 tanks, 3,700 ACVs and 2,400 artillery. In the adapted treaty, parties further placated Russia by eliminating the original zone and its limits entirely, and increasing Russia's ACV allowance in the reduced flank zone from 1,380 to 2,140.

Improved Transparency

The adapted treaty also bolsters two key, but often overlooked, elements of the original CFE Treaty: extensive requirements for both inspections and information exchange.

Under the original treaty, each state-party is obligated to accept a number of inspections equal to 15 percent of its number of "objects of verification," essentially defined as sites and units with TLE. The adapted treaty increases that quota to 20 percent. The number of inspections countries are required to permit has been declining because the destruction of more than 70,000 pieces of TLE during the treaty's operation has led to a reduction in objects of verification.

Whereas the existing treaty only requires annual reports on the designated peacetime location of tanks, ACVs and artillery, the adapted treaty adds annual reporting requirements on the actual location of this TLE. Each state is also now required to submit quarterly reports detailing the numbers and actual territorial deployments of its ground TLE.

To the satisfaction of Russia, which had sought greater restrictions and transparency on NATO's air power following the alliance's air war over Yugoslavia, quarterly reports are also required on combat aircraft and attack helicopters. However, states-parties only need to supply information on total numbers for the entire treaty area and detail the countries to which the equipment is assigned for deployment, not those where it is actually located.

As a further confidence-building measure, whenever weapons levels on a state's territory change by 30 tanks, 30 ACVs, or 10 artillery pieces or more, all other states-parties must be informed within five working days. Any increase of 18 or more combat aircraft or attack helicopters in a country's holdings within the treaty's area of application must be reported within five working days.

The Final Act

The political commitments issued in the associated Final Act generally reinforce the adapted treaty's aim of keeping armament levels low in regions of historical conflict, and many specifically attempt to alleviate Russia's unease with NATO expansion.

Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Ukraine each pledged not to increase their territorial ceilings under the "current and foreseeable security circumstances."

New NATO members Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic went a step further, pledging additional future reductions in territorial ceilings (which they had already set equal to their national ceilings) totaling more than 1,500 ground TLE. Unlike the U.S. drop in limits, these reductions will require actual destruction of equipment. The Slovak Republic, a prospective NATO member, also offered a future territorial ceiling reduction of 195 ground TLE.

Moscow reciprocated by pledging that it would show "due restraint" in tank, ACV and artillery deployments in the region encompassing the Kaliningrad oblast, which is situated between Poland and the Baltic states, and in the Pskov oblast, which borders the Baltic states. Echoing a NATO commitment made in the May 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act concerning NATO deployments in new alliance members, Russia pledged that in the "present politico-military situation it has no reasons, plans or intentions to station substantial additional combat forces, whether air or ground forces, in that region [the Kaliningrad and Pskov oblasts] on a permanent basis."

In its southern flank, Russia pledged to reduce its TLE holdings in Georgia to a level equaling a basic temporary deployment by the end of next year-a proposal to which Georgia consented. Currently, Russia has 141 tanks, 481 ACVs and 166 artillery pieces deployed at four bases on Georgian territory.

To strip away the legality of any Russian forces stationed on its territory, Moldova used the Final Act to renounce its right to host any temporary deployment. In the Act, all states-parties also "welcomed" Russia's commitment, made in the declaration following the Istanbul summit (at which the adapted agreement was signed), to withdraw or destroy all of its TLE currently stationed in Moldova by the end of 2001.

Finally, the Act states that all treaty members have "undertaken to move forward expeditiously to facilitate completion of national ratification procedures, so that the Agreement on Adaptation can enter into force as soon as possible." At the same time, the Act emphasizes the "central importance of, full and continued implementation" of the existing treaty until the adapted treaty enters into force.

The parties pledged to review the status of all the pledges made and decisions taken at the treaty's next review conference scheduled for May 2001.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Endgame: CFE Adaptation And the OSCE Summit

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Table 1: NATO Entitlements, Holdings and Proposed National Ceilings (NCs)

  NATO Entitlement (1990) <1> NATO+3

Entitlement <2>


Proposed NCs


Holdings <3>

Tanks 20,000 22,664 19,096 16,540
Artillery 20,000 21,503 19,529 16,403
ACVs 30,000 35,039 31,787 25,185
Helicopters 2,000 2,288 2,269 1,367
Combat Aircraft 6,800 7,532 7,273 4,587
Total 78,800 89,026 80,472 64,091


1. Refers to the amount of TLE the original treaty authorized the alliance.

2. Refers to the alliance with the additon of Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.

3. Holdings reported as of January 1, 1999.

Source: C. Dorn Crawford, "Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): A Review and Update of Key Treaty Elements," Washington, DC: ACDA, January 1999.

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Table 2: U.S. Original Entitlements, Proposed National Ceilings (NCs), Reduction and Current Holdings

  Original Entitlement Proposed NC Entitlement Reduction Current Holdings
Tanks 4,006 1,812 2,194 846
Artillery 2,742 1,553 1,189 558
ACVs 5,152 3,037 2,115 1,704
Total 11,900 6,402 5,498 3,108
Source: C. Dorn Crawford, "Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): A Review and Update of Key Treaty Elements," Washington, DC: ACDA, January 1999.
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Posted: December 31, 1969

Endgame: CFE Adaptation And the OSCE Summit

On November 18, representatives of the 30 states that are party to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty will meet at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) summit in Istanbul to decide the future of the most ambitious conventional arms control accord in history. Originally intended to reduce tensions between the two Cold War superpower blocs by establishing a secure balance of armed forces in Europe and eliminating each side's ability to launch a surprise attack, the treaty proved its usefulness in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse and continues to prove its utility in the rapidly shifting European security landscape. It is essential that this opportunity to formally "adapt" the CFE Treaty to current political-military conditions not be missed.

When the 22 members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact first signed the CFE Treaty in Paris on November 19, 1990, none of them could have predicted that in slightly more than a year not only the Warsaw Pact but also the Soviet Union would dissolve. When that did happen, many observers assumed that the agreement would be tossed aside, relegated to a footnote of Cold War history. Fortunately, despite this skepticism, leaders in both the East and the West quickly realized that the treaty offered a means to enhance European security during this period of transition and beyond in a manner consistent with its original goals.

Implementation of the treaty was completed in late 1995, and discussions about "adapting" its structure to the new security environment began shortly thereafter at the first treaty review conference, held in May 1996. The potential signing of the adapted treaty at the upcoming OCSE summit represents the culmination of nearly three years of negotiations.

With the rising threat of nuclear proliferation and the focus of Western military analysts having largely shifted to Asia, the fate of conventional weapons in Europe is no longer as pressing to many as it once was. But while the threat of a large-scale Soviet invasion through Germany may be a thing of the past, an adapted CFE treaty will be able to further improve Europe's security in two crucial ways. First, a successful conclusion of the CFE adaptation negotiations could help dispel some of Moscow's security concerns that have resulted from NATO enlargement and the subsequent intervention in Kosovo. Second, the strain that Russia's internal political and economic discord has placed on its military is leading to a greater reliance on nuclear weapons because of conventional inferiority. An adapted CFE treaty could help counter that dangerous trend.

Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton underscored the importance of the CFE at their September 1998 summit in Moscow and established a goal of completing adaptation by the OSCE summit in November of this year. While world leaders establish objectives of this type fairly frequently (and with only modest success), this is a critical juncture for these negotiations. The domestic political situations in both Russia and the United States and the rising difficulty in concluding arms control agreements suggest that gathering support for the CFE will become increasingly difficult in the near future. The OSCE summit may very well represent the best—and perhaps last—opportunity for this treaty.

The CFE Treaty and Adaptation

The CFE Treaty, as it was originally written, requires alliance or "group" limitations on tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), combat aircraft and attack helicopters—known collectively as treaty-limited equipment (TLE)—in an area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. Each bloc was allowed 20,000 tanks; 20,000 artillery pieces; 30,000 ACVs; 2,000 attack helicopters; and 6,800 combat aircraft.

Bloc limitations for NATO and the former Warsaw Pact were further circumscribed by a series of five geographic nested zones for land-based TLE. Limitations on helicopters and attack aircraft only applied to the entire area due to their ability to reposition rapidly. This zonal approach was a logical derivative of the mandate's intent to reduce the possibility of surprise attack by precluding excessive force concentrations near the heart of Europe. National limits for each treaty signatory were subsequently determined in negotiations among the members of the two organizations before the demise of the Warsaw Pact. When the U.S.S.R. disintegrated, the Soviet successor states (within the area of application) met at Tashkent in May 1992 and determined their respective limits from the total allocated to the Soviet Union.

Though the treaty was signed in November 1990, implementation was delayed by the end of the Warsaw Pact, the demise of the Soviet Union and problems associated with Soviet TLE. Implementation actually commenced in November 1992 when the final two states—Belarus and Kazakhstan—deposited their instruments of ratification. By the end of the implementation period in November 1995, over 58,000 pieces of TLE had been destroyed and approximately 2,700 inspections had been conducted to insure compliance.<1> The Russian Federation had the greatest burden for destruction—roughly 20 percent of this total.

Full and final compliance with the CFE Treaty was, however, endangered in late 1995 due to Russian insistence that it could not comply with limits on its forces in the so-called "flank zone"—an area that for Russia includes both the Leningrad Military District in the north and North Caucasus Military District in the south. As the November 17 deadline for full implementation approached, it became clear that Russia would comply with its overall national limit, but not the flank requirement. In the waning moments the 30 parties agreed to a framework document to resolve this problem quickly based on specific agreed principles, thereby avoiding the diplomatically embarrassing possibility of having to declare the Russian Federation in "non-compliance."

A compromise was finally achieved at the treaty's first review conference, held in Vienna in May 1996, that permitted Russia higher force levels in the flank zone, established a May 1999 deadline for Moscow to meet these adjusted levels and in effect reduced the overall size of the flank zone.<2> (This compromise was subsequently ratified by the U.S. Senate in May 1997.)

During that same review conference, Russia first presented its ideas for modifying the treaty to reflect post-Cold War realities, and the West responded that it was willing to consider further adjustments to the treaty. A formal decision to commence adaptation discussions in the Vienna-based Joint Consultative Group (the treaty's implementing body) was adopted at the Lisbon summit of the OSCE in December 1996, and the states-parties agreed to a document covering the scope and parameters of the negotiations.

Actual discussions began in the first months of 1997 as both NATO and Russia presented formal proposals for adapting the treaty, and on July 23 the 30 states involved in the discussions announced an agreement on certain "basic elements" required for successful adaptation of the treaty.<3> Most significantly, all states-parties agreed that the original bloc-to-bloc and zonal structure of the agreement was outmoded and should be replaced by national and territorial limits for all categories of treaty-limited equipment. They further concluded:

• national ceilings for each country should not exceed their existing allocations;

• rules governing equipment in storage must be changed;

• stabilizing measures to preclude force concentrations were required;

• each state should adopt a territorial ceiling that equaled the total of national and stationed forces;

• rules governing "temporary deployments" must be clarified; and

• an accession clause should be added to the treaty.

Most NATO countries also indicated their willingness to take at least a 5 percent reduction in their current entitlements.

There can be no doubt that this was a significant development. Still it was clearly "a lowest common denominator" agreement based on each side's initial proposal and was timed to coincide with the Madrid summit announcing the new NATO members in order to demonstrate that the Alliance acknowledged Russian security concerns. The so-called "Basic Elements Document" still left many important issues unresolved—and suggested that a final adjusted treaty would require difficult negotiations.

The March 30 Agreement

The next major development in the adaptation talks came on March 30, 1999, when the 30 CFE states agreed to a political document that set the stage for a final revised treaty.<4> The agreement was particularly noteworthy because at the time Moscow had severed or suspended its other political ties with NATO (such as the NATO-Russia Council) over the alliance's air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

The agreement confirmed a new structure based on the system of national and territorial ceilings. Under the original CFE Treaty, each country was allocated TLE entitlements based on the limits of the bloc to which it belonged. The March 30 agreement dictated that each country's TLE would be limited according to its own national ceiling. Furthermore, each country would have a territorial ceiling that limited the number of ground TLE (both national and foreign-stationed) that could be deployed within its borders.

NATO's original limits on the five categories of TLE totaled 89,026 pieces. In the March 30 agreement the 19 members of NATO—the original 16 plus Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic—proposed lowering their aggregate national limits to roughly 80,000. Thus, even the enlarged NATO accepted sizable reductions in its TLE entitlements. However, because actual holdings are still below authorized limits by a significant margin, these reductions will not necessitate the destruction of any military hardware. (See Table 1.) For its part, the United States accepted a reduction of over 45 percent in the amount of ground TLE it was authorized to have in the Atlantic-to-the-Urals area at any given time. (See Table 2.)

NATO stated early in the enlargement process (and formally affirmed in the NATO-Russian Founding Act) that it saw no need to station significant forces permanently on the territory of its new members. While this was both a clear recognition of the security situation and an attempt to further ease Russian concerns, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland remained concerned. They worried that should they be threatened in the future, the alliance would not be able to come to their aid without violating the treaty. Consequently, as part of the March 30 decision, NATO negotiated certain operational flexibilities, such as the right to deploy equipment temporarily on the territory of an ally during a crisis.

According to the March 30 agreement, each state can exceed its respective territorial limit for UN- or OSCE-mandated peace support operations, exercises or temporary deployments. All states may host a "Basic Temporary Deployment" (to a maximum of 153 tanks, 241 ACVs and 140 artillery pieces) above its respective territorial ceiling. Those states outside the so-called flank region (the flank includes Iceland, Norway, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and portions of the Russian Federation as well as Ukraine) may host a larger "Exceptional Temporary Deployment" to a maximum of 459 tanks, 723 ACVs and 420 artillery pieces.

The accord also made changes to the flank regime in order to reconcile this portion of the original treaty to a revised structure. It noted that the flank regime remained legally binding on all parties and allowed Russia modest increases in the number of ACVs allowed in the Leningrad and North Caucasus Military Districts. This portion of the understanding also included Moscow's acceptance of bilateral discussions on the reduction of its forces from Georgia and complete withdrawal from Moldova consistent with both the principle of host-nation consent and the decision reached at the 1998 Oslo ministerial discussions.

The March 30 decision also concluded key verification enhancements. Each state accepted a moderate increase in its annual inspection requirements, but the accord also noted the need for additional information/verification provisions consistent with the system of national and territorial ceilings as well as temporary deployments. Finally, all states appended significant national statements to the decision that were political in nature and committed them to pursuing continued reductions in national force levels in the area of application. As part of its political statement, Russia pledged restraint on its forces in the northwestern portion of the country adjacent to the Baltic Republics and Poland.

The Current Importance of CFE

With the rapid dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and then of the Soviet Union itself, the CFE Treaty was given little time to prove its value in the circumstances for which it had been intended, but its stabilizing influence was nonetheless clear during the tumultuous events of the early 1990s. Though the purpose of the agreement was to reduce the possibility of short-warning conventional attacks and large-scale offensives through force reductions, CFE inspections may actually have contributed more to easing tensions during this period than reductions did. The treaty proved particularly valuable in assuaging concerns about German reunification and providing transparency on the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe. Furthermore, under the terms of the agreement, short-notice inspections were conducted of U.S. forces in Germany as they were preparing for deployment to the former Yugoslavia in 1995.

Thus, the CFE Treaty has already proven its importance outside the scope of activity for which it was originally intended, and in the coming years, it can undoubtedly further enhance European security, particularly by smoothing U.S.-Russian relations and easing Russian concerns about NATO's role in Europe. There can be little doubt that Russia's relations with the West have suffered in recent months because of NATO enlargement, continued disagreements over Iraq and the conflict in Kosovo. A successful conclusion of the CFE adaptation negotiations could assist in dispelling many of Moscow's security concerns without compromising NATO security and could foster a climate of increased cooperation between Russia and NATO.

During the enlargement process, the United States and its NATO partners clearly showed that so-called "Russia-handling" was critical, and various efforts were made to assuage Moscow's concerns. Western policymakers attempted to describe enlargement as non-threatening, but there was no doubt that most (if not all) Russian leaders still disagreed up to the last minute, when the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland officially entered the alliance March 12, 1999.<5> Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladmir Rakhmanin noted on the eve of enlargement that Moscow had accepted an expanded NATO as "part of current European reality" despite Moscow's opposition. He added that in this situation the CFE Treaty remained the "foundation of European security" and that preserving and strengthening the agreement was central to meeting Russian fears.<6> From the Russian perspective, an adjusted CFE Treaty provides legal assurances about the size and deployment of NATO forces—particularly in the new member countries—that continue to be critical to Moscow's assessment of regional security. Consequently, while modifications to the treaty are warranted based on the dramatic changes that have occurred in Europe since its signing, the enlargement process gave this effort an additional resonance.

The treaty also played a role during NATO's intervention in Kosovo when Russia requested "challenge inspections" of NATO airbases in Italy and Hungary consistent with the CFE's provisions. This included the NATO base at Aviano, Italy, which was one of the primary facilities in mounting the air campaign against Belgrade. While this was certainly difficult given the circumstances of an ongoing air offensive, NATO accepted these requests as consistent with the legal obligations of the treaty, and military officials complied appropriately. The transparency provided about the NATO operations in particular from the inspections in Aviano, Italy, and Tazar, Hungary, underscored the value of the CFE Treaty in particular as a means to reassure neighboring states during a crisis and reduce tensions.

In Kosovo, the CFE Treaty also demonstrated its importance to the Russians through its contrast to another conventional arms control accord that has not been as successful. As a legal document, the CFE guarantees transparency in a way that political documents have failed to do. In 1994 the 54 states that comprise the OSCE agreed to a series of "confidence- and security-building measures." These are politically binding requirements to report force totals after they have reached certain prescribed levels, accept observations of military exercises and activities, respond to the inquiries of participating states concerning ongoing military movements and so forth. These agreements are compiled as part of the "Vienna Document."

In early May, Russia formally requested to send observers to Macedonia and subsequently Albania to view the activities of NATO forces in those two countries in accordance with Chapter 8 of the Vienna Document.<7> But in the Macedonian case, NATO (largely at the insistence of the United States and SACEUR) declared that any location within 70 kilometers of the FRY border could not be examined due to excessive risk. Russia formally demarched the NATO countries for this in the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation as a violation of these agreements and argued that access had been limited to the extent that observations had not even occurred. These problems may make the conclusion of an adapted CFE Treaty more difficult—but also more important—as Moscow believes that it must extract more legal guarantees under the CFE since the political requirements provided by the Vienna Document were unsatisfactory.

Perhaps even more importantly, an adapted CFE Treaty could help stabilize Russia's strategic posture. Russia is suffering from internal discord brought about by enormous economic and political problems, and Russian policymakers now face a series of key decisions on the level of conventional forces that is appropriate and affordable. The Russian Federation has officially 1.2 million soldiers in its armed forces. Many experts believe that only 900,000 are even nominally available at any moment. Although the Duma voted to increase the defense budget to 3.1 percent of GDP, there is no certainty that the money will be available due in large measure to Russia's uncertain economic situation. In 1998 only 75 percent of the promised budget was actually supplied. Some senior Duma members believe that the armed forces will have to be reduced by a further 400,000 by the year 2000 to come within the available budget and that a total reduction to 600,000 will be necessary by early in the next decade.

As a result, Russian leaders have openly begun to argue that their conventional inferiority requires an increased reliance on nuclear weapons and the development of additional low-yield tactical nuclear systems.<8> Adaptation may offer a way to dampen these fears and forestall this potentially dangerous and destabilizing shift in strategy.

It is ironic that one of NATO's clear objectives in the negotiations in 1989 and 1990 was to reduce the massive level of Soviet conventional forces from Central Europe—a superiority that forced the alliance for many years to rely on nuclear weapons. Now, after so many years in which the West worried about Soviet military strength, the roles have been reversed, and it is clear that a weakened Russia still equipped with a massive strategic nuclear arsenal is perhaps of even greater concern.

Russia's concerns about U.S. strategic intentions have only been worsened by the U.S. attempts to renegotiate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Senate's recent rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The ability of a revised CFE treaty to provide Russia reassurance that the required reductions in its conventional forces can occur without endangering its security could reduce this shift toward greater reliance on nuclear weapons and encourage progress in other areas, such as START II and III.

Unfortunately, despite the substantial benefits that would come from an adapted CFE, the domestic political dynamics in the United States and Russia suggest that the upcoming OSCE summit is a window of opportunity that may be only temporary. Failure to achieve an adapted agreement by the summit's November 19 close may well mean that the process begins to resemble the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks, which languished in Vienna for nearly 16 years with no success. Duma elections in December followed by both Russian and American presidential elections next year will shift the focus away from this effort and make it increasingly difficult for Clinton or Yeltsin to galvanize the support required in their respective governments and conclude an agreement.

The problem in Russia is particularly acute. The continuing economic crisis, the weakened state of President Yeltsin both physically and politically, and the departure of two prime ministers since the beginning of the year all suggest that the power of the current regime is rapidly waning. This continuing turmoil could make the opportunity ripe for those seeking power to blame Russia's ills on external forces. It remains to be seen whether nationalist leaders in the Russian Federation will continue to trumpet these views as a means to foment support during the impending Duma and presidential elections, but if handled properly, an adjusted agreement could certainly dampen those forces and offer greater security not only for Russia but for all signatories.


A Western arms control expert once remarked that he felt like he was watching 300 years of European hostilities unfold during the course of CFE negotiations. Critics of this process are frequently captivated by the technical details of definitions, counting rules, stabilizing measures, inspection regimes and so forth and often overlook the connection between these points and larger security issues. Still, while the devil may lie in the details, this accord is rooted in the collective attempt of 30 sovereign states to improve their security. Consequently, all of the historical antagonisms have an impact, including centuries-old concerns about the state of German armed forces, Greek-Turkish antagonism, Polish worries about Russia, Moscow's continued fear of instability in the North Caucasus region and many others. Resolving these anxieties contributes to the enduring value of the agreement as Europe attempts to create a new architecture based on a concept of cooperative security, but they are also the greatest obstacle to success. The negotiations are now a truly multilateral effort involving 30 sovereign states as opposed to the bloc-to-bloc Cold War process begun in 1989.

Obviously, NATO enlargement and the conflict in Kosovo have both complicated the adaptation negotiations while making its success more important. Fortunately, the adaptation talks were not a victim of the Kosovo conflict despite the clear tensions it engendered in NATO-Russian relations. The fact that the Russian Federation did not suspend its participation in these talks (as it did several other forums) is extremely important. This is particularly true if one considers that the negotiations focused on the conventional force balance in Central Europe during the first actual conflict involving all NATO members and the largest air campaign in Europe since World War II. Unfortunately, while this underscores (to some degree at least) the value that Moscow ascribes to this process, it does not preordain the negotiations' successful conclusion at the OSCE summit. Kosovo may not have completely derailed these negotiations, but it certainly complicated the process, and little of substance occurred between the March 30 decision and the summer recess in mid-July.

The Russian delegation indicated its clear desire to complete the negotiations by the Istanbul summit upon its return to Vienna in August. They did, however, suggest that they wanted additional concessions prior to signing the final treaty.<9> Moscow demanded greater transparency over the deployment of NATO combat aircraft. This clearly reflects Russian concerns following the Kosovo conflict, but it may be very difficult for the alliance to accept. NATO military leaders are extremely sensitive to issues of operational security following the Kosovo conflict, and they are also concerned that this proposal might broaden constraints on land-based systems associated with temporary deployments that include aircraft.

The negotiations could become further complicated by the fact that Russia failed to meet the revised flank totals agreed to at the 1996 review conference by the May 31, 1999 deadline.<10> While Moscow has remained within its overall national limits for all categories of TLE, it exceeds the allocation for ACVs in the North Caucasus area by over 1,000 units. NATO members took note of this in early June, and it was verified by subsequent data exchanges. The alliance members chose not to make a major issue of Russian "non-compliance" while pointing out that the existing flank limits remain legally binding until such time as an adapted treaty is signed and ratified.

The issue of Russian force levels in the flank has risen again during the ongoing hostilities in Chechnya. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman announced on October 12 that Moscow had deployed forces in the region in excess of its flank limits to meet the emerging crisis.<11> While this is worrisome, Moscow's prompt announcement of these deployments demonstrates its commitment to the agreement. Furthermore, Russian spokesmen have underscored the importance of the treaty and the belief that these deployments should not adversely affect the ongoing adaptation process and expectation of a completed agreement by the OSCE summit.

Still this problem could have a direct bearing on whether or not several North Caucasus states believe an adapted treaty is beneficial to their security and, therefore, receives their support. Russian troop deployments in Georgia and Moldova contributes to the excessive flank TLE holdings. They are also counter to Moscow's acknowledgment in the March 30 decision to reduce its forces in Georgia and remove its troops completely from Moldova. In addition, Azerbaijan has frequently accused the Russian Federation of increasing tension in the region by providing arms to Armenia.<12> Baku also has charged that Moscow has contributed to the problem of unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment present in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris have repeatedly insisted that progress on these issues must occur before they sign an adapted treaty. These states may believe that an adapted treaty will provide them legal guarantees on Russian withdrawals from the region as well as increased transparency over future force deployments.


The CFE Treaty clearly demonstrated its value as a policy instrument during the turbulent period at the end of the Cold War. The levels of force reductions and the system of transparency that accompanied them are nothing short of historic. In fact the greatest value of the agreement may be that the entire CFE system encourages confidence through transparency and provides a forum for the major European states to debate, agree on and maintain a set of rules about conventional military power on the continent.<13>

The effort to adapt the treaty will not create a panacea, but will rather refine this tool in a fashion that makes it more effective for the next century. This process is not based on any sense of Western altruism, since NATO will remain in a position of overwhelming strength from a military perspective. The conflict in Kosovo clearly demonstrated this fact. Rather, adaptation is based on the view that the foundations of European security have been inextricably altered.

Arms control negotiations are an effort to find a set of rules about the size and operations of military forces that all parties find acceptable and contribute to greater security. They are bound by a "harmony of interest" that insures compliance as well as the verification requirements that are part of any agreement. Compromise is an essential element that all parties must make to find a final settlement. Clearly this process has reached its end game, and an agreement is possible if all participants can find concessions, particularly in the remaining areas that deal with the balance between transparency and operational security.

The effort to craft an adapted CFE treaty has entered a critical juncture. Negotiators have worked out the majority of disagreements and avoided a possible catastrophe during the Kosovo conflict. But these conditions will not endure indefinitely. The upcoming OSCE summit may be the last opportunity to finalize an adapted treaty that not only reflects the new European security environment but also contributes to it. It remains the best chance for the West to give meaning to President Clinton's statement following the March 30 agreement: "Together, we are building a Europe in which armies prepare to stand beside their neighbors, not against them, and security depends on cooperation, not competition."


1. "Final Document of the First Conference to Review Operations of the CFE Treaty and the Concluding Act of the Negotiations on Personnel Strength," Vienna, Austria, May 15-31, 1996, p. 2.

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2. Dr. Lynn Davis, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Policy, Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on European Affairs, April 29, 1997.

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3. Arshad Mohammed, "Breakthrough Reached on New CFE Treaty," Reuters, July 24, 1997.

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4. U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet, "Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Decision of the Joint Consultative Group on Treaty Adaptation," Washington, D.C., April 6, 1999. See also Wade Boese, "CFE Parties Outline Adapted Treaty; Limits to Allow NATO Growth," Arms Control Today, March 1999, p. 28.

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5. Michael Mandelbaum, The Dawn of Peace in Europe, (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1996), pp. 61-63. See also Frederick Hammersen, "The Disquieting Voice of Russian Resentment," Parameters, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, Summer 1998, pp. 39-55.

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6. Peter Graff, "Russia Reports Progress on Europe Forces Treaty," Reuters, March 10, 1999.

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7. Ambassador Lynn M. Hansen, "Conventional Arms Control–Has It a Future?" Paper delivered at DTRA Eighth Annual International Conference on Controlling Arms, Norfolk, Virginia, June 2, 1999.

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8. Dr. Alexander A. Pikayev, "After Yugoslavia: Shifting Russian Priorities on Arms Control and Non-Proliferation," presentation at the Atlantic Council, June 8, 1999.

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9. Hajo Schmidt, "Status der KSD Anpassungsverhandlungen," Hessiche Stiftung fur Auswartige Politik, September 10, 1999, p. 1.

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10. Wade Boese, "Russian Compliance with CFE 'Flank' Limit in Doubt," Arms Control Today, July/August 1999, p. 46.

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11. Bill Gertz, "Russia Tells U.S. It Will Violate Arms Pact," Washington Times, October 7, 1999, p. A1.

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12. "Azerbaijan: Moscow Sent Warplanes to Armenia," New York Times, December 18, 1998, p. A26.

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13. Sherman Garnett, "The CFE Flank Agreement," Washington: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1997, p. 1.

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Colonel Jeffrey D. McCausland is dean of academics at the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and are not to be considered the policy of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense or any other agency of the U.S. government. [Back to top]

Posted: December 31, 1969

NATO's Nuclear Weapons: The Rationale for 'No First Use'

Jack Mendelsohn

The 19 nations of NATO have an opportunity to bring their outdated nuclear weapons first-use policy into alignment with the alliance's stated objectives and commitments. Although NATO has sought to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, it maintains its 30-year-old policy of "flexible response," which allows the alliance to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, including in reply to an attack with conventional weapons.

During its 50th anniversary summit in Washington in April, the alliance did agree to begin a process to review arms control and disarmament options in light of the "reduced salience" of nuclear weapons. NATO members, through the North Atlantic Council, are now working on proposals that will be considered at a NATO ministerial meeting at the end of this year. While strong U.S. resistance to even a review of NATO nuclear policy bodes ill for a move away from nuclear first use, the stage has at least been set for a new debate. By pledging not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict, NATO could reduce the political acceptability and military attractiveness of nuclear weapons, strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime, enhance the credibility of its deterrence policy and help to ease some of the tensions in the NATO-Russian relationship.

The Evolution of Doctrine

The readiness of NATO to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict has been evident from the beginning of the alliance. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, drafted in early 1949 before the Soviet Union had tested a nuclear weapon, commits the allies to come to the defense of all members in the event of an attack. This commitment was understood by both the Americans and the Europeans to be a nuclear guarantee for the alliance, which, in the late 1940s and 1950s, faced what was perceived to be a hostile Soviet Union with an overwhelming advantage in conventional forces. At that critical moment, the alliance was both obligated and prepared to consider the massive use of nuclear weapons to respond to major conventional aggression.

In the early 1950s, political pressure in the United States to reduce its defense budget, and allied reluctance to spend the money to build up their own militaries, further encouraged a policy of threatening to use nuclear weapons against counter-value targets (such as cities and other "soft" targets) on a large scale and early in the event of a conflict in Europe. In December 1954, NATO agreed to integrate tactical nuclear weapons into its own defensive strategy, and by the end of 1960 there were 2,500 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Western Europe. In December 1956, NATO adopted a Military Committee document (MC-14/2) that formalized the alliance's emphasis on nuclear weapons as the key component of its defensive strategy. The credibility of this doctrine of "massive retaliation" was already strained, however, by the time of its formal adoption by NATO.

The launch of Sputnik in August 1957 dramatically demonstrated the growth of Moscow's ability to threaten the U.S. homeland and called into question U.S. willingness to respond to a conventional attack in Europe with the full strength of its nuclear arsenal. The strategic significance of this development was not lost on NATO's European members. For example, in 1958 Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, who four years earlier had stated that NATO nuclear weapons would necessarily be used against conventional attacks, was asking whether, "in the event of minor Russian aggression with conventional forces," it was realistic to expect "the West would use its nuclear deterrent as weapons against the cities of Russia and receive in return Russian retaliation which would put the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. out of business?" He concluded: "For us to act in this way would be to commit national suicide. I do not believe it will happen. When both sides have nuclear sufficiency, the deterrent will merely serve to deter each side from using it as a weapon."<1>

After a great deal of debate in the 1960s, in December 1967 the alliance adopted a new nuclear strategy in MC 14/3 known as "flexible response." NATO formally abandoned the strategy of massive retaliation (which had actually been dropped by the Eisenhower administration before the end of its term) and committed the alliance to respond to any aggression, short of general nuclear attack, at the level of force—conventional or nuclear—at which it was initiated. The alliance retained the option, however, to use nuclear weapons first if its initial response to a conventional attack did not prove adequate to containing the aggressor, and to deliberately escalate to general nuclear war, if necessary.

While adoption of the flexible response policy allowed the alliance to avoid a policy of prompt and mutual suicide (as many of NATO's tactical nuclear weapons would have detonated on alliance territory), NATO still continued to rely on the first use of nuclear weapons to deter or counter a major conventional assault. In support of this policy, NATO's tactical nuclear weapons stockpile in Europe grew to around 7,400 weapons in the early 1970s, including nuclear artillery shells, nuclear-armed missiles, air-delivered gravity bombs, special atomic demolition munitions (landmines), surface-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles and anti-submarine depth bombs. (See chart below.)

In 1979, in response to Soviet efforts to modernize its intermediate-range nuclear missile force with the triple-warheaded SS-20, NATO adopted a modernization plan of its own involving the deployment of 572 tactical nuclear warheads on ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) and Pershing II ballistic missiles. After an elaborate interplay of negotiations, threats, walkouts, deployments and a significant regime change in Moscow (Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985), the United States and the Soviet Union agreed in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to ban all ground-based nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

In October 1990, the two Germanys were united under the terms of the "Final Settlement with Respect to Germany," negotiated by the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, in association with the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union and France. Unified Germany remained a member of NATO but, according to the final settlement, neither foreign armed forces nor nuclear weapons could be stationed in that portion of united Germany that had previously been East Germany. In effect, the final settlement denuclearized a swath of NATO territory in the very center of Europe, a provision of particular interest to the Soviet Union, which sought to prevent NATO nuclear forces from coming closer to its frontiers.

Nuclear Weapons in the 1990s

As the Soviet Union wound down in the late 1980s, the security environment in Europe changed fundamentally, allowing a long-overdue reconsideration of NATO's nuclear strategy. In July 1990 in the London Declaration, NATO announced a review of the alliance's political and military strategy to reflect "a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons" and lead to the adoption of "a new NATO strategy making nuclear forces truly weapons of last resort."<2>

In early 1991, after the withdrawal and destruction of its INF systems and the voluntary retirement of about 2,400 excess tactical nuclear weapons, NATO's European-based nuclear arsenal stood at approximately 4,000 tactical warheads. Then, in September of that year, in the aftermath of the failed coup in Moscow, President Bush announced a major unilateral withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons worldwide. Gorbachev announced reciprocal Soviet withdrawals the following month. All U.S. ground-based and sea-based tactical weapons were affected, leaving only several hundred (around 400) air-delivered gravity bombs in NATO's European-based nuclear arsenal by the end of the decade. (France and Britain subsequently decided to phase out their own tactical nuclear weapons.)

NATO's November 1991 "Strategic Concept," which resulted from the review announced in London (adopted six weeks before the dissolution of the Soviet Union), did not expressly include the "weapons of last resort" language in the London Declaration, but it did greatly scale back the pre-eminent role of nuclear weapons. The 1991 concept noted that "the fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war." It stated specifically that "the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated by [NATO] are…remote." The allies "can therefore significantly reduce their sub-strategic nuclear forces."<3>

In early 1994, the alliance—led by the United States and Germany—began to move toward expanding NATO membership to countries in Eastern and Southern Europe. The general debate over alliance expansion raised the issue of nuclear weapons deployment in the potential new member-states. Sharply criticized by Moscow, which considered itself the prime (if not the only) target of the alliance's nuclear forces, the freedom to deploy nuclear weapons in new NATO members was just as staunchly defended by NATO. In September 1995, NATO released its "Enlargement Study," which stated explicitly that the "new members will be expected to support the concept of deterrence and the essential role nuclear weapons play in the Alliance's strategy of war prevention as set forth in the Strategic Concept."<4>

The new member-states—the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland—all sought protection under NATO's nuclear umbrella without pressing for actual nuclear deployments on their territories. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, for example, stated in April 1997 that he could "perceive no security requirement for stationing nuclear weapons on Polish territory." In the end, the NATO allies explicitly stated in the May 1997 so-called Founding Act that "they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members…." However, they also indicated in the same document that they did not see "any need to change any aspect of NATO's nuclear posture or nuclear policy—and do not foresee any future need to do so." In addition, the allies noted that they had "no intention, no plan, and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of those members, whether through the construction of new nuclear storage facilities or the adaptation of old nuclear storage facilities."<5>

The Founding Act's self-satisfied statement on "no need to change any aspect" of its nuclear policy notwithstanding, in the months leading up to NATO's 50th anniversary summit in Washington, the governments of Germany, Canada and the Netherlands took steps to urge NATO to consider a no-first-use policy in connection with the revision of the Strategic Concept being prepared for the anniversary celebration. On October 20, 1998, the German Social Democrat and Green parties signed a coalition agreement pledging that the new government "will advocate a lowering of the alert status for nuclear weapons and renunciation of the first use of nuclear weapons." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer expanded on this point in a Der Spiegel interview published on November 23, 1998, stating that he believed the world had changed sufficiently to allow NATO to consider the adoption of a no-first-use policy. On December 3, the Dutch Parliament passed a resolution (NR 22/26200-V) that called upon NATO to consider the adoption of a no-first-use policy.

The response from Clinton administration officials was quick and sharp. During a December 8 press conference in Brussels, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States "do[es] not believe that a review is necessary" and that the alliance has "the right nuclear strategy." But the calls for a change in NATO nuclear policy continued. On December 10, the Canadian Parliament's Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Trade released a report, Canada and the Nuclear Challenge: Reducing the Political Value of Nuclear Weapons for the Twenty-First Century, which included a recommendation that Ottawa urge NATO to review its nuclear weapons policy.

While, ultimately, no such no-first-use policy was adopted or even discussed at the Washington summit NATO's 1999 Strategic Concept and the summit communiqué do reflect a slight change in alliance policy. (See box.) The new Strategic Concept continues to point out that "the fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political…" (Paragraph 62). The new pronouncement acknowledges, however, that "with the radical changes in the security situation, including reduced conventional forces levels in Europe and increased reaction times, NATO's ability to defuse a crisis through diplomatic and other means or, should it be necessary, to mount a successful conventional defense has significantly improved." As a result, the document continues, the circumstances in which nuclear weapons might have to be used by the alliance are "extremely remote" (Paragraph 64).

More importantly, however, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy both intervened to ensure that a review of NATO's nuclear policy would be initiated by the North Atlantic Council. In its communiqué, the alliance agreed "in light of overall strategic developments and the reduced salience of nuclear weapons...[to]...consider options for confidence- and security-building measures, verification, non-proliferation and arms control and disarmament. The Council in Permanent Session will propose a process to Ministers in December for considering such options."

Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, the former ambassador for disarmament affairs, interprets this statement as a commitment to initiate a review of NATO's nuclear posture. On April 24, Roche released an "Analysis of NATO Action on Nuclear Weapons," in which Axworthy is quoted as saying that NATO acknowledged "that such a review would be appropriate and that there would be directions to the NATO Council to start the mechanics of bringing that about." U.S. State Department officials will say only that all aspects of NATO nuclear policy are under discussion in connection with NATO's new initiative on weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This initiative, which involves information sharing, defense planning, civilian protection, non-proliferation assistance to other nations, and a WMD Center to coordinate NATO efforts was approved at the summit as a means of strengthening alliance support for U.S. non-proliferation policy.<6>

Should NATO Reconsider?

Some argue that the alliance's current posture of "flexible response," with the current understanding that the use of nuclear weapons would be considered only in "extremely remote" circumstances, is the right one and should not be changed. Others believe that this policy is out of date and should be re-examined by the alliance since

it lacks any military or strategic rationale;
undercuts the various crisis management and humanitarian justifications for NATO's out-of-area operations;
contravenes U.S., British and French commitments not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states;
and weakens the non-proliferation regime.

An Absence of a Rationale

NATO's nuclear first-use policy lacks any military rationale. The alliance's threat during the Cold War to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear aggression, however contradictory and self-deterring such a policy might have been, was considered helpful in reassuring Europe that some military response was available to counter the Warsaw Pact's significant quantitative advantage in conventional forces. Today, however, the alliance enjoys an even greater conventional superiority over any potential enemy or combination of enemies in Europe than the Warsaw Pact ever had over NATO.

The alliance's overwhelming and unchallengeable conventional advantages make it difficult to conceive of circumstances under which NATO would require nuclear weapons to successfully manage any crisis in Europe. The only state that could conceivably mount a serious military threat to NATO sometime in the future is Russia. But this likelihood is "extremely remote" and hardly justifies a general NATO policy of nuclear first use. Moreover, NATO's first-use policy is viewed in Moscow as directed primarily—if not solely—at Russia and, as noted above in connection with the Founding Act, remains a major irritant as NATO expands eastward.

The key alliance strategic rationale for nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO is that they "provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance…[and] with strategic nuclear forces." Linkage to U.S. strategic nuclear forces was an integral part of NATO's strategy during the Cold War. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, however, and with the change in NATO's most likely mission from territorial defense to out-of-area crisis management, linkage to U.S. strategic nuclear retaliatory forces is far less critical–perhaps not even relevant—to alliance security and solidarity. In any case, adopting a no-first-use policy would not interfere with NATO's link to U.S. strategic retaliatory forces. A policy of no first use impacts on the circumstances surrounding the decision to use nuclear weapons, not on the choice of nuclear weapons—tactical, strategic or both—that will be used once the decision is taken.

There is no non-nuclear threat to U.S. or alliance security that would warrant a nuclear response. In 1993, three respected members of the U.S. national security establishment, McGeorge Bundy, William J. Crowe and Sidney Drell, wrote: "There is no vital interest of the U.S., except the deterrence of nuclear attack, that cannot be met by prudent conventional readiness. There is no visible case where the U.S. could be forced to choose between defeat and the first use of nuclear weapons."<7> Nothing has occurred since that statement was written to make nuclear weapons more critical to maintaining European security. If anything, the threat of using nuclear weapons has become even more anachronistic.

Out-Of-Area Intervention

As the intervention in Kosovo demonstrated, NATO is now seemingly prepared to undertake out-of-area military missions for a number of reasons: to resolve conflicts, to manage crises, to promote democracy, to defend moral principles or to protect human rights. At the same time, NATO has also made it clear that it seeks to perform these missions without putting its troops in harm's way and with a minimum amount of collateral damage to innocent civilians and the target country. NATO's supreme commander, U.S. General Wesley Clark, for one, has acknowledged that he was compelled to sacrifice basic logic of warfare to maintain the political cohesion of the alliance given the anti-war pressures felt by coalition governments in Germany and Italy.<8>

Apart from the fact that neither the NATO rationales for intervention nor its minimalist criteria for casualties and collateral damage can be supported by the use of nuclear weapons, some NATO allies—and, more importantly, their publics—had serious misgivings over the extent of the destruction wrought in Kosovo by conventional bombing. During various stages of the 11-week war, Italy, Greece and Germany were all on the verge of calling for an end to the attacks. In the case of Germany, Foreign Minister Fischer narrowly averted a vote in his Green Party, which makes up a significant minority of the ruling Red-Green coalition, calling for an end to all German participation in the bombing campaign.

The United States remains committed to expanding NATO's future missions in response to the "complex new risks to...peace and stability, including oppression, ethnic conflict, economic distress, [and] the collapse of political order...."<9> The problems raised by Kosovo, however, may have made it more difficult for the alliance to authorize even conventional out-of-area military operations in the future. If an intervention is authorized, the possibility of a proposal within NATO to initiate the threat to use or the use of nuclear weapons will inevitably cause even the most determined of the allies to object. Since, under these conditions, it is highly improbable that the alliance will ever reach a consensus to employ nuclear weapons in an out-of-area intervention, much less in support of U.S. interests in other areas of the world, NATO's first-use option is neither a credible deterrent nor a necessary policy.

It is not possible to reconcile the morally repugnant use of a nuclear weapon, or any weapon of mass destruction, with the pursuit of limited, humanitarian goals. As a point of law, this was made explicit by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its July 1996 advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons. At that time, 10 of the ICJ's 14 judges determined that the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons is illegal in all but one possible circumstance: a threat to the very existence of the state.

Of the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China), only the two non-NATO powers—China and Russia—have declared nuclear-use policies that do not run counter to the ICJ opinion: Beijing has a no-first-use policy and Moscow says that it reserves the right to use all available forces and means, including nuclear weapons, if as a result of military aggression, there is a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state.

Moreover, it is politically unwise for NATO to continue to maintain a first-use option if it seriously intends to execute out-of-area conflict resolution, crisis management or humanitarian missions (as opposed to the traditional defense of territory or in response to an aggressor). As long as NATO refuses to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons, it is difficult to avoid the perception that enforcement of democratic values is being backed by a nuclear threat. Indeed, this perception drove Ukraine's Supreme Council (or Rada) in March 1999 to attempt to abolish the country's non-nuclear-weapon-state status in view of NATO's aggressive plans toward non-members. Although the Rada's position was subsequently dismissed as parliamentary rhetoric by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, its action illustrates the depth of the passions stirred by NATO's intervention. To avoid the perception that out-of-area operations might escalate to the nuclear level, NATO would clearly be better served if it operated under a policy that confined the use of nuclear weapons to core deterrence, rather than one that is based on first use.

Negative Security Assurances

All 19 nations of NATO, including its three nuclear-capable members, are bound to the object and purposes of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under the treaty, the five recognized nuclear-weapon states have committed themselves to respect a broad prohibition on using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Pledged in the form of negative security assurances (NSAs), the most recent being the one reaffirmed just before the 1995 NPT conference that extended the treaty indefinitely, the nuclear-weapon states promise never to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT, except in response to an attack by such a state in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state.<10>

The 1995 U.S. NSA reads:

The United States affirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in the case of an invasion or any attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.<11>

It is important to note that the NSA makes no exceptions to allow for a nuclear response to a chemical or biological weapons attack.

NATO's first-use doctrine against conventional forces is clearly contrary to the NPT-related NSA commitments of the United States, Britain and France. In addition, the United States, the key NATO nuclear power, maintains the option to use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological weapons attack, and implies that NATO has the same policy. While this policy had been present in U.S. Defense Department documents in the early 1990s, it was articulated in April 1996 by Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council at the time of the U.S. signature of a protocol to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (ANWFZ) Treaty. Protocol I of the so-called Treaty of Pelindaba pledges the United States not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any treaty party. Bell, however, said U.S. signature "will not limit options available to the United States in response to an attack by an ANWFZ party using weapons of mass destruction." [Emphasis added.] In December 1998, Walter Slocombe, under secretary of defense for policy, stated: "It is simply an issue of making sure that we continue to maintain a high level of uncertainty or high level of concern, if you will, at what the potential aggressor would face if he used [CBW] or indeed took other aggressive acts against the alliance." [Emphasis added.]<12>

For the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, and by implication NATO, the most powerful conventional alliance, to insist that they need the threat of first use of nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries raises the question why other, much weaker nations, confronted by hostile neighbors, do not need them as well. Moreover, a U.S. and NATO first-use policy against, in effect, conventional, chemical and biological weapons suggests that nuclear weapons have many useful military roles. This reinforces the value and prestige attributed to nuclear weapons and undermines efforts by the United States and other key NATO countries to persuade non-nuclear-weapon states to refrain from developing their own nuclear arsenals.

'Calculated Ambiguity' and Deterrence

Many proponents of a nuclear first-use policy admit that neither the United States nor NATO will ever employ nuclear weapons except in retaliation against a nuclear attack. Nonetheless, these proponents argue that a no-first-use policy should not be adopted because uncertainty—or "calculated ambiguity"—as to the nature of the alliance response serves to deter a potential aggressor from initiating a chemical or biological weapons attack. This approach was clearly laid out on February 5, 1998, when State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said:

If any country were foolish enough to attack the U.S., our allies or our forces with chemical or biological weapons, our response would be swift, devastating and overwhelming. We have worked hard to fashion non-nuclear responses to the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction in order to give military commanders and the president a range of options from which to choose.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry reaffirmed the approach during a March 1998 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Chemical Weapons Convention:

[W]e are able to mount a devastating response without using nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, we do not rule out in advance any capability available to us. I stress that these policies have to do with a situation in which the U.S., our allies and our forces have been attacked with chemical or biological weapons. [Emphasis added.]

The question of whether the veiled U.S. threat of nuclear retaliation against chemical or biological weapons attacks successfully deterred Saddam Hussein from using chemical or biological weapons against allied forces during the Gulf War may never be answered with absolute certainty. The utility of a policy of "calculated ambiguity," however, has been greatly diminished with the disclosures in memoirs by senior policymakers that whatever policy was implied, the United States never had, under any circumstances, any intention of using nuclear weapons during the war.<13> As a result of this public record, it is quite possible that "calculated ambiguity" is no longer a credible policy (if it ever was), and that there is little deterrent value left in the U.S. or NATO threat of nuclear first use in any non-nuclear military conflict.

Taking the Lead

The principal threats to the security of NATO and its member-states over the next decades will not come from Russia, but rather from regional dictators, rogue states and violent sub-national groups. The alliance's best defense against these threats is not its nuclear arsenal—the use of which has no military or political justification—but rather its overwhelming conventional military superiority, unsurpassed intelligence gathering and processing capabilities and, last but not least, the international non-proliferation regime.

As NATO's primary arsenal nation, the United States should be the one to take the lead in urging a revision of NATO's nuclear posture. The opportunity was missed in 1994 when the United States conducted its Nuclear Posture Review and reportedly concluded that there was no military requirement for tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. But at that time, the Europeans insisted on the continued presence of these weapons as a hedge against the unknown (meaning a Russian resurgence) and to maintain a tangible "link" to the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Now, for a number of political reasons—the administration's overall weakness, a conservative Congress, the upcoming presidential elections, and a "don't-rock-the-boat" foreign policy—Washington is unwilling to disturb the nuclear status quo.

As a result, it has fallen to Canada and the European members of NATO to push for a nuclear policy review. At least some alliance members recognize that, in the absence of any serious military or strategic challenge to the NATO nations, the alliance's current nuclear first-use policy lacks credibility and undercuts overall efforts to enhance European security. If Canada and NATO's European members can bring themselves to propose abandoning the nuclear first-use policy, the United States should be willing to accept this incremental step toward a safer and more secure world.



1. Quoted in The Entangling Alliance, Ronald E. Powaski, Greenwood Press, 1994, p. 39.

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2. "London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance," London, July 5-6, 1990, Paragraph 18.

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3. "NATO Strategic Concept," November 1991, Paragraphs 55 and 57.

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4. "NATO Study on Enlargement," Chapter 5, paragraph 45.

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5. "The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation," Paris, May 27, 1997, Section IV.

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6. NATO Fact Sheet on WMD Initiative, April 24, 1999.

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7. See "Reducing the Nuclear Danger," Foreign Affairs, Volume 72, Number 2.

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8. William Drozdiak, "War Effort Restrained by Politics, Clark Says," The Washington Post, July 20, 1999, p. A14.

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9. "The Alliance's Strategic Concept," April 1999, Paragraph 3.

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10. Four countries remain outside the NPT: Cuba and the three de facto nuclear-weapon states—India, Israel and Pakistan.

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11. The first official U.S. declaration of negative security assurance was in 1978 at the UN. These assurances were reaffirmed by the five declared nuclear-weapons states in April 1995 and taken note of in UN Security Council Resolution 984. In addition, as a signator of the Protocols, the U.S. has pledged not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any state party to the treaties of Rarotonga (South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone), Tlateloco (Latin America NWFZ) and Pelindaba (Africa NWFZ).

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12. Interview with Walter Slocombe, under secretary of defense for policy, December 11, 1998.

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13. See, for example, Colin Powell, My American Journey, pp. 472 and 486; George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, p. 463; and James A Baker, The Politics of Diplomacy, p. 359.

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Jack Mendelsohn, vice president and executive director of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security (LAWS) in Washington, DC, is former deputy director of the Arms Control Association.

Posted: December 31, 1969

NATO Strikes Against Yugoslavia Cloud U.S.-Russian Arms Control

 Craig Cerniello

DRAMATICALLY underscoring Russian anger at NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov turned his plane around over the Atlantic and canceled a March 23–25 visit with Vice President Al Gore in Washington to discuss a broad range of issues, including arms control. Yet the degree to which the air strikes, which began March 24, will impede U.S.-Russian progress on arms control remains unclear, as setbacks on START II and "Y2K" cooperation were balanced by progress on the highly enriched uranium (HEU) purchase agreement and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. (See CFE story.)

START II Delayed—Again

Primakov, recognizing that the NATO air strikes had poisoned the political climate for START II ratification, asked the Duma on March 26 to postpone its consideration of the treaty. The next day, the Duma overwhelmingly adopted a 16-point resolution condemning NATO's military action and recommending that the Russian government "temporarily revoke" the draft START II resolution of ratification submitted by President Boris Yeltsin only days earlier.

On March 16, the START II ratification process—sidetracked by the U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq in December (see ACT, November/December 1998)—had resumed when the Duma forwarded to Yeltsin the resolution of ratification produced by International Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin and Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich. Under Russian legislative procedures, only the president can submit ratification bills to the Duma.

Also on March 16, Primakov warned on national television that if Russia failed to ratify START II, the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, creating the possibility of a new arms race.

On March 17, the Duma almost unanimously approved the first "reading" (an initial step in the legislative process) of a separate bill guaranteeing funding for Russia's strategic nuclear forces through 2010. Popkovich had argued that resolving such financial issues was necessary for ratification of START II. Two days after the vote, the Duma announced that it would debate START II ratification on April 2.

Yeltsin submitted the Lukin-Popkovich bill to the Duma on March 22, clearing the way for its approval. When NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia began on March 24, however, momentum for START II ground to a halt.

Despite their opposition to the NATO action, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev defended START II during the special March 27 Duma session on the Balkan crisis. During his sixth annual address to the nation on March 30, Yeltsin also expressed Russia's continuing support for the START process.

Y2K Cooperation on Hold

On March 26, an official from the Russian Ministry of Defense told Interfax that in response to the NATO air strikes, it would cease cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department on the so-called "Y2K" problem, whereby computers mistakenly interpret the digits "00" as 1900 instead of 2000. Malfunctions caused by this problem could have serious consequences in areas such as early warning.

During a February 18-19 meeting of the Defense Consultative Group—a regular forum for discussions between the Defense Department and Ministry of Defense—the United States had proposed creating a temporary joint early-warning center in Colorado Springs to help monitor foreign ballistic missile launches during the transition to the new millennium (roughly mid-December 1999 through mid-January 2000). The United States also offered to work with Russia about management techniques and key technologies that could be used to combat Y2K-related problems.

The United States and Russia have already agreed to create a permanent joint early-warning center on Russian territory. The center is part of an agreement made at the Moscow Summit in September 1998 for the two nations to share, on a continuous and real-time basis, early-warning information on the worldwide launches of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles. (See ACT, August/September 1998.) Because of the complexity of the negotiations over implementation of the summit agreement, however, this permanent center will not be completed in time to deal with the Y2K problem.

Prior to the NATO air strikes, Russia had responded positively to the U.S. proposal for a temporary joint early-warning center. A Defense Department spokeswoman stated that despite the March 26 Ministry of Defense statement, the department has not received any official communication from Russia regarding cancellation of Y2K cooperation and is still making preparations for the Colorado Springs facility.

Nuclear Redeployment Rejected

As a gesture of defiance toward the NATO air strikes, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution on March 24 calling upon the government to abandon its non-nuclear status. (Ukraine returned the last of its strategic warheads to Russia in 1996.) Just two days later, however, President Leonid Kuchma said Ukraine would not reconsider the nuclear option. These developments came about one month after Ukraine destroyed the last of its 130 SS-19 ICBMs in accordance with START I.

In Belarus, which likewise transferred its last strategic warheads to Russia in 1996, speculation about the restationing of nuclear weapons has persisted for quite some time, especially in connection with NATO enlargement. Responding to these latest rumors, President Alexander Lukashenko said on March 25 that "Minsk has not asked for the return of nuclear weapons" and no state will be allowed "to wave Belarus at the West like a big stick."

Progress on HEU Implementation

Though the cancellation of Primakov's U.S. visit forced the postponement of the formal session of the Gore-Primakov Commission, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov did co-chair a meeting of the commission's newly established Nuclear Policy Committee.

On March 24, Richardson and Adamov signed an agreement facilitating implementation of the 1993 HEU accord, under which the United States is to purchase, over a 20-year period, Russian low-enriched uranium (LEU) that has been blended down from 500 metric tons of HEU removed from dismantled nuclear weapons. Russia had threatened to terminate the purchase agreement because it believed that it was not being fairly compensated for the natural uranium component of the LEU deliveries, worth approximately one-third of the $12 billion deal. (See ACT, August/September 1998.)

The new agreement, which calls for the United States to buy the natural uranium from the 1997–1998 Russian LEU shipments, was made possible by the simultaneous completion of a commercial contract between Russia and three Western companies (Cameco, Cogema and Nukem) for the future purchase of the Russian natural uranium.

Posted: December 31, 1969

CFE Parties Outline Adapted Treaty; Limits to Allow NATO Growth

Wade Boese

DESPITE MOSCOW'S anger at NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia, as well as continued opposition to NATO expansion, Russia joined the United States and the 28 other states-parties to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty on March 30 in signing a preliminary agreement for adapting the Cold War-era treaty to the current security environment. The agreement is not legally binding, but will guide negotiations within the Vienna-based Joint Consultative Group (JCG)—the treaty's implementing body—for replacing the treaty's bloc-to-bloc structure with a system of national and territorial limits.

Though both Moscow and Washington welcomed the agreement, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement cautioned that the "decision does not cover the entire spectrum of problems of adaptation." Russia, which has sought through CFE adaptation to blunt some of the ill effects of NATO expansion, had demanded that talks conclude before the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland formally joined NATO (which occurred March 12). The adaptation negotiations, on-going since January 1997, are now expected to be wrapped up by November.

Signed in 1990, the CFE Treaty capped the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), heavy artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters—referred to as treaty-limited equipment (TLE)—that NATO and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact could deploy between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. To prevent conventional force buildups in the center of Europe, the treaty employed a concentric zone structure that permitted larger TLE deployments the farther one moved away from the fault line between the two alliances.

Under an adapted treaty, there will be 30 separate national limits, each covering all five TLE categories, rather than two balanced bloc limits. Each country will also have a territorial ceiling capping the total amount of ground TLE, both national and foreign, allowed within its borders. For countries in the flank zone—created to limit the amount of ground TLE in the northern and southern flanks of Europe—territorial ceilings will be set equal to national ceilings. Therefore, if any flank country wants foreign forces on its territory, its actual TLE holdings must be lower than its national limits by at least an amount equivalant to the foreign TLE. A Russian proposal for territorial ceilings on combat aircraft and attack helicopters failed, as NATO argued that such equipment is too mobile to be verified on a territorial basis.

As part of the March 30 accord, all CFE parties agreed to prospective national limits except Azerbaijan, which claimed it was unable to declare such limits at this time. The sum of the proposed national limits for NATO's 19 members is lower than the their current entitlements (roughly 80,000 compared to 89,026) but much higher than their actual holdings of 64,091. Therefore, NATO will not have to remove or destroy TLE to meet the projected limits.

The United States proposed a TLE limit of 7,590, far below its current entitlement of 13,088 but more than twice its actual TLE holdings of 3,465. Germany undertook the second-largest NATO reduction in TLE (963), while Canada, Greece, Norway, Portugal and Turkey offered no TLE cuts. For its part, Russia proposed a reduction of 385 TLE from its current entitlement of 28,601.

States-parties agreed that territorial ceilings may be exceeded for notified military exercises and peacekeeping missions sanctioned by the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. These "basic temporary deployments" cannot exceed 153 tanks, 241 ACVs and 140 artillery pieces in any one country.

Countries outside the treaty's flank zone will in times of crisis be permitted "exceptional temporary deployments" of up to 459 tanks, 723 ACVs and 420 artillery pieces above territorial ceilings. In the event of any temporary deployments larger than the "basic" level, a conference of states-parties will be convened within seven days for the host and stationing countries to explain the deployment. Simultaneous exceptional temporary deployments will be permitted.

Russia, eager to limit the NATO presence in new alliance members, had opposed exceptional temporary deployments, but pledges by the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to lower TLE ceilings eased some of Moscow's concerns. By the end of 2003, the territorial ceilings for the three new NATO members (covering both national and foreign equipment) would be smaller than their current national entitlements. In a reciprocal move, Russia pledged not to increase TLE holdings in its northern flank and in the Kaliningrad Oblast.

Since CFE's entry into force in 1992, Russia has pressed for larger TLE limits in—or abolition of—the flank zone, where Moscow claims serious security concerns, particularly after the war in Chechnya. According to the March 30th agreement, however, the flank zone will be retained in an adapted treaty.

Though none of the 12 flank countries will be allowed to increase its overall TLE flank limit, Moscow did secure an increase in an ACV sub-limit. In accordance with a May 1996 agreement that will enter into force this May, Russia's ACV total for the original flank zone was set at 3,700, of which 1,380 could be located in a "reduced flank zone." Under the March 30 agreement, that smaller limit is proposed to grow to 2,140. In return, Russia cannot temporarily deploy any ACVs in the reduced flank zone and must reduce Russian TLE stationed in Georgia, as well as withdraw Russian TLE from Moldova.

The agreement emphasizes the need for host country consent for stationing of any foreign TLE. Nevertheless, to guard against unwanted foreign TLE stationing, Moldova renounced its right to temporary deployments.

The CFE Treaty currently limits the amount of TLE that can be deployed in active units, with the remainder confined to Designated Permanent Storage Sites. (Both active and stored TLE count against overall limits.) Under the adaptation agreement, states may shift TLE from storage sites to active units but must eliminate four pieces of TLE for every one moved to active units.

To keep track of all the above activity, the parties agreed to adopt an "enhanced regime of verification and information exchange." Under an adapted treaty, the number of annual inspections that a country must permit on its territory will rise from 15 to 20 percent of its Objects of Verifications—military units and other sites with TLE. The parties will also negotiate specific transparency and verification measures for temporary deployments.

Negotiators at the JCG will return to work on April 12. Outstanding issues include clearing up a discrepancy of approximately 2,100 TLE between the total amount of equipment that the eight successor states to the Soviet Union committed to eliminate and the amount that the Soviet Union would have had to eliminate based on Soviet data at the signature of the treaty. Much of the unclaimed TLE is thought to be derelict or not under government control.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Cyprus Forgoes Russian Missile Deployment

Despite opposition within his own government, Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides announced on December 29 that Cyprus would not take delivery of a January 1997 order of Russian S-300 ground-to-air missiles. The anti-aircraft missiles were a source of tension for Greece and Turkey as well as Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974 into autonomous and mutually hostile Greek and Turkish communities.

Turkey had claimed that the missiles threatened its aircraft and the Turkish mainland and had warned that all means, including military force, would be used to stop deployment of the S-300s. The Greek Cypriots, who have a 1993 defense commitment from Athens—an original backer and long-time defender of the missile purchase—remained steadfast in deploying the missiles up until Clerides' announcement. The reversal of course came amid growing talk among European capitals, including Berlin, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) for the first six months of 1999, that the missile issue could jeopardize EU membership for Cyprus. (The EU announced in December 1997 that Cyprus would be one of six states to begin accession talks.)

The United States, which had criticized the S-300 purchase as a mistake while also condemning Turkey for its threats of force, welcomed the decision, as did the EU. However, the Cyprus Socialist Party EDEK, including the Cypriot defense minister, decided to withdraw from the government on January 2 over Clerides' announcement. Cyprus may now seek shorter-range missiles as an alternative and plans to negotiate with Russia for delivery of the S-300s to the Greek island of Crete.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Additional States to Follow EU 'Code of Conduct'

In an August 3 statement, the European Union (EU) welcomed the joint declaration by 13 European states to "align themselves to the criteria and principles" of the recently approved (June 8) EU code of conduct on arms exports. Under the code's eight general criteria, EU members pledged to deny arms exports to states that may use the weapons for internal repression or aggressively against other states and to consider an importer's human rights record before approving an arms sale.

Of the 13 non-EU states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia), all but Iceland and Norway have applied for EU membership; the declaration enables these states to align their arms export policies with those of the EU. Four of the 13, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), ranked among the top thirty arms suppliers for the period 1993–1997: the Czech Republic (13th), Norway (21st), Poland (22nd) and Slovakia (24th).

The 13 states declared that the non-legally binding code would "guide them in their national export control policies." However, they will not take part in the key operative provisions of the code, such as circulating notices of arms export denials and consulting with other states over controversial sales. EU countries want the notification process to remain limited to protect sensitive information.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Small Arms and Light Weapons: Controlling the Real Instruments of War

One of the dominant features of the global community in the 1990s has been the violent breakdown of civil society in dozens of countries throughout the world. From the socialist states of the former Soviet bloc to Africa and Asia, we have witnessed the outbreak of ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic and other forms of communal strife and the melting away of social norms and government structures that would otherwise contain the violence. Adding to the disorder, in many instances, has been a significant upsurge in armed banditry and criminal violence.

The importance of this "failed state syndrome" during this decade can hardly be overstated. The very nature of conflict has been transformed—from traditional combat between nation-states to inter-communal conflict within states. Such strife typically involves a wide variety of actors, including governments, rebel movements, armed political militias, ethnic and religious groups, tribes and clans, expatriate and diaspora groups, criminal gangs and mercenaries. Common distinguishing characteristics of this type of intra-state conflict include multiple warring parties, blurred lines of conflict, greater involvement of civilians, and the fact that the conflict itself is not fought on traditional battlegrounds but in local communities; indeed, within society itself. Also characteristic of these conflicts is the presence among the warring parties of irregular and paramilitary forces with little or no formal military training and few compunctions about violating the rules of war. All too often, it is children and teenagers who are recruited or forced into these organizations and then made to kill, loot and rampage.

Another defining characteristic of such conflict is the fact that widespread death and suffering result not from the major conventional weapons traditionally associated with war—tanks, aircraft and warships, for example—but from small arms and light weapons. The global proliferation of assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and other "man-portable" weapons has increased both the frequency and intensity of modern conflict and greatly complicated the task of restoring peace. Such weapons are readily obtainable on international markets, both legal and illicit, and are easily mastered by untrained and unprofessional soldiers, even children. Of the 49 major conflicts that have broken out since 1990, light weapons were the only arms used in 46; only one conflict (the 1991 Gulf War) was dominated by heavy weapons.< 1 >

Since 1990, these conflicts have resulted in the deaths of more than 4 million people and have produced 20 million refugees and 24 million displaced persons.< 2 > The resources of the international community are being overwhelmed by bitter conflicts, large-scale refugee movements and even genocide. In response to these disasters, the international community has spent tens of billions of dollars on emergency relief, refugee care and resettlement, peacekeeping, and direct military intervention. For the United Nations alone, the annual cost of humanitarian assistance and relief for war victims has increased ten-fold, from about $300 million a year in the 1980s to $3 billion a year in the mid-1990s.

In recent years, attention has come to focus on the ways in which the increased availability of low-cost small arms and light weapons contributes to the likelihood, intensity and duration of armed conflict. Although these conflicts often possess deep and complex roots, it is evident that the widespread availability of modern light weapons has emboldened belligerents to pursue their objectives on the battlefield, rather than at the bargaining table.

An analysis of contemporary warfare also reveals that such conflict overwhelmingly takes place in the world's poorest countries. In the 1990s, 30 of the 60 least-developed countries in the world have experienced conflict directly, while another 12 have had to support large refugee populations from neighboring countries in conflict.< 3 > This correlation between conflict and poverty helps explain why these conflicts are generally fought with relatively inexpensive small arms and light weapons. It also explains why the victims of these conflicts are so dependent on assistance from the international community.


Advantages of Light Weapons

In recent conflicts, more people have been killed by small arms and light weapons than by major weapons systems. The distinguishing features of these weapons that make them so suitable to contemporary intra-state conflicts include:

Low Cost and Wide Availability. Because the production of small arms and light weapons requires little in the way of sophisticated technology, and because these weapons are manufactured for military, police and civilian use, there are plentiful suppliers around the world. In addition, the existence of many tens of millions of such weapons—whether newly produced, given away by downsizing militaries or recycled from conflict to conflict—leads to bargain-basement prices in many areas around the world.

Lethality. The increasing sophistication and lethality of rapid-fire assault rifles, automatic pistols and submachine guns and their diffusion to non-state actors has given such groups a firepower that often matches or exceeds that of national police or constabulary forces. With such weapons capable of firing up to 300 rounds a minute, a single individual can pose a tremendous threat to society. The incorporation of new technology into shoulder-fired rockets, mortars and light anti-tank weapons has only increased the firepower that warring factions bring to bear in civil conflicts.

Simplicity and Durability. Small arms are easy to use and maintain, require little maintenance or logistical support and remain operational for many years. Such weapons require little training to use effectively, which greatly increases their use in conflicts involving untrained combatants and children.

Portability and Concealability. Small arms and light weapons can be carried by an individual soldier or light vehicle, are easily transported or smuggled to areas of conflict, and can be concealed in shipments of legitimate cargo.

Military, Police and Civilian Uses. Unlike major conventional weapons, which are most often procured solely by national military forces, small arms and light weapons cross the dividing line separating military and police forces from the civilian population. Depending on the gun control laws of a particular country, citizens are permitted to own anything from pistols and sporting guns to fully automatic rifles. In many countries, moreover, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and size of private militias and security firms which, in many cases, are equipped with military-type weapons.

All of these characteristics of light weapons have made them particularly attractive to the sort of paramilitary and irregular forces that have played such a prominent role in recent conflicts. These forces have limited financial and technical means, lack professional military training, and often must operate in remote and inaccessible areas—all conditions that favor the use of small arms and light weapons. At the same time, many states have increased their purchases of these weapons for use in counterinsurgency campaigns against ethnic and political groups and to suppress domestic opposition movements.


A Global Diffusion of Small Arms

For many years, the global trade in major conventional weapons has been well documented. By comparison, the global trade in small arms and light weapons has proved much more difficult to track. Few national governments publish statistics on the sale or transfer of light weapons or release information about the sales activities of private companies. Moreover, much of the trade—perhaps 25 percent—is carried on through illicit and black-market channels of one sort or another.< 4 >

In the absence of uniform statistics on the trade in light weapons, researchers must rely on anecdotal information and what little fragmentary data is available from government and trade sources. Fairly reliable estimates of the global trade in such weapons range from $5 billion to $7 billion a year, with some estimates running as high as $10 billion a year.< 5 > And while official statistics indicate that the trade in major weapons systems has fallen sharply with the end of the Cold War, many analysts believe that global transfers of light weapons have increased during this period.

The global spread of small arms and light weapons has been facilitated by the emergence in many states, including a dozen or more developing countries, of a domestic capacity for the manufacture of such weapons. Whereas the fabrication of major weapons systems is highly concentrated, with only a dozen or so states capable of producing modern tanks, planes and warships, some 50 nations now manufacture light weapons and/or ammunition of various types. The production of modern assault rifles, for example, occurs in many of the industrialized nations as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. Many of these countries produce arms for export as well as domestic use, greatly adding to the number of sources from which a potential belligerent can obtain weapons of war.

The large number of production sites contributes not only to the expansion of national arsenals, but to the spread of arms within societies via theft, bribery and corruption. The multiplicity of trade channels leads to the diffusion of light weapons within societies—extending not only to governments and state-owned entities but also to private armies and militias, insurgent groups, criminal organizations and other non-state actors. Accordingly, any analysis of the trade in light weapons must take into account both the sharp increase in the number of producers and suppliers and how their weapons are being transferred to an ever-expanding array of states and non-state actors in every region of the world.

The following list of legal, illegal and covert methods by which small arms and light weapons are sold, transferred and exchanged underscores the complexity of the problem:

  • Grants or gifts by governments to allied governments abroad;
  • Sales by governments to client governments abroad;
  • Commercial sales by private firms to governments and private dealers in other countries;
  • Technology transfers associated with domestic arms production in the developing nations;
  • Covert transfers by governments to friendly insurgent and separatist groups in other countries;
  • Gifts by governments to armed militias and paramilitary organizations linked to the ruling party or the dominant ethnic group;
  • Black-market sales to the governments of "pariah" countries and to insurgent and separatist forces;
  • Theft of government and privately owned arms by insurgent, criminal and separatist forces; and
  • Exchanges between insurgent and criminal organizations, whether for profit or in pursuit of common political objectives.
  • Although it is impossible to discuss each of these methods in detail, it is useful to look briefly at the major channels.

    Legal Channels. Currently, there are over 300 manufacturers of light weapons and related equipment in 50 countries around the world, a 25 percent increase in the last decade alone.< 6 > Until the end of World War II, the major producers of these weapons were the industrialized nations. In recent decades, however, these established producers have been joined by China, Israel, South Africa and many developing countries. Estimates of some common models produced by these countries in the past few decades show the enormity of the problem: 5 million to 7 million Belgian FAL assault rifles produced in 15 countries; 35 million to 50 million Soviet/Russian AK assault rifles manufactured by Soviet/Russian factories and licensees; 7 million German Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifles made in 18 countries; 8 million U.S. M-16 rifles produced in seven countries; and 6 million Chinese-made AK-type assault rifles.< 7 >

    These numbers, as alarming as they are, do not include the millions of surplus arms that have been sold or given away as the world's major military powers have reduced their forces and/or found themselves with excess production capacity following the end of the Cold War. Because small arms and light weapons have few moving parts and are extremely durable, even weapons that are 10- to 20-years old are often fully operational and as effective as newly produced weapons. Accordingly, countries such as the United States, Russia and Germany (especially with the dismantling of the East German army) have been able to sell or transfer millions of light weapons to their allies and clients abroad.

    Covert and 'Gray-Market' Channels. In addition to legal sales and military assistance programs, small arms and light weapons are disseminated through covert and "gray-market" channels (that is, channels that operate with government support even though in violation of official government policy), most often by government intelligence agencies or private companies linked to such agencies. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA helped to supply some 3 million AK-47 assault rifles (mainly Chinese and Egyptian models) to rebel mujahideen; thousands of these weapons have since turned up in fighting in Kashmir and elsewhere in South Asia, and as far away as Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In addition, the United States and the Soviet Union supplied arms to rebel groups in Central America and sent massive amounts of weapons to various factions in Angola and Mozambique.

    Since the end of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow have discontinued many of these activities. But it is widely believed that military commanders and managers of military factories in Russia and some of the other newly independent states of the former Soviet Union have engaged in large-scale covert sales of weapons to clients in neighboring states and beyond. Government officials in other states have also been accused of smuggling arms to allied groups in other countries, whether for profit or to advance particular political or religious objectives. Officials in Zaire, for instance, reportedly bought large quantities of weapons on the international market and sold them to UNITA forces in Angola for profits running into the hundreds of millions of dollars—most of which is believed to have wound up in the overseas bank accounts of former President Mobutu Seso Seko and his associates.

    Another form of gray-market transfers entails the delivery of weapons from government stockpiles to political entities and ethnic militias associated with the ruling clan or party. Prior to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, for example, the Hutu-dominated government distributed small arms and machetes to government-linked militias. Once the killing began, the Rwandan military sought to crush any organized Tutsi resistance while the militias slaughtered unarmed Tutsis and moderate Hutus. A similar pattern was evident in Haiti in the early 1990s, when the ruling military junta organized and armed the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) to suppress popular support for ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

    Illicit and Black-Market Channels. The third major category of light weapons transfers includes illegal sales through black-market channels, the supply of arms in defiance of international embargoes and other legal sanctions, and the theft of arms from government stocks or private citizens. In recent years, there has been a striking growth in the operations of black-market dealers to satisfy the needs of non-state actors in ethnic and internal conflicts. Because such actors are normally barred from purchases on the legal munitions market, they must acquire their weaponry from illicit sources. The growing number of UN arms embargoes has also produced an increased demand for black-market arms. Although it is impossible to estimate the value or scale of all such transactions, some estimates place 1993 black market sales to the belligerents in Bosnia alone at $2 billion or more.< 8 >

    The black-market trade has been facilitated by the existence of vast stockpiles of surplus arms in the states of the former Soviet bloc—arms which in many cases are guarded by near-destitute soldiers and officers who are all too eager to conspire in their theft by black-market dealers or to enter the illicit trade themselves. Moreover, there are strong linkages between the illegal narcotics trade and black-market arms trafficking. These underground networks have developed sophisticated methods for the procurement, transportation and sale of small arms and light weapons, at times with the connivance of governments or corrupt public officials.

    Finally, theft of weapons from military and police warehouses is a major problem in countries afflicted by civil war or insurgent violence. As civil strife spread across Albania in the spring of 1997, thousands of weapons were looted from military depots by insurgents, criminals and civilians. These weapons not only increased the levels of armed violence in Albania, but reportedly were also being smuggled across the border into the Serbian province of Kosovo, where 2 million ethnic Albanians pose an irredentist challenge to Serbian authority. In South Africa and Colombia, stolen weapons contribute to a culture of violence and criminality that undermines the stability of the state and the cohesion of society.


    The Need for Policy Initiatives

    Clearly, the unchecked flow of small arms and light weapons to areas of conflict represents a significant threat to world peace and security. While it cannot be said that such weapons are a primary cause of conflict, their worldwide availability, low cost and ease of operation make it relatively easy for potential belligerents of all kinds to initiate and sustain deadly conflict. Accordingly, policy-makers have begun to highlight the need for new international controls in this area. In a January 1998 message to the UN Conference on Disarmament, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "With regard to conventional weapons, there is a growing awareness among member-states of the urgent need to adopt measures to reduce the transfer of small arms and light weapons. It is now incumbent on all of us to translate this shared awareness into decisive action."

    Interest in the trade in light weapons has also been spurred by a growing number of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many of which played a key role in the international campaign to ban landmines. Along with UN officials and leaders of interested governments, these groups have led the search for new policy prescriptions.


    International Efforts

    In line with the increased attention being focused by the international community on the dangers posed by small arms and light weapons, the United Nations has been engaged in a wide variety of activities to both publicize the problem and initiate steps toward policy controls. The two major efforts undertaken so far by the United Nations are the study conducted by the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms in 1996 and 1997, which analyzed the types of weapons used in contemporary conflicts and the nature and causes of their excessive accumulation,< 9 > and the parallel study of member-states' firearm regulations conducted by the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in the same two-year period.< 10 >

    Operationally, the United Nations has sought to monitor the effectiveness of various international embargoes on the transfer of weaponry into areas of conflict. In 1996, a UN International Commission of Inquiry on Rwanda investigated the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Rwanda, paying particular attention to specific allegations of embargo violations. In their report, members of the commission noted that "[we] could not fail to note the absence of an effective, proactive mechanism to monitor or implement the arms embargo the Security Council had imposed on Rwanda."< 11 > Elsewhere in Africa, the United Nations has supported Mali's path-breaking efforts to collect and destroy firearms internally and to promote a regional moratorium on the trade in small arms and light weapons.

    Other international organizations are also becoming involved in the light weapons issue, particularly as it relates to issues of economic and human development. The World Bank is devoting resources to issues of post-conflict reconstruction, particularly in regard to the demobilization of combatants and their reintegration into civil society. Also, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), through its task force on Conflict, Peace and Development Cooperation, is putting greater emphasis on the need for "timely prevention measures" (such as limiting arms flows in areas of potential conflict) in order to forestall armed violence.


    Regional Efforts

    Particularly in Africa and the Americas, national governments and regional organizations are devising a variety of measures to better regulate the legal trade in light weapons and to combat illicit weapons trafficking. In November 1997, the Organization of American States (OAS) signed a convention on the illicit weapons trade that calls for standardization of national firearms regulations and increased law enforcement and customs cooperation to prevent illicit weapons flows within the Western Hemisphere. The OAS has also developed model regulations that focus on the linkages between the narcotics trade and weapons smuggling. Within the Caribbean sub-region, moreover, Jamaica has proposed that similar efforts be undertaken by the 14-member Caribbean Community.

    Elsewhere, West African governments are working with the United Nations to assess the regional implications of light weapons diffusion and to craft a regional moratorium on the import, export and manufacture of such arms. In Central Africa, the United Nations has established a trust fund with which to remove small arms and light weapons from the region. Similarly, the Southern Africa Development Community has recommended the establishment of a regional database on stolen firearms and the implementation of multilateral police operations to recover such weapons.

    Among European countries, there are increased pressures for controlling both legal and illegal shipments of weapons, particularly to countries experiencing civil strife and human rights abuses. In June 1997, the European Union (EU) agreed to a Programme for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms. In June 1998, the EU formally adopted a "code of conduct" on arms transfers with the goal of preventing such transfers to areas of conflict and internal repression. While useful steps, both measures will require political will in constraining arms transfers and dedicated resources to help affected countries monitor arms shipments and remove excess weaponry.


    National Efforts

    Because so much of the light weapons trade takes place illegally, the role of national governments in tightening and enforcing export regulations will be very important. Under pressure from Mexico, the United States has cracked down on illicit gun trafficking on the U.S.-Mexican border and has agreed to stronger export controls in the context of the OAS convention signed last November. Similar efforts are underway in a number of other states, including Colombia, South Africa and EU states.

    In many communities, municipal authorities and NGOs have begun grass roots campaigns to remove small arms from circulation at the local level, and to pressure their national governments to take the light weapons problem more seriously. In South Africa, such initiatives involve bringing various ethnic and tribal groups together to deal with the "culture of violence" plaguing that country. In countries like Britain and Australia that have experienced horrific massacres carried out by automatic weapons—notably the killings in Dunblane, Scotland, and Port Arthur, Tasmania, national groups have come together to lobby for more restrictive gun control laws. Elsewhere, NGOs and grass roots organizations have put the spotlight on their own governments' responsibility for supplying weapons to areas of conflict and persistent human rights abuse.


    What Is to Be Done?

    From all that has been learned about the international trade in small arms and light weapons, it is evident that no single set of policy initiatives will suffice to deal with this problem. Unlike the relative simplicity of the landmines issue—where the international community could focus on one particular weapon (anti-personnel landmines) and seek its elimination as a weapon of war—the effort to control the diffusion of light weapons will demand a host of initiatives, extending from the international arena to regional, national and local levels. National governments especially will have to go beyond their support for cracking down on the illegal trade in light weapons and examine their own role in the current legal weapons trade. The following initiatives represent a rough menu of the sort of steps that will be needed to subject light weapons transfers to greater international scrutiny and to reduce the flow of such munitions to areas of conflict.

    Establish International Norms. The first, and perhaps most important, step is to adopt international norms against the uncontrolled and destabilizing transfer of small arms and light weapons to areas of tension and conflict. Although deference must be made to the traditional right of sovereign states to arm themselves, it must be made clear that this right has natural limits and does not extend to the acquisition of arms for the purpose of engaging in genocide or the suppression of opposition political or religious movements. It must become axiomatic, moreover, that the right to acquire arms for self-defense entails an obligation to maintain such weapons under effective government control at all times and to preclude their diversion to illicit purposes.

    While it may take some time to clarify and win support for such norms, the basic groundwork has been provided by the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms. In its 1997 report, the panel concludes: "The excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons is closely related to the increased incidence of internal conflicts and high levels of crime and violence," and is, therefore, "an issue of legitimate concern for the international community."< 12 > With this in mind, the report calls on UN member-states to "exercise restraint" with respect to the transfer of such weapons and to take all necessary steps to prevent the diversion of government arms supplies into illegitimate hands.

    Clearly, much work is needed to strengthen these norms and to promote their acceptance by governments. As in the worldwide campaign against landmines, the media can focus public attention on the dangers posed by such weapons, especially to civilians and children. The issue is admittedly complicated by the fact that, unlike anti-personnel landmines, national governments and military and police forces can demonstrate a far greater legitimate need for light weapons for purposes of self-defense and national security. Nonetheless, the frequency with which such weapons are used against civilians and children points to a humanitarian aspect of small arms that is quite similar to that of landmines.

    International norms could also be developed along the lines of the Geneva Conventions, where states-parties would be prohibited from supplying light weapons to any government, group or entity that does not have the resources to treat its wounded or those of the enemy, or has not trained its own personnel in the laws of war. In addition, public sentiment could be mobilized to support constraints on the inhumane or indiscriminate effects of light weapons, in the same way that blinding laser weapons have been banned by the recently adopted protocol to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

    Increase International Transparency. At present, efforts to monitor and control the diffusion of small arms and light weapons are hampered by a lack of detailed information on the production, sale and transfer of such munitions. Few governments provide detailed data on imports and exports of light weapons, and the UN Conventional Arms Register covers major weapons only. To ensure effective international oversight of the legal trade in light weapons, efforts at increased transparency must be made at the national, regional and international level. National governments should be required to publish detailed annual tallies of weapons imports and exports, while regional arms registers covering light weapons should also be encouraged. Finally, at the international level, the UN arms register should be gradually extended to cover all types of munitions, including small arms and light weapons.

    Enhanced international transparency is also necessary to curb the illicit trade in light weapons. In the absence of an effective transparency regime, it is relatively easy for illicit dealers to conceal their operations; as information on legal trade becomes more widely available, it will become more difficult to do this. Increased transparency will also facilitate joint efforts by law enforcement agencies to identify, track and apprehend black-market dealers.

    Increase State Accountability. In the current international milieu, control over the import and export of small arms and light weapons rests with national governments; thus, efforts to better regulate the trade in such munitions will be most effective at the national level.

    Increased governmental accountability is needed in two key areas: first, the establishment of effective oversight over all military-type firearms found within the national territory, so as to prevent their diversion to criminal elements and black-market dealers; and second, strict controls over the import and export of such weapons, so as to preclude their use for any purpose other than legitimate self-defense as sanctioned by the UN Charter.

    Efforts to accomplish the first of these objectives should be guided by the draft proposals of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Particularly effective measures would include a licensing system for manufacturers and gun owners, more effective identification systems to track firearms, more effective record keeping of firearms, and safe-storage measures. An additional measure called for is the promotion of amnesty and weapons turn-in programs that encourage citizens to surrender illegal, unsafe, unwanted and excess weapons. (An Australian buy-back effort, for example, took in more than 600,000 firearms, Governments around the world should be encouraged to incorporate such measures into their national laws and regulations; those states that fail to do so should be barred from receiving arms from those states that do adopt such legislation.

    Similarly, efforts to better control the import and export of small arms and light weapons should be guided by the recommendations found in the report of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms. These include the collection and destruction of weapons once conflict has ended; the destruction of surplus weapons no longer needed by a country's military or police forces (as opposed to selling or giving them away); and the exercise of restraint in exporting military and police weapons from one country to another.

    States should also be encouraged to adopt a code of conduct for arms transfers such as those being considered at the regional (EU) and international levels. Such codes would bar the sale or transfer of small arms and light weapons to any state that is ruled by a military dictatorship, that fails to respect the human rights of its citizens, that violates UN arms embargoes, or that cannot ensure the security of the weapons already in its possession.

    Regional and International Efforts. While priority should be given to the development of effective controls at the national level, efforts should also be made to establish systems of oversight and control at the regional and international levels. Action at the regional level is particularly important because light weapons are often circulated by regional networks of illicit dealers, insurgents and permissive government agencies. Moreover, experience suggests that it may be easier to mobilize political support for control systems at the regional level than at the international level.

    At the regional level, policy initiatives could include agreements for the strengthening of import and export regulations, tougher enforcement of laws against illicit trafficking and joint operations against black-market dealers. The OAS effort is one means of fostering increased cooperation between national customs services and law enforcement agencies on a regional basis. Other such efforts could be greatly facilitated by countries like the United States and Japan, which could provide the requisite technologies for computer databases of suspected illicit weapons traffickers. In southern Africa, national governments and intelligence agencies are sharing information and mounting joint operations to uncover and destroy large caches of weapons left over from previous conflicts.

    The Mali moratorium on the manufacture, sale and import of small arms and light weapons is another initiative that can begin to reduce the easy availability of such weapons. As one of the more successful multilateral attempts to control the flow of light weapons both prior to and following periods of civil tension, the Mali initiative might provide a model for other regions. In West Africa, for example, the experiences of Liberia and Sierra Leone demonstrated how even relatively modest numbers of light weapons inflicted horrific casualties on civilians caught in sectarian strife.

    Other regional approaches include the establishment of regional codes of conduct on arms exports similar to that of the EU. Given the particularly troublesome black- market weapons activity in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the OECD or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should consider adopting codes of conduct. Additionally, economic incentive plans could be devised that would facilitate the closure of excess production capacity in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For example, Western countries could buy surplus small arms and light weapons from these states and destroy them, much as the United States is purchasing excess Russian nuclear weapons material.

    At the international level, emphasis should be placed on the adoption of measures needed to strengthen the implementation of weapons embargoes agreed to by the United Nations and associated bodies. While such embargoes may never be entirely leakproof, evidence has shown that even a modest number of international observers at airfields, seaports and other points of entry for weapons to an area of conflict can make a difference. When supplemented by stricter national export controls, embargoes can make it far more difficult to deliver significant quantities of modern weapons to areas of conflict.

    The major arms-supplying countries should also establish a mechanism (possibly as part of the Wassenaar Arrangement for conventional arms control) for consultation on arms flows to areas of current and potential conflict, along with provisions for the imposition of a moratorium on weapons transfers to any state or region deemed to be at risk of ethnic slaughter, state failure or genocide. International inspectors should be sent to the region to ensure compliance with these measures and to suggest any other actions that might be taken to reduce the flow of arms.

    Reducing Surplus Weapons. Addressing the problem of surplus weaponry generated by decades of Cold War competition is especially important because many states—particularly former Eastern bloc countries—are eager to sell arms for hard currency with few or no questions asked. Because export controls on surplus arms are generally less strict than those for newly manufactured weapons, black-market dealers find it easier to obtain and sell surplus arms than newly made weapons. The problem of surplus arms is especially acute in areas just recovering from armed conflict, where impoverished ex-combatants may try to sell their weapons for cash rather than turn them over to UN peace-keepers or other designated authorities.

    Measures to reduce global stockpiles of surplus munitions—a critical component of any international effort to constrain the flow of light weapons—can take several forms. States that can afford to do so should agree to destroy the surplus arms and ammunition in their possession and to take all the necessary steps to prevent the leakage of weaponry from government depots and warehouses. An early precedent was set by the Dutch Ministry of Defense, which announced in January 1998 that it would destroy most of its surplus small arms, including 115,000 Uzi submachine guns, FAL assault rifles, Garand rifles, Browning pistols and M-1 carbines.

    For their parts, the United States and Russia should agree to cooperate in locating and reclaiming (or buying back) weapons given by them to insurgent groups during the Cold War. In many regions, these weapons are now being used to fuel internal power struggles and criminal violence. Taking these weapons out of circulation would close one of the most deadly chapters of the Cold War and help promote international peace and security in the current era.

    Post-Conflict Measures. A high priority should be placed on efforts to remove the large quantities of small arms and light weapons that often remain in-country once a particular conflict has ended. Too often, the availability of such weapons facilitates either a renewal of the conflict (as in Angola) or a destabilization of efforts to build a peaceful civil society (as in South Africa). The limited success of disarmament programs in countries like El Salvador, where the country suffers from an appalling rate of criminal violence despite the collection of tens of thousands of weapons, points up the complexity and difficulty of such efforts. Above all, decisions to disarm warring factions and remove light weapons from areas of conflict must be implemented uniformly and comprehensively.

    Moreover, in many countries around the world the possession of arms is deeply embedded in society, so that arms collection efforts may prove futile or not be politically feasible. In such cases, and more generally as well, the primary emphasis should be on economic development and social reconstruction so that ex-combatants and non-combatants have viable options in the civilian economy.

    Recent initiatives on the part of the World Bank and a number of development and humanitarian NGOs to better integrate economic assistance programs with demobilization, destruction of weapons and conflict prevention strategies are a useful step in this direction.

    International Capacity-Building. Ultimately, any regime to control global trafficking in small arms and light weapons will only be as effective as the weakest links in the system. As long as black-market dealers enjoy safe havens in which they can operate with impunity, it will be difficult or impossible to enforce tougher international standards on the light weapons trade. It is therefore essential that the stronger participants in the system assist the weaker elements to establish effective and reliable mechanisms for the oversight of the arms market.

    As part of such efforts, technology should be developed and deployed internationally to help track the flow of small arms and light weapons, identify illicit sources of supply, and improve law enforcement and customs prosecution of illegal suppliers and traders. In addition to developing computer databases and communications systems that can facilitate international cooperation on the light weapons trade, several other technical initiatives have been proposed for helping to increase the transparency of light weapons flows. One such initiative being developed by OAS members is more effective marking and registration of weapons, both at the point of manufacture and when such weapons are legally exported. Such marking will make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence officials to trace the supply routes of weapons originally acquired legally which then entered the black market.

    Other proposals exist for the tagging of ammunition and explosives, and studies on their feasibility are being carried out by the Canadian government and the United Nations. While some of these technical solutions may prove difficult and expensive to implement, the international community has at least begun the process of thoroughly evaluating them.


    An Imperative to Act

    By the middle of 1998, there was increased international momentum for taking more decisive action to prevent the continuing global diffusion of small arms and light weapons. In addition to ongoing efforts on the part of the United Nations and regional organizations like the OAS, national governments—including Norway, Canada, Belgium, Mexico, Colombia, South Africa and Japan—had signalled their interest in devoting substantial political and economic resources to deal with the problem. In July 1998, the Norwegian government hosted a meeting of 21 countries, including the United States, that issued a call for stronger measures to deal with both the illicit and legal trade in light weapons.

    The Clinton administration has indicated its willingness to be fully involved in international efforts to dampen the light weapons trade. In August, the administration released a list of the comprehensive initiatives the U.S. government is pursuing—through the United Nations, the OAS and at the national level—to support global efforts for combatting the threat posed by unrestrained trade in light weapons.< 13 > Most of these efforts were aimed at the illicit trade in arms, though some focused on legal sales.

    Clearly, the U.S. and other governments, especially those responsible for the majority of light weapons production and supply, need to do more. At the moment, most countries, including the United States, are putting greater emphasis on the illicit light weapons trade. Yet, it is the continued supply of large amounts of small arms and light weapons, through legal channels, to governments and non-state actors, that is most worrisome. All too often, supplier states continue to give away or sell at a discount hundreds of thousands of surplus light weapons that end up in the wrong hands.

    In some cases, such as Somalia, these weapons are then used against U.S. peace-keeping forces that are sent to restore civil order. In other cases, such as Bosnia, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the United States and the international community will spend billions of dollars in peace-keeping and economic reconstruction when a more restrictive policy on light weapons transfers might have prevented or diminished the intensity of civil conflict in these countries.

    As the international community is beginning to recognize, the humanitarian and development benefits of cutting the link between light weapons availability and civil conflict would be substantial. For the United States, the economic benefits of the light weapons trade are exceedingly minor compared to the ultimate costs of having to rescue "failed states," provide for millions of refugees, and reconstruct societies torn apart by genocide and ethnic strife. The savings inherent in preventing or greatly limiting conflict in even one Rwanda, Bosnia or Liberia would greatly outweigh the minimal political and economic benefits of being an indiscriminate light weapons supplier.

    In sum, increased attention to the lethal effects of easily available small arms and light weapons on the part of humanitarian relief agencies, national governments, international organizations and the media is translating into a greater public appreciation of the need to better control the production, supply and diffusion of these weapons.

    Admittedly, the problem is incredibly complex and policies to control and regulate these weapons will not come easily. Nonetheless, the scale of death and injury caused by light weapons is such that the international community must continue to search for effective means of controlling and reducing the lethal commerce of small arms and light weapons around the world.


    1. Major wars are those with at least 1,000 deaths per year, though most of these conflicts have resulted in far more fatalities and wounded. See 1996 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, Stockholm: SIPRI, 1996.

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    2. See "Small Arms and Light Weapons: The Epidemic Spread of Conflicts," Conversion Survey 1997, Bonn: Bonn International Center for Conversion, 1997.

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    3. Steven Holtzman, "Post-Conflict Reconstruction," Environmental Department, Work in Progress, The World Bank, Social Policy and Resettlement Division, 1996, p. 1.

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    4. See The Economist, May 16, 1998, p. 47.

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    5. Keith Krause, "Constraining Conventional Arms Proliferation: A Model for Canada," Multilateral Approaches to Non-Proliferation, Andrew Latham, ed., Toronto: York University, 1996, p. 57.

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    6. Swadesh Rana, Small Arms and Intra-State Conflicts, New York: United Nations, 1995, p. 4.

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    7. See Virginia Hart Ezell, "Small Arms Proliferation Remains Global Dilemma," National Defense, January 1995, pp. 26–27.

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    8. See Lethal Commerce: The Global Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, Jeffrey Boutwell, Michael T. Klare and Laura W. Reed, eds., Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1995, p. 9.

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    9. "Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms," Report #A/52/298, from the Secretary General to the UN General Assembly, August 27, 1997.

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    10. "Measures to Regulate Firearms for the Purpose of Combatting Illicit Trafficking in Firearms," United Nations Economic and Social Council, Vienna, July 28, 1998.

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    11. UN Report in response to Security Council Resolution 1013, September 7, 1995, pp. 18–19; see also the "Interim Report of the International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda)," S/1998/777, August 19, 1998.

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    12. "Report of the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms," August 27, 1998.

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    13. See "Factsheet: ACDA Outlines U.S. Policy on Small Arms Issues," August 11, 1998, Washington, DC.

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    Jeffrey Boutwell is director of international security studies at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Michael Klare, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, is director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hamphire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. This article is adapted from the authors' chapter in Light Weapons and Civil Conflict: Controlling the Tools of Violence, Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael Klare, eds., forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield, spring 1998.

    Posted: December 31, 1969


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