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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]


Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): Flank Agreement& Treaty

by Steve Bowman

Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division


States parties to the CFE treaty have entered negotiations to "adapt"the treaty to the military-political situation in Europe following thedissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The last several yearshave seen some modifications already: the Tashkent Agreement allocating responsibility for the former USSR's military equipment among its successorstates; and the Flank Agreement permitting greater Russian equipment deploymentsprimarily in the Caucasus in acknowledgement of the region's instability.At the May 1996 CFE Review Conference, it was agreed that broader range negotiations were needed to re-shape the treaty's provisions in accordance with a very different political-miliary environment. These negotiationswill take place over the next four years, concurrent with the expectedexpansion of NATO membership. And, it is in the context of these potentially difficult negotiations that current NATO nations, the countries of Eastern Europe, and Russia will seek to establish a military force structure throughoutEurope that can provide security and stability for all CFE states parties.At the May 1996 Conference, consensus was also reached on theFlank Agreement, which has been held to be provisionally inforce until May 15, 1997, to allow each nation to carry outits approval procedures.


The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) wassigned in November 1990, and entered into force two yearslater. The product of almost two decades of negotiationsbetween the 22 nations of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, CFE placedalliance-wide, regional (zonal), and national ceilings onspecific major items of military equipment. (See Endnote 1.) The purpose of the treaty is to promote stability in Europenot only by reducing armaments, but also by reducing thepossibility of surprise attack by preventing large regionalconcentrations of forces.The CFE treaty also provides for 1) very detailed data exchanges on equipment, force structure, and trainingmaneuvers; 2) specific procedures for the destruction orredistribution of excess equipment, and 3) verification of compliance through on-site inspections. Its implementationhas resulted in an unprecedented reduction of conventional arms in Europe, with over 50,000 treaty-limited items ofequipment (TLEs) removed or destroyed, and is assessed by almost all to have achieved most of its initial objectives.(See Endnote 2.) The CFE states parties now face thechallenge of sustaining the treaty's achievements while acknowledging a significantly altered geo-political reality.The CFE treaty did not anticipate the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, let alone the expansion ofNATO membership to include East European countries. Consequently, recent years have been occupied with efforts toadapt the treaty to the new security environment of itsmembers. The first of these was the so-called "TashkentAgreement", signed in May 1992, which allocated responsibilityfor the Soviet Union's TLEs among its successor states --Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. It also established equipment ceilingsfor each nation and the implied responsibility for thedestruction/transfer of equipment necessary to meet thesenational ceilings. The total equipment level under theTashkent Agreement does not exceed that assigned the formerSoviet Union under CFE.


Under the CFE treaty all equipment reductions necessary tocomply with overall, national, and zonal ceilings were to havebeen completed by November 1995. As this deadline approached,it had been evident for some time that Russia would not meetthose requirements, particularly in the so-called "flankzones". The "flank zones" include the Leningrad MilitaryDistrict in the north, and the North Caucasus MilitaryDistrict in the south, and a small portion of southeasternUkraine. The outbreak of armed ethnic conflicts in and aroundthe Caucasus, most notably in Chechnya, led to Russian claimsfor the need to deploy equipment in excess of treaty limits inthat zone.Russia placed this claim in the context of broader assertionsthat some CFE provisions reflected old Cold War assumptionsand did not fairly address its new national security concerns. It questioned the appropriateness of being limited in thestationing of its military forces within its own borders. Itpointed out that no other CFE nation (with the exception of asmall portion of Ukraine) is under such restrictions, andsuggested this was an unacceptable infringement on itsnational sovereignty. Russia also maintained that itsmilitary activities in the Caucasus, and hence the need foradditional stationed forces in the "flank zone", respondedtoa legitimate national security concern. Accompanying theseassertions were also claims that national economic hardshipwas making restationing unaffordable in some cases.Though initially not all states parties viewed the Russianposition sympathetically, (Norway and Turkey, which border theRussian "flank zone" voiced significant reservations), aconsensus was reached in November 1995 to examine ways toalleviate the Russian complaints. This effort, conductedwithin the CFE's Joint Consultative Group (JCG), resulted inthe Flank Agreement. This agreement was signed by all statesparties at the CFE Review Conference on May 31, 1996. TheReview Conference also stipulated that the agreement would beprovisionally in force until May 15, 1997, while statesparties completed their formal approval procedures. Originally, the Administration submitted the Agreement to boththe House and Senate for simple majority approval. However,during negotiations over the Chemical Weapons Conventionratification, the Senate successfully pressed its claim thatthe Agreement was a treaty modification requiring only theadvice and consent of the Senate by two-thirds majority. OnMay 8, 1997 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votedunanimously (17-0) to report the Flank Agreement favorably tothe Senate.In its essentials, the Flank Agreement removes severalRussian (and one Ukrainian) administrative districts from theold "flank zone", thus permitting current flank equipmentceilings to apply to a smaller area. In addition, Russia nowhas until May 1999 to reduce its forces to meet the new limit.

To provide some counterbalance to these adjustments,reporting requirements were enhanced, inspection rights in thezone increased, and subzone district ceilings were placed onarmored combat vehicles to prevent their concentration.

The Flank Agreement also permits the reallocation of nationalequipment quotas among the USSR successor states through "freenegotiations". In practice, this could allow a nation whoseequipment holdings are below its allotted number to cede this"excess" allotment to another nation. The Tashkent Agreementalso provided this flexibility, but conditioned it uponconsensus of all Tashkent signatories. The Flank Agreementappears to supersede this by permitting reallocations throughbilateral negotiations. This has raised concerns that smallUSSR successor states, e.g. Georgia, would be open to coercionby Russia to cede part of their allocations. The UnitedStates has sought to mitigate this concern by indicating itswillingness to mediate any reallocation negotiation to ensureits fairness. This action does not address the concern overbilateral rather than consensus negotiations among Tashkentsignatories.

The Agreement also reiterates the CFE provision allowing the"temporary" deployment of equipment on the territory of otherstates parties with their permission. There is now concernthat the CFE Treaty and Flank Agreement do not define"temporary", and that this provision could lead to deploymentsthat are essentially indefinite in nature. Consequently, somehave argued that a more stringent understanding of "temporary"must be established. It has also been pointed out, however,that though a strict definition could serve to reduce Russianmilitary operation in its border regions, it could also hamperoperations that NATO may wish to undertake, such as the U.S.transit/staging operations in Europe seen during the PersianGulf War.

Though most the most attention has been paid to the southernsection of the Flank Zone, the Agreement's provisions alsopermit larger numbers of equipment in the Pskov regionadjacent to the Baltic nations (Latvia, Lithuania, andEstonia). This has exacerbated these countries' worries abouthow the West intends to address their security concerns. Geographically vulnerable, militarily weak, and not offeredmembership in any defensive alliance, these nations areseeking reliable assurances that they will be protected fromRussian encroachment. The Flank Agreement, in their eyes,appears to ignore these concerns.


Perhaps the most significant decision taken at the 1996 CFEReview Conference was to begin negotiations in January 1997for further adaptation of the treaty in light of thedissolution of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, and the probableextension of NATO membership to some East European nations. It is intended to complete these negotiations within the nextfour years, though it is hoped a negotiating framework will beagreed to by mid-summer. The following topics are expected tocome under discussion.

  • Re-examination of the treaty structure and limits whichwere based on the existence of both NATO and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact
  • Effectiveness of the CFE zone limits in preventing concentrationsof military forces
  • Crisis management procedures
  • Enhanced verification procedures

Most CFE states parties do not want to engage in a completerenegotiation of the treaty; stating concern over losing CFEaccomplishments in reducing intra-European tensions. CurrentNATO members, in particular, would prefer minimal adaptations. Russia, however, has a stronger interest in broader revisions. Its military situation is markedly difficult than ten yearsago. The Soviet Union has ceased to exist, resulting in aloss of military resources. Moscow's only military alliance,the Warsaw Pact, dissolved and Russian forward stationing oftroops in Eastern Europe is no longer possible. Economicdislocation has adversely affected military morale andreadiness, while ethnic uprisings in the Caucasus havechallenged its governmental and military capabilities. Themost serious Russian focus is, however, on the contemplatedenlargement of NATO into Eastern Europe and how CFE can beadapted to mitigate what many Russian policy-makers see as anencroaching threat. Despite NATO assurances of thealliance's defensive nature and NATO's refusal to establish aspecific link between CFE and NATO expansion, Russian leadersperceive a significant shift in the balance of military power,and are adamant that any CFE adaptation take this intoaccount.

Ironically, a preeminent Russian desire is to maintain whatmany consider an anachronistic element of the current CFEstructure: the alliance-wide equipment ceilings. Russiareasons that NATO should not be allowed uncontrolled growth inmilitary equipment as it expands its membership into EasternEurope. An alliance-wide cap on NATO would presumably forceadjustments of national holdings as the alliance grew, and itcould be expected that such adjustments would not favor newmember nations close to Russia's borders. NATO, notunexpectedly, argues that negotiations must move beyond theold "alliance-to-alliance" structures of CFE, given thedisappearance of the Warsaw Pact, and would prefer to focus onregional and national equipment ceilings.

It is expected that the negotiations will result inadditional overall armaments reductions in the Atlantic-to-the-Urals region, but the size of such reductions remains atquestion. Some Russian spokesmen have suggested up to afurther 20%, but NATO members have suggested 15% as moreconsistent with robust national defense force structures. Most NATO members are also concerned with maintaining forcescapable of meeting emerging "out-of-area" threats to Europeansecurity are not related to Russia, e.g. Bosnia.

Originally, the CFE treaty was most concerned aboutpreventing a high-intensity conflict in the center of Europe. It is probable that NATO members, and those nations aspiringto NATO membership, will seek to redirect this focus to allowgreater flexibility in central zone military force structure,in the event of alliance enlargement, to provide reasonablenational security. Russia is likely to find this inimical toits interests, and has already expressed a desire for newtypes of limits in the central zone. These includeprohibitions on: 1) stationing U.S. or West European NATOtroops in East European countries; 2) construction of newmilitary infrastructure (e.g. airfields); and 3) restrictionson deployment of nuclear-capable aircraft. Russia hasindicated that it considers political assurances on theseissues inadequate, and will seek legally-binding commitmentswithin CFE. (See Endnote 3.)

The CFE Adaptation negotiations will be on-going as NATObegins its anticipated membership growth over the next severalyears. This will confront negotiators with a dynamicallychanging landscape, and with challenges stemming not only frommilitary considerations, but also from national domesticpolitical concerns. The concurrence of these two processes,however, perhaps offers a unusual opportunity to deal withpotentially destabilizing tensions in an immediate fashion,rather than allowing hard-line adversarial positions to re-emerge.


(1)The CFE treaty limits battle tanks, artillery, armoredcombat vehicles, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft. Other types of equipment, while not limited by the treaty aresubject to operating restrictions and reporting requirements: primary trainer aircraft, unarmed trainer aircraft, combatsupport helicopters, unarmed transport helicopters, armoredvehicle-launched bridges, armored personnel carrier "look-alikes" and armored combat vehicle "look-alikes".

(2)Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe: A Review andUpdate of Key Treaty Elements. Arms Control and DisarmamentAgency, December, 1996.

(3)Ministry of Foreign Affairs Stresses Seriousness of NewCFE Proposals, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, DocumentNo. FBIS-SOV-97-017.

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