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Russia: New Arms Agreement Aims To Ease Fears

  • Roland Eggleston

Vienna, 20 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States, Russia and 28 other countries are putting the finishing touches on a new European security agreement intended to limit the possibility of a surprise military attack with conventional weapons.

The basic agreement was reached in Vienna on March 30 after years of negotiations. It places restrictions on the deployment of battle tanks, artillery and armored vehicles in individual European countries from the Atlantic to the Urals.

The final text is expected to be signed in Istanbul in November by heads of government attending a summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is expected to be the last major agreement on military security in this century.

A senior U.S. negotiator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL in Vienna that one of the main goals of the new agreement is to defuse Russian concerns about a possible concentration of Western tanks, artillery and armored vehicles in the three new members of NATO -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

He said: "NATO has made several concessions to ease Russian fears", adding that "there are special restrictions on the number of both national and foreign forces which can be deployed in these countries on a permanent basis." He said "this was done particularly because of Russian worries."

On the other side, the new agreement also prevents Russia from increasing its permanent forces in Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania, or in the Pskov oblast, which borders Estonia. Belarus also accepted restrictions on the military forces which may be deployed on its territory.

Another part of the agreement allows Kazakhstan to station a limited number of tanks, artillery and armored vehicles at the northern end of the Caspian Sea to protect its oil installations. Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country which is a signatory to the Treaty and this area around the north of the Caspian is the only part of Kazakhstan covered by the document.

The new agreement is not a separate Treaty. In legal terms, it is an update of the 1990 Paris Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, which cut the number of battle tanks, artillery and armored vehicles held by NATO and the former Warsaw Pact and created a system of inspections to ensure that the limits were honored.

Much of the 1990 Treaty remains unchanged in the new agreement. But it had to be amended because it sought to balance NATO and the now defunct Warsaw Pact, setting a limit for the number of weapons each held. The new agreement focuses on individual countries and the number of tanks, artillery and armored vehicles which may be deployed in them by either national or foreign forces.

The agreements allow each country both a national ceiling of battle tanks, artillery and armored vehicles and a so-called "regional" ceiling. The national ceiling is the total number of its own forces. The "regional" ceiling is the maximum number of foreign forces which may be deployed on a permanent basis -- for example, the maximum number of U.S. tanks which may be deployed permanently in Germany.

In Germany's case, the national ceiling is a maximum 3,444 battle tanks. The "regional" ceiling is 4,704. That is the overall total of both German and foreign tanks which may be deployed permanently on German soil.

The same system applies with artillery pieces and armored vehicles.

Part of the special arrangements made to reassure Russia about the new members of NATO is that the "regional" total in these countries will be the same as the "national" total. This restricts the possibilities for deploying foreign NATO forces on their territory. Belarus has accepted a similar restriction, which NATO negotiators believe will prevent a build-up of Russian forces there.

In addition, the three new members of NATO have agreed to actually reduce the size of their national forces in the next few years as another measure to ease Russia's anxieties. Poland, for example, will reduce the number of battle tanks from 1,730 to 1,577 by 2003.

NATO negotiators say they have no problems with this. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were in any case planning reductions in their national ceilings. A European negotiator told RFE/RL: "The structure of the armed forces in these countries was based on their being units of the Warsaw Pact," adding that "As members of NATO, the call is for smaller, more mobile forces."

NATO, however, insisted on flexibility in these arrangements to allow for rapid assistance in times of crisis. This part of the agreement allows reinforcements to be sent to another country under threat. In most cases, the initial reinforcement would be limited to a single brigade - which, in NATO terms - means about 150 tanks, 100 artillery pieces and 250 armored vehicles. If the situation worsens, two brigades may be sent.

The ceiling on the deployment of foreign forces may also be temporarily increased in certain other situations. One of them is joint military exercises under the Partnership for Peace program. In these cases some equipment may be moved from one country to another.

Restrictions on the number of foreign forces deployed in a single country may also be lifted temporarily for military exercises which are not part of the Partnership for Peace program. But this exception is surrounded by restrictions to ensure that the exercises cannot be turned into a threat against another country.

In the first place, notification of the military exercises or maneuvers have to be sent to all of the 30 governments which have now signed-on to the CFE Treaty. There are more restrictions if the number of forces involved exceeds the upper limits for both national and foreign forces in the country where the maneuvers are taking place. In this case, the duration of the exercises or maneuvers is limited to a maximum of 42 days. Then the foreign battle tanks, artillery and armored vehicles must leave the host country.

NATO also insisted on another restriction. Such exercises or maneuvers must be conducted on a one-off basis. That means there can be no consecutive exercises, running seamlessly one into another. This would effectively extend the maximum limit of 42 days. NATO negotiators said they insisted on this provision because of their past experience of Soviet forces conducting prolonged "consecutive" maneuvers close to the borders of other countries. One well-known example were the exercises conducted by Soviet forces around Poland during the Solidarity crisis in the early 1980's.

The negotiators have also agreed that the normal limits can be exceeded when military forces are supporting peacekeeping operations with a mandate from the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In such cases, the size of the forces deployed is determined by the Mandate.

Finally, the negotiators in Vienna also reached agreement on the thorny issue of the size of the forces which may be deployed in the so-called "flank" areas, which means the St. Petersburg military district in the north and the Caucasus in the south. Ten nations are affected by the agreement on the flanks.

Initially, Russia wanted all restrictions lifted on its deployment of forces in these flank regions, particularly the Caucasus. Turkey, Norway, and other countries objected that in theory this could allow Moscow to station its entire armed forces in one region or the other.

Finally it was agreed that in certain circumstances, the "territorial" limit of national and foreign forces in these regions could be exceeded by the temporary deployment of one brigade in the region.

The agreement also allows for temporary arrangements allowing countries in the flank region to amend the limits in favor of another country. Negotiators say that in certain circumstances, this would allow Russia to increase the size of its forces in the flank region but only if other countries reduced their own numbers.

A German negotiator told RFE/RL: "This new agreement marks a major advance in security arrangements in most of Europe and expressed the "hope it will allow the new century to begin in an atmosphere of peace and security which will last for many years".