Will NATO and Russia once again count tanks and aircraft in Europe?


MOSCOW. (Alexander Khramchikhin for RIA Novosti) - The 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) established equal quotas for NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the number of tanks, artillery (weapons with a caliber over 100 mm), armored combat vehicles, aircraft and attack helicopters.

Now almost all Warsaw Pact countries, and some republics of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia (which was never part of the Warsaw Pact) have joined NATO, thereby invalidating the treaty geopolitically.

A modified version of the CFE treaty established national quotas instead of bloc limits. It was signed in 1999 but has not been ratified by a single NATO country - ostensibly because of Russia's failure to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Transdnestr, a breakaway region of Moldova. The treaty has flank limitations, but they mainly affect Russia. In fact, Russia finds them very inconvenient, especially in the country's south (mainly, the Caucasus).

Some NATO members - Slovenia and the three Baltic nations - are not parties to the CFE treaty. This means that in theory they can have armed forces of any strength, and let NATO deploy as many troops as it wants on their territory. Russia is not worried about Slovenia in this context, but it is very concerned about Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

But all the inconveniences of the CFE exist only in theory. In practice, not a single one of its 30 signatories has as many of the five types of weapons covered by the treaty as its quota allows (four countries - Iceland, Kazakhstan, Canada and Luxembourg - have no such weapons at all). South Caucasian countries have run into some problems because of unrecognized states on their territories - Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia - with strong armies that are completely beyond the control of the recognized governments. Moreover, it is not clear how such forces should be counted - formally, the Karabakh army must be included in Azerbaijan's quota, whereas in reality it belongs to Armenia. But South Caucasian problems do not concern anyone outside the region.

Russia's displeasure with CFE limitations is surprising because like most countries, it has fewer weapons than the quota allows. It is not clear, either, why Russia is worried about NATO's eastward expansion because it has been accompanied by rapid arms reductions both by its old and new members. Today, NATO's 26 members have 33% fewer weapons of all classes than its 16 participants had in 1991, and these reductions are continuing.

The four NATO countries that are outside the CFE treaty have purely symbolic armed forces, especially the Baltic republics. All three of them combined have only three hopelessly obsolete tanks (Latvian T-55s) and four aircraft (Lithuanian L-39s) that can be classified as military, and even then with reservations. The only foreign force on their territory is a group of four fighters (rotated every six months, representing all NATO countries with air forces) deployed at the Zokniai base in Lithuania at the request of the Baltic nations.

There are no NATO bases at all in eastern Europe. To be more precise, the term "NATO base" can be applied to some facilities in Afghanistan, but that is all. All other military installations are national. There are no foreign military facilities in new NATO members except for Zokniai.

American forces in Europe are also being rapidly decreased. In the late 1980s, there were four divisions (plus one brigade in West Berlin) and nine tactical wings of the U.S. Air Force. Now there are two divisions, one brigade and three wings; moreover, both divisions are actually not even in Germany but in Iraq. The United States has signed agreements on leasing some facilities in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, where it will deploy only small numbers of technical and auxiliary personnel. It is possible to deploy rather large contingents at local facilities, but this would take time, so any surprise attack is out of the question. But the main point is that today the United States does not have the potential for conducting operations outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the Iraqi syndrome has taken away American society's appetite for armed conflicts, thus depriving the U.S. of the ability to conduct any more or less serious wars for a long time to come.

European pacifism presents an even bigger problem for NATO. If neither the people, nor governments, nor armies are ready to go to war, it does not matter how many weapons a particular army has, and of what quality. The operation in Afghanistan is a case in point. Continental European countries are sending only symbolic contingents there, and even these units adamantly refuse to fight despite Washington's growing insistence.

All this is readily apparent. The seizure of 15 British sailors is also telling. There is no need to comment on their conduct in captivity.

For these reasons, NATO does not pose any threat to Russia. This does not mean that the CFE treaty should be buried. Unilateral withdrawal from it would not be in Russia's interests because it would help Washington achieve what it wants the most: to unite NATO in the face of a "new threat from the East."

It would be much more sensible for Russia to offer two possibilities for the treaty to be overhauled.

The first option: instead of being measured against the Warsaw Pact, NATO forces should equal those of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Members of the latter who are also signatories of the CFE treaty include Russia, Belarus, Armenia and Kazakhstan.  All flank limits should be canceled. Instead, the sides should agree that a change in the membership of an alliance should not alter the total ceiling of armaments that it is allowed to have. Admission of a new country to an alliance or withdrawal from it should be offset by the redistribution of limits between its members, while the total ceiling should remain the same. The existing limits may be preserved for countries that are not members of any bloc (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Naturally enough, the treaty should include Slovenia and the Baltic countries as well as Croatia, Albania and Macedonia if they join NATO.

The second option is that NATO could be regarded as equivalent to Russia, or since this is not very realistic, the sides could establish a ratio for all types of armaments, for instance 1.5-to-one. They should also accept a ceiling for NATO's weapons, regardless of its expansion.

Since the existing quotas are too high anyway, Russia should propose much lower ones, for itself as well. Such cuts would not run counter to anyone's interests - the sides would simply get rid of obsolete weapons if they had any. But the signing of a new treaty would substantially build trust and reduce tensions.


Alexander Khramchikhin heads the analytical department at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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