Europe after the Cold War

Europe after the Cold War

Andrei Zagorski

DISARMAMENT issues remain high on the European agenda despite and to some extent because of the end of the Cold War. Today decisions on reductions in both nuclear and conventional arsenals are being taken at a speed that could hardly have been imagined two or three years ago.

The signing by the United States and the USSR of the INF (Intermediate-range nuclear forces) Treaty in 1987 paved the way for a new generation of agreements concerning weapons in Europe. The Treaty provided, for the first time in post-war history, not for a limitation but for an actual reduction in medium- and short-range weapons that were already deployed. Since then, efforts have ceased to be directed towards arms control, which in practice underwrote a controlled arms race, but towards real disarmament–cuts in existing weapons arsenals. This new approach has been consolidated and strengthened by the dramatic developments that have taken place in Europe since 1989, which have led in their turn to a series of agreements concerning both nuclear and conventional weapons.

The START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement of 1991, partially modified in terms of its implementation in the Lisbon protocol of May 1992 signed by Russia, the United States, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, provides for cuts of around 50 per cent in strategic nuclear weapons belonging to the United States and the former USSR. When they met in June 1992 President Boris Yeltsin and President George Bush went even further along this path when they made a commitment to the complete elimination of ground-based heavy missiles as well as deep cuts in US sea-launched strategic missiles.

The Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE1), signed on 19 November 1990, sought to eliminate numerical imbalances in five categories of weapons (battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters) available to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) in the area stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals, as well as to reduce their numbers and limit their ability to carry out a surprise attack. A follow-up to this Treaty, the CFE1 A agreement, established limits for personnel strength in the same area. CFE1 A, which is not a treaty but a politically binding document, was signed by twenty-five states on 9 July 1992.

No less important than these multilateral agreements are deeper cuts resulting from unilateral reductions on both of the previously adversary sides–East and West. They include cuts in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe providing for a total withdrawal of US and former Soviet ground-launched battlefield weapons (short-range missiles and nuclear artillery). Unilateral cuts are also being made in the nuclear forces of both France and the United Kingdom, although neither country has yet participated in formal negotiations on these issues.

However, the spectacular developments that have taken place in the field of European disarmament since the end of the Cold War have been accompanied by a wide range of new challenges which make the task of managing this process quite difficult. One indication of the difficulties facing the European disarmament process today is the fact that hardly any of the recent disarmament agreements, including the CFE1 Treaty, have yet entered into force, because several states have not yet ratified them. Another problem is that the conceptual approach to European disarmament is still largely based on attitudes that were shaped during the years of East-West confrontation and have not been adapted to current needs. The disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and the break-up of the Soviet Union have totally changed not only the environment of disarmament negotiations and the positions of the parties to them, but the very functions of the negotiations.

The disappearance of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, which happened de jure in 1991 but de facto in 1990, made the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe virtually obsolete, since it had emerged from negotiations that began as a bloc-to-bloc endeavour aimed at improving the level of stability and predictability between NATO and WTO. This general approach was to a great extent outdated before the negotiations were concluded. Early in 1990, Hungary announced that its defence needs could not be properly dealt with in a bloc-to-bloc arrangement and insisted that its quota of armaments should not be established within the framework of the WTO. Other East European countries followed suit and by the time the CFE1 talks came to an end the major problem was no longer the achievement of an agreement between East and West but the achievement of mutually acceptable quotas within the WTO, which still formally existed. In order to provide East European countries with appropriate quotas for their national forces, the limits on armaments within the CFE1 Treaty were raised even higher than those initially envisaged.

The break-up of the Soviet Union meant that new tasks had to be carried out within the CFE framework, especially after the division of former Soviet military assets became one of the most controversial issues among the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was joined by eleven of the fifteen former Soviet republics. The CFE1 Treaty thus became a framework for discussions on the sharing of Soviet military assets and for legitimizing Western participation in these discussions. The successors of the Soviet Union committed themselves to respect obligations under the CFE1 Treaty and were urged to negotiate rapidly and to reach agreement before June 1992.

On 15 May 1992, at a CIS summit meeting in Tashkent, an agreement on the implementation of the CFE1 Treaty was reached, including provisions for a share-out of the former Soviet quotas on various categories of weapons. This agreement was then approved at a conference of the parties to the CFE1 Treaty held in Oslo on 5 June and by an extraordinary conference held on 10 July in Helsinki in conjunction with the CSCE summit meeting.

However, the issue cannot be regarded as settled since none of the CIS states except Russia had ratified the CFE1 Treaty before the CSCE summit as had been agreed previously. Prospects for ratification can be regarded as high only in the case of Belarus and are low in the case of the Caucasian states that are engaged in military hostilities. That is why, instead of enacting the CFE1 Treaty, as was initially planned, the extraordinary conference of July 1992 only produced a document on the “provisional application” of the Treaty whereby all parties committed themselves to “apply provisionally all of the provisions of the Treaty, beginning on 17 July 1992” within 120 days, in the expectation that the Treaty would be ratified within that time-frame. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova have not yet signed this document.

Disintegration problems at least partially similar to those within the former Soviet Union might be expected to arise elsewhere, especially in view of the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia early in 1993.

All previous disarmament efforts in Europe so far have been based on the philosophy of managing problems at the macro-level of East-West relations. In formal terms this approach came to an end in September 1992, when all fifty-two of the CSCE countries sat down to begin new security negotiations in Vienna. Though this new security forum is an important instrument for permanent communication and discussions of security issues, it has been launched without any clear conception of where future efforts in this field should be directed. It now has to work towards agreements that will respond to the growing number and diversity of problems at the “micro” level.

ANDREI ZAGORSKI, of Russia, is deputy director of the Centre of International Studies of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).


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