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"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
CFE Adapted at OSCE Summit in Istanbul

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Wade Boese

CONCLUDING NEARLY THREE years of negotiations, the 30 states-parties to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty signed a treaty adaptation agreement on November 19 that overhauls the outdated, Cold War-era structure of the original treaty. While proclaiming the adapted treaty will "enhance peace, security and stability throughout Europe," President Clinton said he would not submit it for Senate approval until Russia complies with weapons ceilings set out in the revised treaty. Moscow, whose war in Chechnya has only magnified Russia's perennial non-compliance with CFE flank-zone limits, has said it will comply as soon as possible.

Originally signed on November 19, 1990, the CFE Treaty imposed equal limits on the tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), heavy artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters that NATO and the former Warsaw Pact could possess between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. Aimed at preventing arms build-ups for surprise blitzkrieg-type offensives, the treaty employed a concentric-zone system that mandated smaller deployments of tanks, ACVs and artillery the closer one moved toward the faultline between the alliances. To guard against offensives designed to bypass central Europe, specific "flank zone" limits restricted weapons stationed in northern and southern Europe.

Despite the 1991 break-ups of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, the parties continued to implement the treaty, destroying more than 58,000 pieces of treaty-limited equipment by May 1996, when the treaty's first review conference was held. However, at the review conference, the parties agreed to start a "thorough process aimed at improving the operation of the treaty in a changing environment." The scope and parameters for the negotiations, which emphasized "taking account of developments since Treaty signature," were agreed to in December 1996, and the actual adaptation negotiations got underway in January 1997.

Negotiators wrapped up the adaptation agreement, which replaces the CFE Treaty's existing bloc and zone limits with a system of national and territorial weapons ceilings, only a week before it was to be signed at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) November 18-19 heads-of-state summit in Istanbul, Turkey. The extensively detailed and technical protocols for inspections and information exchanges were the final pieces to be concluded. One State Department official remarked that NATO "came close to getting everything it wanted."

Russia's offensive in Chechnya and its associated flank limit non-compliance, however, jeopardized signature of the agreement. Last-minute talks securing a package of political commitments by several states-termed the "Final Act"-to reduce weapons levels even further than stipulated in the adapted treaty, as well as Russian pledges to withdraw forces from Georgia and Moldova and to exercise restraint in weapons deployments bordering the Baltic states, made signature of the adaptation agreement possible. The Final Act's preamble also took note of a November 1 statement by Moscow that it was committed to all of its CFE Treaty obligations, including weapons limits. (For an analysis and summary of the adapted treaty, see page 24. An approved consolidated treaty text was not yet available.)

While remaining within its overall limits, Moscow, since the original treaty's inception, has exceeded its flank-zone limits, which cap the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs) and artillery in northern and southern Russia. Even prior to launching its military offensive against Chechnya in September, Russia was more than 260 tanks, 1,500 ACVs and 200 artillery pieces above its reduced flank zone limits. Though the adaptation agreement increases the Russian ACV limit from 1,380 to 2,140 in this reduced zone and eliminates the original zone limits entirely, Moscow's ACV levels are currently still much higher than permitted under the adapted treaty.

Entry into force of the adapted treaty now hinges on ratification by all 30 CFE members, until which point the original treaty will remain in effect. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), who helped orchestrate the Senate's October 13 defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, sent two letters to the White House prior to the OSCE summit advising Clinton not to sign the adaptation agreement.

Senator Helms pointed to Russia's offensive in Chechnya, its non-compliance with the flank limits and its deployment of forces in Georgia and Moldova as reasons for not signing. While admonishing Clinton for failing to seek inspections and implement sanctions against Moscow for its treaty non-compliance, Helms wrote that an adapted treaty that did not "serve to constrain Russia" would be of "zero security benefit to the United States" and would have "little chance of winning the Senate's approval."