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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Executive Summary of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty
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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 The original treaty's outdated nature is underscored by the fact that it requires the new NATO members to coordinate weapons-level changes with Russia and other former Warsaw Pact members in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.