Global Insights: As NATO and Russia Argue, CFE Treaty Gathers Dust

Global Insights: As NATO and Russia Argue, CFE Treaty Gathers Dust

At a NATO-Russia Council meeting last week, Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, complained about Moscow’s failure to provide advance notice of its recent large-scale military exercises. Gottemoeller stated that Russia had notified the U.S. about an exercise of “unprecedented size” in the Eastern Military District only as the activity commenced, while Washington “received word of the large aviation exercise in the Western Military District only through press reports.”

According to the Russians, the “snap” exercises were designed to test the Russian military’s day-to-day readiness without advance warning of any drill. In addition, they have accused NATO of continuing military exercises that implicitly posit Russia as an aggressor. For example, the Steadfast Jazz war games that will occur in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland this November will rehearse defending alliance members from conventional attack. The Russian Defense Ministry called the scenario, officially intended to certify command and control elements of the NATO Response Force, a “relic of the Cold War.”

The NATO-Russian spat underscores the imperative of upgrading European security mechanisms, particularly the languishing Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Moscow still adamantly refuses to rejoin the original treaty, signed in Paris in November 1990, which established limits on the major conventional weapons systems, such as tanks and attack helicopters, that could be possessed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact, at the time still operational. It also imposed a series of reporting and notification requirements concerning various military exercises and other activities. In an April 2013 speech at a Geneva disarmament conference, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that the “CFE Treaty and associated arrangements based on the principles of the Cold War are absolutely outdated. At least Russia will never return to them. We need a new approach to address the issues of conventional arms control.”

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