Russian Compliance With CFE 'Flank' Limit in Doubt

Wade Boese

WHILE REMAINING within overall weapons limits under the 1992 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, Russia is suspected of not being in compliance with its revised "flank-zone" limits on armored combat vehicles (ACVs), which entered into force on May 31. Until a July 1 information exchange takes place, an official judgment on Russian compliance cannot be made, but Moscow has failed to meet earlier interim limits. On June 1, NATO called on all CFE countries to fulfill current legal obligations.

The treaty's flank zone, which will be retained in the "adapted" accord now under negotiation among the CFE states (see ACT, March 1999), limits the tanks, ACVs and heavy artillery located in Europe's northern and southern regions. Russia, one of 12 countries with territory in this zone, has persistently sought to increase, or abolish, its flank limits. Moscow contends the limits unfairly constrain Russian weapons deployments on its own territory, where serious security threats, like Chechnya, exist.

In a move to address Russian concerns, CFE parties renegotiated Russian flank limits in May 1996 so that the original limits of 1,300 tanks, 1,380 ACVs and 1,680 artillery would apply to a smaller area. New limits of 1,800 tanks, 3,700 ACVs and 2,400 artillery would apply to the original flank territory. Both sets of limits entered into force on May 31.

While at or near flank limits for tanks and artillery, Russia is reportedly in excess of ACV limits in the smaller, revised flank zone by roughly 1,500 and in the larger, original zone by several hundred. In fact, Russia, according to a March 8 White House compliance report, exceeded higher interim limits of 1,897 tanks, 4,397 ACVs and 2,422 artillery in the original flanks. Moscow has sought exemptions for the excess equipment, describing it as not militarily usable.

A March 30 agreement among all CFE parties to permit Russia a larger ACV limit of 2,140 in the revised flank zone under an adapted treaty has helped mute NATO reaction to Russia's suspected non-compliance. Because completion and entry into force of an adapted treaty remain wild cards, however, NATO has stressed compliance with existing treaty obligations. The White House compliance report described Moscow's earlier non-compliance with the interim flank limits as not militarily significant to NATO.

Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) said on May 26 that the "validity" of the May 1996 flank agreement has been called into question because the Clinton administration has failed to submit the 1997 ABM succession and demarcation agreements to the Senate. (See story.) As part of its 1997 resolution of ratification for the flank agreement, the Senate required any future ABM succession agreements be submitted to the Senate. The Clinton administration has repeatedly said it plans to submit the ABM agreements once the Russian Duma ratifies START II.