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– Peter Crail
Business Executive for National Security
June 2, 2022
CFE Compliance Report Issued; Treaty Adaptation Talks Continue
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Wade Boese

RUSSIA, UKRAINE, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not in compliance with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, according to an administration report submitted June 22 to Congress. Violations range from holdings of treaty-limited equipment (TLE) in excess of CFE ceilings to denial of full access during treaty inspections. The report, however, concludes that the compliance issues are not "militarily significant." Russia and Ukraine, which have the largest holdings among the Eastern bloc of countries, remain within their overall treaty limits.

The 1990 CFE Treaty imposed equal numerical limits on five categories of heavy conventional weapons—tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters—that NATO and former Warsaw Pact countries could deploy and store between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. Countries derived national limits from their respective group limit, and a concentric-zone structure further restricted where TLE could be deployed. Although the accord's original bloc limits remain, the current 30 states-parties are seeking to adapt the treaty to Europe's post-Cold War security environment.


Non-Compliance Findings

According to the annual compliance report, mandated by the Senate, Russia has never included equipment held by the Presidential Guard Regiment, which the United States claims is covered by the treaty, in data exchanges. Under the treaty, even if a military unit is considered an internal security force, any tanks, artillery and armored infantry fighting vehicles (a sub-limit within the ACV category) it holds should be counted against a country's TLE limits. Moreover, Russia excluded over 180 ACVs from its July 1997 data exchange by marking the equipment as ambulances.

Although Russia and Ukraine are "well below" limits on TLE held by naval infantry and coastal defense forces, the two states have failed to fulfill a separate June 1991 commitment by the Soviet Union—which they have assumed—to reduce 933 tanks, 1,725 ACVs and 1,080 artillery pieces. To date, Russia has completed over half of this shared reduction obligation, and with the November 1997 division of the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet assets between Russia and Ukraine, it is expected that the pledged reductions can now be completed.


Former Soviet Equipment

Ukraine has also declared an increasing amount of TLE as "awaiting export" (from 0 in 1992 to over 700 items in 1997), a category that exempts arms from treaty limits. The report called the increase a "trend that bears watching," but noted that it does not appear that Kyiv is using the equipment as a stockpile for replacement and modernization. Meanwhile, Belarus claimed almost 300 tanks as "awaiting export" in 1996 and then exchanged almost 150 for those in active units, thereby raising questions as to whether the equipment is actually intended for export. Minsk, along with Russia, also denied full access during some inspections of its TLE holding sites.

Azerbaijan had exceeded its overall CFE limits by 316 items, according to its own December 1997 data submission, and is cited by the report as having never declared a reduction liability despite acknowledging receipt of weapons from Russia and Ukraine that would imply responsibility for reductions of at least 1,000 TLE items. Baku also suspended CFE-mandated notifications for changes of 10 percent or more in TLE assigned to units. Until the conflict over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved, Azerbaijan maintains that it will not begin "disarmament."

A Russian investigation in 1997 disclosed that Armenia illegally received 84 tanks, 50 ACVs and 116 artillery pieces from Russia that neither country reported in its CFE data. Although claiming to have reduced all excess TLE, Armenia did not carry out the reductions according to verifiable CFE provisions and has been accused by Azerbaijan of holding undeclared TLE in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The issue of unclaimed equipment remains a significant factor in resolving a difference of approximately 2,100 TLE items between what the Soviet Union would have had to declare as its reduction liabilities and what the eight former Soviet republics now party to the CFE Treaty have notified. This and other compliance issues have been brought before the Vienna-based Joint Consultative Group (JCG), the governing body of the treaty, for discussion.


NATO Offers Proposal

In July 1997, CFE parties agreed to replace the treaty's bloc and concentric zone structures with a system of national and territorial ceilings. National ceilings would limit a country's TLE holdings in all five categories of weaponry, while territorial ceilings would limit the amount of ground-based TLE (both national equipment and that stationed by other states) permitted on a country's territory. The parties also agreed to negotiate provisions allowing territorial ceilings to be exceeded for notified military exercises, temporary deployments and United Nations or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) peace-keeping operations.

On June 23, NATO put forward a proposal at the JCG that would limit temporary deployments within the treaty's so-called "flank" zone, where Russia claims serious security concerns. (See ACT, May 1997.) Under the proposal, Russia and the other "flank" states would be limited to 153 tanks, 241 ACVs and 140 artillery pieces, while states-parties outside of the zone would be permitted temporary deployments of up to 459 tanks, 723 ACVs and 420 artillery pieces in excess of territorial ceilings. There would be no time restrictions on temporary deployments, but any exceeding zone ceilings would be subject to additional transparency measures and an enhanced notification requirement. NATO also advanced measures for adapting the verification regime. While Russia made no formal response or counter-proposal at the JCG before a summer recess (which began July 25), a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman on July 7 called the proposals "very one-sided," according to a Reuters report.

Negotiations to adapt the CFE Treaty have been underway in the JCG since January 1997. In the past, states-parties indicated they would like to see an adapted treaty in place before NATO's expected acceptance of new members in April 1999, but U.S. officials caution that there is no need to rush completion for any "artificial deadlines." The recently released British Strategic Defence Review noted that the negotiations are "likely to last well into 1999."