Summit Briefing Paper 97.3
July 5, 1997

Berlin Information-centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS)

British American Security Information Council (BASIC)

Centre for European Security and Disarmament (CESD)

Centro de Investigación para la Paz (CIP)

Otfried Nassauer

Conventional Forces in Europe - Arms Control at Risk

NATO Heads of State and Government, meeting in Madrid on July 8-9, will face the political responsibility of removing serious stumbling blocks that prohibit progress in conventional arms control.

In Vienna, the Joint Consultative Group, which is tasked with the review of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), has until now failed to agree to a full Framework Agreement for adapting the Treaty, as envisioned in Lisbon in December 1996. The Framework Agreement was supposed to be ready as soon as possible, which was understood to mean in time for the NATO summit.

It is highly likely, however, that the Vienna negotiations will enter the summer recess without having reached a full Framework Agreement. While a partial agreement may be achieved, the main problem will hardly be resolved in time, since until now it has been subject to very limited discussion. NATO's members are interested in maximum flexibility and freedom to deploy military forces throughout NATO's geographic area, as well as the new members' territories, especially in times of crisis or war. Inversely, Russia is interested in limiting NATO's flexibility, in order to avoid the possibility of massive force concentrations where they might threaten Russian borders and interests.

NATO-Russia relations could face serious strains if there is a failure to reach full agreement on the adaption of the CFE-Treaty. Russia has been extremely concerned about the growing imbalance of conventional armed forces, resulting from NATO's enlargement. It was for this reason that she initiated the process underway in Vienna. Russia fears that she will be outnumbered by a ratio of 3:1 or even 4:1, if no adaptive measures are taken.

NATO's recent three-step-commitment to further reducing conventional armed forces in Europe, decided on June 19th and presented in Vienna, will neither effectively deal with Russian concerns nor remove the stumbling blocks currently delaying the conclusion of a full framework agreement. Indeed, the first figures for future reductions, presented by several major countries, make it clear that no cuts into actual military holdings will be necessary under the lower ceilings currently being proposed. Indeed, the figures provided by Italy and the UK indicate that both countries could add substantial numbers of new weapons before reaching their future national ceilings.

NATO leaders should signal their strong support for the Vienna negotiation process by agreeing the following minimum aims for a future adapted CFE-Treaty:

The treaty should be signed by April 1999, when new members will enter NATO.

The treaty should provide for substantially reduced ceilings for all categories of Treaty Limited Equipment, including aircraft and attack helicopters, not just land-based weapon systems.

The treaty should provide for upper ceilings in all five categories of Treaty Limited Equipment which should be substantially lower than actual current holdings.

The treaty should provide for future ratio of force ceilings between Russia and NATO, which will give NATO no more than a 1:1,5 advantage over Russia in the Treaty Area.

NATO should issue a legally binding statement that equipment owned by non-NATO member states at the start of adaption negotiations will be counted against the overall NATO-Russia force ratio, if the owner state later becomes NATO member.

An agreement along these lines would meet both Russian and NATO interests. Such an agreement would prevent the failure of conventional arms control in Europe. It would also help to implement cooperation between Russia and NATO as envisioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. Lastly, it would take into account several of the concerns expressed by a number of the smaller countries, that are parties to the CFE-Treaty.

Adapting the CFE-Treaty to
Post-Cold War Realities

In 1990, the CFE-Treaty was signed to balance the armed forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Since the latter was dissolved prior to the signing ceremony, the treaty language talks about "groups" of states and no longer about military alliances. The treaty lead to the destruction of 58,000 major weapon systems throughout the Atlantic to Urals area. It is widely recognized as a major success in arms control, as well as a major step in developing European Security.

The adaptation of the CFE-Treaty, currently being negotiated in Vienna, is the second step in a wider approach to meet acknowledged Russian security concerns, resulting from the dissolution of both the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself. During the 1996 Review Conference of the CFE-Treaty, agreement was reached to re-design the geography characterizing the flanks of the CFE-Treaty. The geographic situation had left Russia with her troops no longer deployed to meet her security needs.

Negotiations for adapting the CFE-Treaty are based on a Russian initiative, too. Russia argues that there is neither any longer an "Eastern Group" nor is the treaty structurally capable of coping with NATO-enlargement. Russia intends to adapt the CFE-Treaty to her changing security needs. In December 1996 in Lisbon, all CFE-member states agreed to undertake an adaptation of the treaty.

Inadequate Proposals?

On February 20, 1997 NATO provided a general outline of its approach on how to adapt the CFE-Treaty. Based on a mixture of (partially conflicting) proposals made by Germany and the United States, NATO offered:

to give up the group structure as well as to eliminate the system of regions, except for the flanks. Instead national ceilings for the categories of TLEs should be developed, to be supplemented by territorial ceilings, i.e. national ceilings plus weapons allowed for deployment by foreign troops. The exchange of national quotas between nations should be possible; changes to territorial ceilings should be allowed as well. Yet the proposal did not spell out under what conditions such exchanges would be allowed;

to meet Russian concerns and proposals by taking two steps. First, NATO offered that future ceilings for the land-based weapon systems of the current NATO-members would be "significantly" lower than the current ceiling for the "Western Group". Second, the quota for weapons in storage, should be either maintained or given up. In the latter case 20% of the quota should be counted against active holdings, while 80% would be given up. NATO meanwhile made use of this provision and declared its willingness to eliminate 5.765 TLE, while adding a further 1.441 TLE to its active stockpiles.
With this proposal, NATO tried to outmanoeuver Russian demands for "sufficiency". By re-introducing "sufficiency" as a criterion into the negotiations, Russia had hoped to limit NATO military capabilities to agreed levels of armament considered to be sufficient for defensive purposes;

to stabilize the Central-Eastern European Region by thinning out military holdings in the Visegrad countries, Belarus, the Ukraine (minus its part of the flank-region) and in the Kaliningrad Oblast.

On June 19, 1997, NATO's High Level Task Force decided to make the February 1997 outline proposel more concrete, by announcing the first reductions NATO is prepared to make. NATO forsees three steps towards reducing current national ceilings for land-based weapon systems:

The NATO countries collectivly no longer retain the right to exploit the difference between the sum of all NATO countries' national ceilings and the NATO group ceiling in each category.

NATO agrees that its member nations will reduce their national ceilings for the landbased categories of TLEs by 5-6%.

NATO's proposal would result in an overall reduction to NATO's current ceilings of around 10,000 TLEs. While this number looks quite impressive at a first glance, it fails to tackle most of the existing problems. NATO's proposal will not require any cuts into the actual holdings of current NATO members. Indeed it will still allow most of the member states room for substantial future increases of their forces. Their actual holdings are substantially lower than the future upper ceilings proposed.

The reductions proposed, are structurally inadequate to meet Russian concerns with respect to NATO's overall military superiority. The Alliance outnumbers Russia to the extent, that Russia perceives sufficient to allow for launching a successful attack.

the Vienna negotiations the UK and Italy have published detailed figures resulting from the NATO-proposal for their forces:





new ceiling

actual holdings (1996)




































Attk Hel







* The UK agreed during 1996, to reduce its attack helicopter ceiling from 384 to 371. Readers should note, that Italy does not intend to reduce the ceiling for attack helicopters in light of the number of helicopters actually available.

UK Statement to the Joint Consultative Group, July 1st, 1997

Italian Statement, June 26, 1997 (JGC.REP(IT)145/97); Deutscher Bundestag, DS 13/5488,pp 12-13.

While the figures for both countries indicate future upper ceilings substantially higher than current actual holdings, both countries submissions also indicate that:

  • at least some NATO countries are prepared to include combat aircraft as well as attack helicopters in future reductions and thus meet one of Russia's major concerns;

  • currently proposed future ceilings do not necessarily represent final compromises.

Nevertheless NATO's proposal does not officially deal with one of Russia's most serious concerns: It does not reduce ceilings for aircraft and attack helicopters. Russia is especially worried about possible Western advantages resulting from qualitatively superior weapon systems for air warfare. Aircraft, attack helicopters and increasing numbers of precision-guided munitions, currently being introduced into Western armed forces, contribute to these Russian concerns.

Germany recently became the latest obstacle by refusing to accept reductions for its TLE under NATO's three step proposal. Internal political reasons probably caused Germany to be the only major Western nation not to propose figures by July 1st.

The German Defense Ministry has sent NATO's newest set of force goals back to the drawing board. NATO's new force goals reportedly required the German Army to provide NATO with only six divisional equivalents, one divisions less than it actually has. At the same time Volker Rühe, the German Minister of Defense, is in a very fierce negotiating process the Bundeswehr's 1998 budget.


NATO needs to make a substantial new initiative if the Alliance wants to prevent further delay and possibly even failure of the negotiations on CFE-2. Such an initiative needs to be developed soon in order to avoid jeopardizing implementation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Jewgeni Primakow, the Russian Foreign Minister was explicit, when he addressed the UN Conference on Disarmanent on June 5th, 1997 saying: "Let us hope that the practical implementation of the ... Act will help to enhance security in Europe". "We will be able to ascertain in the nearest future that our optimism is a well-founded one. I have in mind the negotiations in Vienna to adapt the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty to the new, post-confrontational environment in Europe." (Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the CD: Statement by H.E. Mr Evgueni M.Primakov, Geneva, 5.6.1997, p.1). NATO's Madrid Summit is facing the challenge.


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