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Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty)

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The CFE Treaty of 1990 is the cornerstone treaty on conventional arms control in Europe. It limits the number of heavy conventional weapon systems in Europe, provides for the regular exchange of military information and offers the possibility of mutual verification.

conventional arms control
Conventional arms control© picture-alliance/dpa
The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) was concluded in 1990 between the then member states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It entered into force in 1992 and was intended to create a secure and stable balance of conventional armed forces at lower levels and to eliminate their capability to launch surprise attacks or large‑scale offensives in Europe.

The CFE Treaty limits the number of heavy conventional weapon systems, i.e. battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, pieces of artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters. It increases predictability and mutual trust by having states notify one another in detail of their relevant holdings and host on‑site inspections so that notifications can be verified.

By the mid‑nineties, the reductions required by the treaty had resulted in the destruction of some 60,000 heavy weapons systems. Greater transparency and enhanced cooperation between the armed forces also increased mutual trust. The CFE Treaty was supplemented with a so‑called flank agreement in 1996 in order to grant Russia and Ukraine greater room for manoeuvre in locating their conventional armed forces in specifically designated regions. All in all, the CFE Treaty played a major part in ending the arms build‑up in Europe and reducing military tensions in the turbulent years following the end of the Cold War.

The States Parties agreed on an Adapted CFE Treaty (A-CFE) in 1999 with the intention of bringing the treaty in line with changes to the security‑policy environment in Europe. However, the adapted treaty has yet to enter into force as the vast majority of CFE States Parties consider its ratification to be impossible while Russia has still to meet its voluntary commitment to completely withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia.

Russia suspended its implementation of the CFE Treaty in December 2007, citing the justification that the treaty currently in force no longer reflected Russian security needs. In view of Russia’s continuing refusal to restart implementation of the CFE Treaty, the NATO states and Moldova and Georgia also ceased to implement the treaty as it relates to Russia at the end of 2011. Ukraine also took this step at the beginning of April 2015. All States Parties except Russia are continuing to implement the treaty, i.e. they exchange information on their armed forces and carry out mutual inspections.

Russia also suspended its participation in the Joint Consultative Group of the CFE Treaty in March 2015. The country still officially remains a CFE State Party.

New approach

The German Government continues to regard conventional arms control in Europe as a crucial and indispensable part of any cooperative European security architecture. The CFE Treaty of 1990, which all CFE States Parties except Russia are currently implementing, still serves to enhance predictability, stability and mutual trust in Europe.

That said, the German Government does consider the present situation to be less than satisfactory. It therefore continues to be actively committed to the comprehensive modernisation of conventional arms control in Europe. The Federal Government is calling for a new approach in this regard, with the focus less on what large military equipment there is and more on how transparently current military capabilities are communicated. The intention is to dismantle persistent distrust and make any military developments easier to predict. This new approach is also intended to assist regional stabilisation and reintegrate Russia in cooperative arrangements.

Entering into talks and negotiations on this issue in the future will depend to a large extent on the security‑policy environment in Europe.