Text Browser Navigation Bar: Main Site Navigation and Search | Current Page Navigation | Current Page Content

U.S. Army War College >> Strategic Studies Institute >> Publications >> The CFE Treaty: A Cold War Anachronism? >> Summary

Login to "My SSI" Contact About SSI Cart: 0 items

The CFE Treaty: A Cold War Anachronism?

Authored by Dr. Jeffrey D. McCausland. | February 1995

Share | |   Print   Email


This study examines the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with respect to the process of implementation to date and prospects for final implementation in November 1995. It describes the basic points of the treaty and the danger posed by the ongoing disagreement between NATO and the Russian Federation over the limitations imposed by the treaty on Russian forces in the "flank areas" (Leningrad and North Caucasus Military Districts in the Russian Federation). It analyzes the positions of the primary NATO members, Russian Federation, Ukraine, as well as the United States, and places the treaty in the broader context of Russian foreign policy and the future of conventional arms control. The main findings are as follows.


On November 19, 1990 the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty was signed in Paris following the successful completion of 20 months of negotiations between the members of NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO). At its completion, President Bush hailed the agreement as ending the ". . . military confrontation that has cursed Europe for decades."1 Despite the dramatic nature of this document, the large scale reduction required of all signatories, and the complex inspection regime it established, the completion of the treaty was overshadowed by the ongoing deterioration of the Warsaw Pact, end of the Berlin Wall, and impending conflict in the Persian Gulf between Iraq and the coalition headed by the United States. Even these events paled to insignificance in comparison to the dissolution of the Soviet Union roughly one year later. Consequently, many observers announced the imminent demise of the CFE Treaty. The London Times, for example, sounded a particularly distressing note when it announced: "Europe"s most ambitious arms control treaty risks becoming unworkable because of the Soviet Union"s disintegration."2

Almost paradoxically, the CFE Treaty has survived the early reports of its demise. This is perhaps testimony to its value and the relative importance participating states attach to it. Ongoing changes did slow its entry into force as it was not provisionally applied until July 17, 1992. It became legally binding on all parties 10 days after the last country deposited its instruments of ratification which was not until November 9, 1992. 3The purpose of this study is to examine the future viability of the CFE Treaty for the United States. This suggests two additional queries: Will the treaty be fully implemented within the 40 months allocated? If so, what are the prospects for future conventional arms control in Europe?

The rapid pace of the CFE negotiations, the ability of participating states to deal with extraordinary change, and the steady progress towards full implementation illustrate many of the primary aspects of arms control in general and conventional arms control specifically. First, arms control only serves as a part of any nation"s overall national security strategy. As such it is a "method" to be used in seeking the overall "objective" of improved security. It is not an objective in isolation. Consequently, though the focus of any negotiation is the details of the prospective agreement, the arms control process must always be consistent with the overall direction of national security strategy. Second, "arms control" differs significantly from "disarmament." While this may seem self-evident to most people, the terms are misused so frequently that it deserves emphasis. "Arms control" is a policy method whereby states seek through negotiations to improve their security. It can not change ideologies and may not reduce hostilities. Normally objectives are to improve predictability, diminish the possibility of miscalculation (particularly in a crisis), and reduce confrontation. "Disarmament," however, is either unilateral or imposed on states normally by the victors in war such as Germany and Japan after World War II or Iraq (to some degree) following the Gulf War. Third, arms control is a political process and can not be divorced from other aspects of a nation"s security or foreign policy. It is affected by domestic events, other issues between states, and the bureaucratic process of the participating parties. Consequently, progress in one arms control forum may be affected (positively or negatively) by the success or failure of other negotiations and previous agreements. Lastly, conventional arms control is more difficult and less likely to result in success than nuclear arms control. The military resources at issue in a conventional negotiation are complex components of a nation's overall military capability. Furthermore, as in CFE, conventional negotiations are coalition or alliance undertakings which means that the political and economic institutions of many states are both involved and affected by the result. The final result must improve the overall security of all member states and be consistent with agreed alliance strategy.4


1. Lee Feinstein, "CFE: Off the Endangered List?", Arms Control Today, October 1993, p. 3.

2. Ibid., pp. 2-3.

3. NATO Office of Information and Press, "Basic Fact Sheet-- chronology of Key Arms Control Treaties and Agreements (1963- 1994)," Brussels: NATO Information Service, April 1994, pp. 3-5.

4. For a good discussion of many of these factors see Ralph A. Hallenbeck and David E. Shaver, On Disarmament: the Role of Conventional Arms Control in National Security Strategy, Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 1990, pp. 17-18.