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Eastern Europe: Analysis From Washington--CFE And NATO Expansion

Washington, 4 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The Lisbon Security Summit's decision this week to renegotiate the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty may prompt even more former Soviet bloc countries to seek the protections of NATO membership.

On Monday, a Lisbon meeting of the original CFE signatory states -- the 30 NATO and former Warsaw Pact countries -- declared that talks to update their accord would begin early next year.

The group said that none of the changes anticipated would do anything that would allow for new concentrations of forces anywhere in Europe. And in a statement designed to reassure many in the region, they implied that the original signatories might invite some of the countries that have emerged from the demise of the U.S.S.R. to participate.

For three reasons, however, few in Eastern Europe or the Transcaucasus are likely to take much comfort from either of these promises.

First, most of these countries have developed their ideas about security on the basis of what they thought was a fixed position concerning the size and placement of military forces in the region.

And consequently, anything that calls that into question will lead these countries to feel less, not more secure about other security arrangements they may have made.

Second, these states have already had one experience with a modification of the original CFE agreement, and it was and remains anything but a happy one.

In May 1996, the United States and other CFE countries agreed to a Russian request for a modification in the original accord. Both Russia's request and the West's agreement to it had their roots in the geopolitical changes that have taken place in Europe since 1990.

But the consequences of the May 1996 modifications -- which themselves would expire in 1999 had new talks not begun -- were anything but reassuring to many countries in Eastern Europe and the Transcaucasas.

The modifications agreed to last spring allow Moscow to position far more military equipment in the North Caucasus and in the northwestern portion of the Russian Federation than the 1990 accord had permitted.

From the perspective of the countries on the opposite side of the Russian border who fought this modification as much as they could, such buildups appeared very threatening, regardless of Moscow's proclaimed intent.

And third, the countries of this region are likely to be especially concerned if the new talks take a direction suggested this week by a senior U.S. official.

Speaking in Lisbon after the summit meeting, Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum told journalists that the upcoming talks might establish maximum limits for individual countries rather than for zones.

Were that to happen -- and it would constitute a fundamental change in the nature of the CFE treaty -- each country in the region could position its forces wherever it chose on its own territory rather than be constrained by zonal limits as now.

Thus, for example, each state could position the forces allowed by the revised accord along the borders of neighboring countries that it felt threatened by or that it wished to exert influence on.

In most cases, such repositioning might have few consequences. But in the case of the Russian Federation, which would then be able to move forces even more freely up to border regions, such a repositioning would certainly disturb adjoining states.

Their concerns on this point would first be directed against any change in the current CFE accord. Indeed, some of these countries may use the reopening of the CFE treaty to advance their own interests. But to the extent they cannot achieve such goals, they are likely to demand greater protection from Western institutions.

And such demands would further complicate the current discussions about the possible enlargement of NATO by raising the stakes for both those who may be invited in and those who won't be given membership immediately.

Moreover, such demands and the vocabulary in which they are likely to be couched will do nothing to reassure Moscow or to overcome continuing Russian objections to the expansion of the Western alliance.

As a result, a decision clearly intended to increase European security seems likely to have precisely the opposite effect.