Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe

Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe

The original Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was negotiated and concluded during the last years of the Cold War and established comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment in Europe (from the Atlantic to the Urals) and mandated the destruction of excess weaponry. The treaty proposed equal limits for the two "groups of states-parties", the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact.




In 1972, US president Richard Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev reached a compromise agreement to hold separate political and military negotiations.[1] The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) would deal with political issues, and Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) with military issues. The CSCE resulted in 1975 in 35 nations signing the concluding document: the Helsinki Final Act. Negotiations for MBFR were stalled by the USSR in 1979 because of NATO's decision to deploy new intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. In 1986, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev proposed in the context of MBFR negotiations to reduce ground and air forces, and to include conventional and nuclear weapons from the Atlantic to the Urals. This proposal was later that year formalized during a Warsaw Treaty meeting. NATO's North Atlantic Council of foreign ministers issued the Brussels Declaration on Conventional Arms Control, which called for two distinct sets of negotiations: one to build on the Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBM) results of the Stockholm Conference and the other to establish conventional stability in Europe through negotiations on conventional arms control from the Atlantic to the Urals (ATTU). In 1987, the Stockholm Document entered into force and provided for the first time for a negotiated right to conduct on-site inspections of military forces in the field.

Informal talks between the 16 NATO and the 7 Warsaw Treaty nations began in Vienna on February 17, 1987 on a mandate for conventional negotiations in Europe, which would set out treaty negotiating guidelines.[1] Several months later, on June 27, NATO presented a draft mandate during the 23-nation conference in Vienna. The mandate called for elimination of force disparities, capability for surprise attack, and large-scale offensive operations, and the establishment of an effective verification system. Meanwhile, in December the INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union was signed, effectively allowing mutual inspections. During the May–June 1988 Moscow Summit, US President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev emphasized the importance of stability and security in Europe, specifically calling for data exchange, verification of these data, and then reductions. In December Gorbachev announced at the United Nations a unilateral withdrawal of 50,000 troops from Eastern Europe, and demobilization of 500,000 Soviet troops.

CFE negotiations

In January 1989, NATO and the Warsaw Treaty members produced the Mandate for the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The mandate set out objectives for the CFE Treaty and established negotiating principles, and formal negotiations began on March 9, 1989 in Vienna. When US President George H.W. Bush and France's President François Mitterrand met in May, Bush announced the acceptance of reductions of combat aircraft and helicopters. He also proposed a ceiling of 275,000 personnel stationed in Europe by the US and Soviet Union. Bush's proposal was formally adopted during the 1989 Brussels NATO summit and subsequently presented in Vienna. In November the Berlin Wall fell and in the following months revolutions broke out in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Bush and Gorbachev agreed to speed up arms control and economic negotiations. Bush proposed even steeper reductions, and the Soviet Union negotiated and concluded troop withdrawal agreements with Warsaw Treaty states.



All members of the two blocs (NATO in blue, Warsaw Treaty in red) signed the CFE treaty in 1990.

The Treaty was signed in Paris on November 19, 1990 by 22 states.[2] These were divided into two groups:


The CFE treaty members of 1992 differ from the signatories in 1990 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the split of Czechoslovakia.

In 1991 the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty dissolved and Czechoslovakia was in the middle of splitting into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which explains why the treaty was ratified by 30 rather than 22 states:[3]

  • The then-16 NATO members
  • The eight former USSR republics that have territory west of the Urals, and the other six former Warsaw Treaty members. These former USSR republics include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. The six Warsaw Treaty members include: Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania. The former non-USSR Warsaw Treaty members (but Albania) and the three Baltic states became NATO members in 1999 or 2004. In 1994 several former USSR republics formed the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). As of 2006 the following countries are CSTO members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Uzbekistan.

The treaty entered into force on July 17, 1992.[4] Russia notified other signatories of its intended suspension of the CFE on July 14, 2007.


On May 31, 1996, the treaty was amended by the so-called flank agreement, which relaxed the restrictions for Russia and Ukraine in the flank region defined in Article V, subparagraph 1(A) of the treaty.[5]


Troop ceilings

The CFE Treaty sets equal ceilings for each bloc (NATO and the Warsaw Treaty), from the Atlantic to the Urals, on key armaments essential for conducting surprise attacks and initiating large-scale offensive operations. Collectively, the treaty participants have agreed that neither side may have more than:[4]

  • 20,000 tanks;
  • 20,000 artillery pieces;
  • 30,000 armored combat vehicles (ACVs);
  • 6,800 combat aircraft; and
  • 2,000 attack helicopters.

To further limit the readiness of armed forces, the treaty sets equal ceilings on equipment that may be with active units. Other ground equipment must be in designated permanent storage sites. The limits for equipment each side may have in active units are:[4]

  • 16,500 tanks;
  • 17,000 artillery pieces; and
  • 27,300 armored combat vehicles (ACVs);

The treaty further limits the proportion of armaments that can be held by any one country in Europe to about one-third of the total for all countries in Europe - the "sufficiency" rule. These limits are:[4]

  • 13,300 tanks;
  • 13,700 artillery pieces;
  • 20,000 armored combat vehicles (ACVs);
  • 5,150 combat aircraft; and
  • 1,500 attack helicopters.

All sea-based Naval forces are excluded from CFE Treaty accountability.[6]

Regional arrangements

In addition to limits on the number of armaments in each category on each side, the treaty includes regional limits to prevent destabilizing force concentrations of ground equipment.[6]


To meet required troop ceilings, equipment had to be destroyed or, if possible, converted to non-military purposes.[4]


The treaty included unprecedented provisions for detailed information exchanges, on-site inspections, challenge inspections, and on-site monitoring of destruction.[4] Treaty parties received an unlimited right to monitor the process of destruction.

Joint Consultative Group

Finally, the Treaty established in Vienna a body composed of all Treaty members, called the Joint Consultative Group (JCG),[3] which deals with questions relating to compliance with the provisions of the Treaty. The group aims to:[7]

  • Resolve ambiguities and differences in interpretation
  • Consider measures that enhance the Treaty's viability and effectiveness
  • Resolve technical questions
  • Look into disputes that may arise from the Treaty's implementation


After the treaty entered into force, a 4-month baseline inspection period began. Twenty-five percent of the destruction had to be completed by the end of 1 year, 60% by the end of 2 years, and all destruction required by the treaty completed by the end of 3 years.

The principal accomplishment was the large-scale reduction or destruction of conventional military equipment in the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains (ATTU) region during the first 5 years the Treaty was in effect.[2] By the end of the Treaty's reduction period in 1995, when equipment limits took effect, the 30 States Parties completed and verified by inspection the destruction or conversion of over 52,000 battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, combat aircraft and attack helicopters. In addition, they have conducted/accepted over 4,000 intrusive on-site inspections of military units/installations, and of specified areas.

NATO mostly fulfilled its obligations by destroying its oldest equipment. Also, NATO members with newer equipment, such as the United States, agreed to transfer some of this equipment to allies with older equipment.[4]

Compliance problems


The US plans to create bases in Romania and Bulgaria would, according to Russia, constitute a breach of the treaty.[8] NATO officials dispute this and say that the US bases are not intended as permanent and thus cannot be seen as a breach, but the agreements signed with both Romania and Bulgaria in 2006 specifically allow for permanent bases under direct American control and The Washington Times also obtained the confirmation of a senior US official that the facilities are intended to be permanent.[citation needed]

Former USSR Republics

A June 1998 Clinton administration report stated that Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan were not in compliance with the CFE treaty.[9] Violations ranged from holdings of treaty-limited equipment (TLE) in excess of CFE ceilings to denial of full access during treaty inspections. The report concluded that the compliance issues were not "militarily significant" and Russia and Ukraine, the former USSR republics with the largest holdings among the Eastern bloc, remained within their treaty limits.

In the run-up to the OSCE's November 1999 Istanbul summit, NATO members perceived three treaty compliance problems.[10] First of all, the continuing existence of Russian equipment holdings in the "flank" region (i.e. Russia's North Caucasus Military District, which includes among others Chechnya) were in excess of agreed treaty limits. Secondly, the Russian military presence in Georgia was beyond the level authorised by the Georgian authorities. Thirdly, the Russian military presence in Moldova lacked the explicit consent of the Moldovan authorities.

During the summit, 30 OSCE members signed the adapted CFE treaty and Russia assumed the obligation to withdraw from the Republic of Moldova, reduce her equipment levels in Georgia and agree with the Georgian authorities on the modalities and duration of the Russian forces stationed on the territory of Georgia, and reduce their forces in the flanks to the agreed levels of the Adapted CFE Treaty.[10] These agreements became known as the "Istanbul Commitments" and are contained in 14 Annexes to the CFE Final Act and within the 1999 Istanbul Summit Declaration.

NATO members refused to ratify the treaty as long as Russia refused to completely withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia[11] soil. While Russia partially withdrew troops and equipment from Georgia and Moldova, it did not do so completely as demanded by NATO.

Follow-up agreements

Concluding Act of the Negotiation on Personnel Strength of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE-1A)

CFE-1A negotiations began shortly after the original CFE Treaty was signed in 1990.[4] CFE-1A is unlike the original CFE treaty not a legally binding treaty, but a political commitment that simultaneously came into force with the CFE treaty and served as a follow-up agreement.[6] The commitment was that all signatories of the CFE Treaty have undertaken steps to improve further confidence and security in the ATTU region. CFE-1A commits the 30 members of the treaty to establish manpower limits and, if necessary, to reduce the existing manpower levels within the CFE area of application to reach these limits. The United States is limited under this commitment to have no more than 250,000 troops in the area of application. As an additional source of security assurance, the CFE -1A agreement requires the parties to provide advanced notification of increases made to the force levels. The compliance with the CFE-1A agreement by a member is evaluated during on-site inspections conducted under the CFE Treaty.

Agreement on Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE-II)

The Agreement on Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (also known as the adapted CFE treaty) is a revision of the original treaty and was signed during the November 1999 Istanbul summit and took into account the different geopolitical situation of the post-Cold War era by setting national instead of bloc-based limits on conventional armed forces. NATO members refused to ratify the treaty as long as Russia refused to completely withdraw its troops from Moldovan and Georgian soil. While Russia partially withdrew troops and equipment from Georgia and Moldova, it did not do so completely as demanded by NATO. The linkage between the ratification of the adapted treaty and the complete withdrawal has no legal basis, but is rather a political decision made by NATO members.

Suspension by Russia

After Russia was not willing to support the US missile defense plans in Europe, Putin warned a "moratorium" on the treaty in his April 26, 2007 address, and then raised most of its demands for rewriting the treaty during the Extraordinary Conference of States Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, held in Vienna on June 11–15 at Russia’s initiative.[12] As his demands were not met during this conference, Putin issued a decree intended to suspend the observance of its treaty obligations on July 14, 2007, effective 150 days later, stating that it was the result of "extraordinary circumstances (...) which affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures," and notified NATO and its members.[13][14] The suspension applies to the original CFE treaty, as well as to the follow-up agreements.[12]


An explanatory document from Russia’s presidential administration mentions several reasons for its intention to suspend compliance.[12] First of all, Russia considers the linkage between the adapted treaty ratification and the withdrawal of troops from Georgia and Moldova as "illegitimate" and "invented". Russia also considers the troop-withdrawal issue a bilateral Russia-Georgia and Russia-Moldova issue, not a NATO-Russia issue. Secondly, the three Baltic states, which border Russia unlike the rest of NATO (excluding Poland and Norway), are not covered under the original CFE treaty as they were still part of the Soviet Union when the treaty was signed.[12] Also, the Baltic states like all NATO members did not ratify the adapted CFE treaty. Russia's wish for a speedy ratification and accession of the Baltic states to a ratified treaty, hoping to restrict emergency deployments of NATO forces there, was not fulfilled.

Thirdly, Russia emphasized that NATO's 1999 and 2004 enlargements increased the alliance's equipment above the treaty limits.[12] Consequently, Russia demands a "compensatory lowering" of overall NATO numerical ceilings on such equipment. Fourthly, Russia mentioned that the planned basing of U.S. military units in Romania and Bulgaria "negatively affects" those countries’ compliance with the CFE Treaty’s force ceilings.[12] Fifthly, the document demands a "removal" of the flank (i.e. North Caucasian) ceilings on Russian forces by a "political decision" between NATO and Russia, ostensibly to "compensate" Russia for the alliance's enlargement.[12] Sixthly, Russia wants to re-negotiate and "modernize" the 1999-adapted CFE treaty as soon as it is brought into force.[12] Russia would proceed unilaterally to suspend the treaty’s validity unless NATO countries bring it into force by July 1, 2008, or at least comply with its terms on a temporary basis, pending the treaty’s re-negotiation.

Most likely, but not mentioned in Russia's explanatory document, the above mentioned "extraordinary circumstances" are also a referral to the US plans to base parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.[15][16] Another likely reason is that NATO members refused to ratify the Adapted CFE Treaty due to the continuing presence of several hundred Russian troops in Moldova - something they consider to violate the obligations Russia assumed during the 1999 Istanbul summit.[15] However, there is no legal connection between the Adapted CFE treaty and the Russian withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova. The linkage between these two security issues was a decision made by NATO member states to protest against the Second Chechen War and was used as a reason not to ratify the treaty.[17] Russia never accepted this decision—a decision also made six months after the Istanbul summit.[17] Russia also considered the original CFE treaty to be outdated and strategically flawed as it does not take into account the dissolutions of the Warsaw Treaty or the Soviet Union.[18][19]

In Russia even Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader and an independent member of the Duma agrees that Russia was forced to respond. However he also speculated that Putin's suspension by decree is "primarily an election-year message to the country: "Your leader won't budge, no matter who formally becomes next President"."[14]


NATO immediately expressed regret over Russia's decision to suspend the treaty, describing it as "a step in the wrong direction", but hoped to engage Moscow in what was described as constructive talks on this issue.[20] The United States along with several European states such as Germany, Poland and Romania also expressed their disappointment.[21] Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) General Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev expressed support for Putin's decree.[22]


Russia hoped that the suspension would spur ratifications of the adapted treaty by NATO countries.[23] Russia emphasized that the moratorium does not mean that the door is closed to further dialogue. In the event that the mentioned issues should be settled, Russia stated that it would promptly ensure collective observance of the treaty provisions.[24]

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the consequences of the suspension are the halting of inspections and verifications of its military sites by NATO countries and that it will no longer have the obligation to limit the number of its conventional weapons.[14] In practice, Russia already halted such verification visits in June 2007 after an extraordinary CFE treaty conference held in Vienna turned a deaf ear to Russia's complaints.[25] Consequently, military delegations from Bulgaria and Hungary had been denied entry to Russian military units.

Yuri Zarakhovich speculated in Time that the above mentioned "immediate measures" will be a build-up of its forces in areas bordering NATO eastern members, in particular Poland and the Baltic states.[14] Time further speculated that other measures could include troop buildups along southern borders in the Caucasus, new pressures on Ukraine to maintain the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea beyond the 2017 withdrawal deadline, and a refusal to leave Moldova.

See also


  1. ^ a b FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS, "Chronology: CFE Treaty Negotiations and Implementation, 1972-1996", n.d.
  2. ^ a b US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, "Fact Sheet: Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty", June 18, 2002
  3. ^ a b FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS, "Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE)", n.d.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, "CFE treaty and CFE-1A agreement - Conventional Armed Forces in Europe", July 13, 1992
  5. ^ "Final Document of the First Conference to Review the Operation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Concluding Act of the Negotiation on Personnel Strength". Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  6. ^ a b c NAVY TREATY IMPLEMENTATION PROGRAM, "Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty", n.d.
  7. ^ OSCE, "Joint Consultative Group", n.d.
  8. ^ J. COOPER, "Washington calls 5,500 U.S. troops "hardly any" but 1,200 Russians in PMR must go" in The Tiraspol Times, June 13, 2007
  9. ^ W. BOESE, "CFE Compliance Report Issued; Treaty Adaptation Talks Continue" in Arms Control Today, June/July 1998
  10. ^ a b NATO, "Questions and Answers on CFE", n.d., p. 2
  11. ^ Most of the Russian troops are in the process of withdrawing from Georgia (see Russian Group of Forces of the Transcaucasus), though the current agreements will leave Russian troops in Gudauta in Abkhazia (See: [1]), and with peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia (See: [2]) and the Abkhaz/Georgian boundary line (See: IISS Military Balance 2007)
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h V. SOCOR, "Kremlin Would Re-write Or Kill CFE Treaty" by The Jamestown Foundation, July 18, 2007
  13. ^ BBC NEWS, "Russia suspends arms control pact", July 14, 2007
  14. ^ a b c d Y. ZARAKHOVICH, "Why Putin Pulled Out of a Key Treaty" in Time, July 14, 2007
  15. ^ a b A. KRAMER, "Russia Steps Back From Key Arms Treaty" in The New York Times, July 14, 2007
  16. ^ These US plans would not be possible without the 2002 unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by the US as this treaty prevented the establishment of new anti-missile defenses sites. See: BBC NEWS, "Q&A: US missile defence", July 3, 2007. The CFE treaty could thus become (after the ABM treaty) the second major Cold War treaty that was suspended.
  17. ^ a b N. VON OTFRIED, "Das Wort zur Ta" in Der Spiegel, July 15, 2007 (German)
  18. ^ I. MARSCHALL, "Russia changes game by leaving CFE treaty" in The Kuwait Times, July 15, 2007
  19. ^ X, "CFE Treaty – Time to end the hypocrisy" in Pravda, July 15, 2007
  20. ^ S. LEBIC, "Suspension of CFE Treaty is a 'step in the wrong direction,' NATO says" in The Independent, July 16, 2007
  21. ^ AFP, "US, NATO 'disappointed' at Russian pullout of arms treaty", July 15, 2007
  22. ^ UNI, "Gorbachev backs Putin for suspending CFE Treaty", July 15, 2007
  23. ^ X, "Moscow moratorium of CFE Treaty to spur ratification - official", July 2, 2007
  24. ^ L. SHANGLIN, "NATO regrets Russian withdrawal from CFE treaty", July 15, 2007
  25. ^ R. WEITZ, "Extraordinary Conference Fails to Achieve Agreement on CFE Treaty Dispute" in World Politics Review, June 19, 2007

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