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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
NATO Presents Initial Proposal For Adaptation of CFE Treaty

March 1997

By Sarah Walkling

Reassuring Moscow that NATO's expansion will not threaten Russian security interests has become one of the main alliance objectives in negotiations to adapt the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty to post Cold War Europe. On February 20, NATO proposed replacing the now obsolete group structure of the treaty with national limits and reducing CFE equipment levels as two basic elements for adaptation of the accord.

In a press statement following the presentation of the proposal, the U.S. mission to NATO explained that "while NATO enlargement can proceed without Treaty adaptation, revisions will make it possible to integrate new members more fully into the Alliance military structures. CFE adaptation will also provide additional assurance to Russia and other states that NATO enlargement will not mean a destabilizing eastward shift in NATO's military capabilities."

Vladimir Andreyev, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said February 25 that Moscow welcomed the proposal. However, Andreyev added that the proposal did not fully address Russian concerns about the impacts of NATO enlargement and the contingency of NATO forward deployed combat forces.

Concluded in 1990 by the 16 NATO members and the Warsaw Pact, the CFE Treaty places equal numerical limits on five categories of heavy conventional weapons deployed or stored by the two groups between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. Individual countries negotiated their weapons "entitlements" from the overall limits, and the Commonwealth of Independent States divided Soviet entitlements among the new states after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Additional treaty sub limits on ground equipment (tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs) and artillery) within a series of concentric geographic zones and within a "flank" zone (southern and northern Europe) are designed to prevent destabilizing concentrations of forces.

CFE Beyond the Blocs

NATO's so called "Basic Elements for Adaptation of the CFE Treaty" attempts to respond to anomalies in the structure of the accord created by the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and disintegration of the Soviet Union and to ease Russian concerns over the military implications of NATO expansion. The proposal calls for establishing national limits in place of group limits and for a significant decrease in the numbers of treaty limited equipment (TLE) in Europe below the current overall limits. Thus, under the NATO proposal, the total number of battle tanks, ACVs and combat aircraft permitted in Europe is likely to drop well below 40,000, 60,000 and 13,600, respectively.

The NATO proposal also introduces "territorial ceilings" comprised of the sum of national and stationed ground equipment permitted on the territory of a party. There may be exceptions to these ceilings, but only in the case of temporary deployments for activities such as military exercises and UN or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe peacekeeping operations.

While the proposal drops the treaty's current geographic zones (with the exception of the flank zone), in an effort to alleviate Russian concerns about NATO forward stationing, it introduces a new zone in Central Europe which covers Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Slovakia, the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia and Ukrainian territory outside the flank zone. In this new Central European zone, the territorial ceilings will be no larger than current national entitlements. As a result, any stationing of NATO tanks, ACVs and artillery in this region would be significantly restricted or could take place only at the expense of national forces.

Significant' Reductions

In addition to calling on all parties to reduce entitlements, the proposal states that "the total of future aggregate national ceilings of ground TLE of [NATO's] 16 members will be significantly less under the adapted Treaty than their current group ceilings." NATO has not quantified these reductions, but Clinton administration officials have said they will go beyond the reductions that brought NATO down to its original CFE Treaty ceilings¾a five percent cut or approximately 3,500 pieces of ground equipment. NATO's aggregate actual holdings of tanks, ACVs and artillery are presently 30 percent below its group ceilings, leaving considerable room for such cuts.

The proposal also alters the current CFE Treaty provision that calls for an increase in one party's entitlement to be offset by a corresponding reduction by one or more parties belonging to the same group of states. With the elimination of the group structure, NATO proposes that redistribution of TLE allocations between states need only be agreed between the parties involved. Moscow, on the other hand, advocates approval of such changes by all treaty parties.

Finally, in response to Moscow's desire to eliminate the distinction between active and stored equipment, the NATO proposal suggests allowing parties to choose between two options: either keeping their storage allotments or eliminating at least 80 percent of these allotments and adding the remainder to active forces. Under this proposal, Russia could choose to eliminate approximately 3,000 stored weapons and transfer approximately 700 weapons from stored to active status. NATO states have very little equipment in storage in Europe and are likely to take at least part of their promised reduction in ground equipment by eliminating their storage allotments.

According to the March 21 "Joint U.S. Russian Statement on European Security" from the Helsinki summit, a framework agreement for an adaptation accord is expected "by late spring or early summer of 1997." If negotiators meet this first deadline, they will have an agreement prior to the Madrid NATO summit in July 1997, when NATO intends to invite the first new members into its ranks. Parties will go on to negotiate the details of adaptation in the year to 18 months prior to NATO integration of its new members.