Accessibility links

Europe: Progress Slow On Conventional Arms Treaty

  • Roland Eggleston

Vienna, 3 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Negotiators in Vienna hope that a new treaty limiting the danger of an arms build-up in Europe can be achieved by the end of next year, although they warn this will require considerable political will on the part of some countries to reach agreement.

The negotiators are revising the 1990 CFE treaty between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact which placed limits on the number of tanks, artillery, armored cars, war planes and battle helicopters in Europe between the Atlantic and the Urals.

The new treaty will replace the bloc-to-bloc ceilings imposed on NATO and the Warsaw Pact with national ceilings for individual countries and territorial ceilings.

National ceilings place a limit on the size of each country's own armed forces. The territorial ceilings impose a limit on the overall number of military forces deployed in a particular country -- for example, the territorial ceiling for Armenia would include all Armenian forces plus all Russian forces based in Armenia and their equipment. In another example, the territorial limit for Hungary would include all Hungarian forces plus all NATO forces based in the country and their equipment. In most cases, the territorial ceilings will be higher than the national ceilings but the actual limits are still being worked out.

A senior negotiator told RFE/RL these national and territorial ceilings on the number of tanks, artillery and other weapons are among the most difficult issues of the conference.

"They go to the heart of the security of individual states, many of which remain suspicious of each other" he said. "Each Government wants to be certain that the treaty allows it enough forces to meet its legitimate defense requirements. In some cases other Governments disagree what these legitimate defense requirements should be. It is one of the most sensitive issues we have to resolve."

Thirty countries are participating in the negotiations, including the United States, Russia and most of the states of Western, Central and Eastern Europe, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. The neutral countries and Central Asian states, with the exception of Kazakhstan, are not involved.

The chief U.S. negotiator, Gregory Govan, told RFE/RL the negotiations are proceeding "slowly but methodically." He said one of the biggest political problems is Russia's attempts to impose conditions which would limit the effects of NATO enlargement. For example, Russia wants to restrict the degree to which the original 16 members of NATO can deploy forces on the territory of NATO's new members, either permanently or temporarily.

The effects of NATO expansion is behind another Russian-NATO dispute. This one is over the type of forces deployed in another country which should be limited in number.

NATO believes fixed limits should be established only for ground forces -- tanks, armored troop carriers and artillery. Russia wants also to include fixed limits for warplanes and battle helicopters. Diplomats say it fears a build-up of U.S. air forces in the new NATO countries.

NATO argues that including aircraft and helicopters is unrealistic. It is relatively easy for inspectors to determine whether ground forces are within the limits set by a treaty. But aircraft and helicopters can be flown in and out of a territory within minutes -- making effective inspection virtually impossible.

NATO diplomats say the Alliance considers Russia's fears of a possible build-up of western military power in countries near its borders to be exaggerated. However it understands them and is trying to satisfy them. As one idea, the U.S. has proposed the creation of a "zone of stability" in which the size of military forces would be limited. However, it insists that the zone should include other countries as well as the new members of NATO.

Under the U.S. proposal -- which has now been accepted by the NATO alliance as a whole -- the "zone of stability" would include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, the northern Ukraine and the area of Kaliningrad. The U.S. suggests that in this zone the territorial limits be the same as the present national limits. That would effectively prevent a build-up of foreign forces in any of these countries. Under the U.S. proposal this situation would continue until the next review of the treaty, which should take place in the year 2001. The U.S. further proposes that this rule should remain in place and be reconsidered every five years.

Other political issues continue to cause problems. One is Turkey's concerns about a possible buildup of Russian forces in the southern flank. It insists that the conference agree on measures to prevent the build-up of potentially-threatening forces in certain regions.

The U.S. negotiator Gregory Govan says that apart from political issues there are also many technical problems to be resolved. Among them is the system for checking that the Treaty is being honored.

"One of the best features of the 1990 CFE treaty was its system of verification and transparency," he said. "Everyone agrees that it worked well and should be continued. The problem is how to maintain the same degree of assurance and confidence in a much more complicated treaty."

Govan says the attitude of some countries is also a problem.

"One group of countries at the talks have strong ideas on how a future treaty on conventional forces should look," he said. "There are other countries which don't have this outlook. Some have difficulties adjusting to a new kind of treaty which is not based on a bloc-to-bloc approach.

"Some Governments believe there was more freedom to operate under the old system. If it was considered necessary to transfer 200 tanks from one country to another within the bloc it was just done. But with the new system of national and territorial ceilings it is not so easy."

Govan did not identify any countries but in answer to a question he acknowledged that some NATO countries are among those which retain a nostalgia for the ease of decision-making under the old system.

Originally the new CFE Treaty was expected to be ready by the summer of next year. Few diplomats now believe this timetable is realistic. Most hope the negotiations can be completed in about November next year. This would allow the new Treaty to be signed in December by the heads of Government attending a summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).

However that decision is many months and many problems away.