Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 207

Diplomats in Vienna had hoped to wrap up the negotiations on the “adapted” Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty at the end of last week but clearly failed to do so. The signing of the new treaty was to have been one of the highlights of the upcoming Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While the treaty is not technically an OSCE document–it pertains to only thirty of the fifty-three OSCE members–many regard it as the cornerstone of European security. The OSCE has sponsored it for several years.

The treaty, conceived during the Cold War but signed in 1990, has a complicated system of concentric geographic zones, each with collective limits on five categories of offensive weapons for the two opposing military blocs–NATO and the Warsaw Pact. There is also a subset of “flanks” limits which pertains to the holdings on what had been the northern and southern flanks of the NATO/Warsaw Pact confrontation. Many of these concepts were obsolete from the start. In 1996 work began to “adapt” the treaty to contemporary Europe without starting from scratch. National limits would replace the original bloc limits but, much to Russia’s annoyance, a vast majority of the signatories insisted on keeping the flanks concept with its limits in the revised treaty.

Russian forces in the treaty’s flanks zone are those in the Leningrad and North Caucasus military districts plus the Russian troops stationed in Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. The treaty entered into force in July 1992. From the beginning the Russians argued that the secessionist movement in Chechnya and the ethnic civil wars in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia required a larger Russian military presence in the region than the treaty would allow. At a May 1996 review conference, the treaty signatories agreed to allow the Russians more equipment on the flanks by both raising the limits and tinkering with the geography of the zone. These changes were not enough for the Russians, who had some 1,500 more treaty-limited weapons–especially armored combat vehicles (ACVs)–than allowed on the flanks when the liberalized rules went into effect at the end of May this year.

In March, the parties to the treaty signed a preliminary agreement on amending the treaty, in which they proposed to raise the Russian ACV flank limit by a further 760 on the condition that the Russians withdraw their troops from Moldova and reduce their military presence in Georgia. It seems unlikely that either condition will be met in the near future. Indeed, disagreement over the Russian military presence in Georgia is at least one of the reasons why the details of the new treaty–which must be approved by each of the thirty participants–could not be finalized last week.

The Russians would like the Georgians to cede part of their CFE quotas to Russia and to allow the Russians to maintain their bases in Georgia for at least twenty-five years. On November 5, military talks in Moscow between the two countries broke down. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze said that the Russians wanted to draw Georgia into the war in Chechnya while the head of the Georgian delegation in Vienna, Nika Vashakidze, briefed his colleagues in the CFE talks that the final Russian proposals took no account of his country’s interests and were unacceptable.

Russia has championed the OSCE as the preeminent security organization in Europe and the diplomats in the foreign ministry at least are probably appalled that this latest impasse might cast Russia as the villain should there be nothing to sign in Istanbul. The generals, on the other hand, seem hardly in a mood to compromise. They could be more concerned with Georgia’s 80-kilometer border with Chechnya than with an arms treaty they have never particularly liked. (International press, November 5-6).