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Europe/Russia: Basic Agreement Reached On Conventional Arms Accord

  • Roland Eggleston

Prague, 12 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- German officials and officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) say that after years of negotiations, agreement has been reached on the basic elements of a new treaty restricting conventional weaponry in Europe.

German diplomats and OSCE officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the basic agreement was reached last week in Vienna, where the negotiations have been based.

The treaty would place limits on the number of artillery, tanks, armored troop carriers, war planes and attack helicopters which can be held by any individual nation. Another part restricts the number of reinforcements which can be brought in from other countries.

NATO had earlier said the agreement would be "the corner stone" of a new security regime in Europe. The aim is to ensure that in future, no single country will be able to maintain military forces at levels which would allow it to hold a dominating position on the European continent.

German and OSCE officials say that the basic agreement concluded in Vienna last week has been accepted by 30 states, including Russia, Ukraine, the United States and all other members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact. Confirmation from other capitals was not immediately available.

The officials said the agreed treaty will be presented at this month's NATO Summit meeting in Washington and the final text is expected to be signed at a summit meeting of the OSCE in Istanbul in November.

The new treaty will replace the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty limiting conventional forces on the continent, and several amendments since then.

The German and OSCE officials said it was achieved only after difficult negotiations in which all parties had to give way on some cherished positions.

They said that as an example, both Russia and NATO had to give way on some measures involving the new members of NATO -- Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. They said Russia also gave way on some of its positions about its forces in the Caucasus.

The original 1990 CFE treaty was based on the total holdings of two blocs of military power -- NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The new treaty would treat every country individually. Each would be allowed a maximum number of conventional forces of its own and each is allowed to deploy only a certain number of foreign forces on its territory to make an overall limit.

German officials said that for example, Germany will be allowed a maximum of 3,444 main battle tanks of its own. Other countries may station tanks in Germany, but the overall total of both German and foreign tanks cannot exceed 4,704. It is the same with artillery systems. Germany is to be allowed 2,255 of its own but foreign countries can only deploy about half that number on German soil.

German diplomats told RFE/RL that the expansion of NATO with the inclusion of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary created problems which were solved only after months of argument. Russia argued that the admission of these states brought NATO's frontline closer to its borders and it was entitled to special privileges to protect itself.

One argument focused on the maximum limits allowed each country. The officials said it was defused only through a concession by the new member states of NATO. They agreed that they would cut their forces to below the levels originally proposed. The deadline for making these cuts is the year 2003. As an example, Poland will reduce the number of its main battle tanks from 1,730 to 1,577 by then. The officials say that in another move to ease Moscow's concerns, several states close to Russia's borders have agreed to limit the number of foreign forces deployed on their territory. In return, Russia agreed to concessions regarding the deployment of forces in Kaliningrad and Pskov.

German diplomats said the purpose of these and other agreements was to decrease tensions in the sensitive border areas between Russia and NATO.

Another problem which was resolved only after long negotiations was the rapid deployment of forces in a crisis situation. Strict adherence to the limits would have meant that only a certain number of foreign forces could be sent to another country involved in a crisis. The United States, in particular, insisted on more flexibility. Finally, Russia agreed with NATO that in these exceptional circumstances two divisions of battle tanks, armored troop carriers and artillery systems could be temporarily based in the affected country.

The officials said that the so-called 'Flank Areas' covering Russia's Saint Petersburg military district and the Caucasus created other problems. Originally, Russia wanted to lift all restrictions on its deployment of troops in these regions. There were objections from Turkey, Georgia, Norway and some other countries. They argued that in theory this could allow Moscow to station its entire armed forces on the borders in the south or the north. Finally, Russia agreed to a system limiting the number of forces it can move in and out of these regions according to the situation.

The document now agreed in Vienna is more than 100 pages long. Diplomats describe it as a 'basic structure'. More months of negotiation will be needed to refine the rough text and re-examine some of the details and these could lead to new arguments. But the experts are confident it will be ready for signing by the heads of state and government at the OSCE Summit meeting in Istanbul in November.