Is There a Future for Conventional Arms Control? The Challenge of Russian Military Exercises


By Richard Weitz The recent NATO-Russian spat over military exercises shows the imperative of upgrading European security mechanisms.

At a July 24 NATO-Russia Council meeting, Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, complained about Moscow’s failure to provide advance notice of its recent large-scale military exercises. Meanwhile, the Russians accused NATO of continuing military exercises that posit Russia as an aggressor.

Moscow still adamantly refuses to rejoin the original Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, signed in Paris on November 19, 1990.

The treaty established limits on the major conventional weapons systems, such as tanks as attack helicopters, which could be possessed by two groups, NATO and the old Warsaw Act. It also imposed a serious of reporting and notification requirements concerning various military exercises and other activities.

In an April 2013 speech at a Geneva disarmament conference, 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Antonov said that the “CFE Treaty and associated arrangements based on the principles of the Cold War are absolutely outdated.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.”

Russian analysts have for years considered the original CFE Treaty unbalanced in how it discriminates against Moscow, which no longer leads a captive bloc of allied states while facing NATO’s enlarged membership and new NATO facilities and forces in former Soviet bloc countries.

The weapons systems of Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are counted against Moscow.  The original CFE Treaty also does not cover new countries, such as the Baltic states, that gained independence after the treaty entered into force (and many of which have joined NATO or are in the process of doing so).

On December 12, 2007, the Russian government suspended implementation of the CFE Treaty and demanded that NATO either accept the revised CFE Treaty adopted at the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul or work with Moscow to draft an entirely new accord.

NATO has taken neither action due to Western objections to the continuing Russian military presence in the occupied regions of Georgia and Moldova, which violates the Helsinki prohibition against stationing military forces in another country without its consent.

In November 2011, NATO governments also stopped implementing their treaty obligations with respect to Russia until Moscow resumes complying with its CFE obligations.

Russian officials have offered two pathways for renewing the CFE regime.

First, NATO governments could simply ratify the Adopted CFE and Russia would comply with it. After the Adapted Treaty came into force, the two could then modify it further.

Putin observes large scale Russian military exercise in the Russian Far East. Photo: RIA Novos

Alternatively, NATO and Russia could proceed directly to negotiate a new treaty, effectively setting aside the 1999 revised draft.

In any case, Russian officials would like NATO to commit not to establish permanent military bases outside NATO territory, accept lower force limitation quotas to compensate for the additional military capacity NATO has acquired through its membership enlargement, and consent to eliminate the system of flank limitations that apply to Russian territory in the North Caucasus as well as the Russian region opposite Norway.

Russian officials have also cited NATO’s expanding membership, its activities in the former Soviet republics, and the alliance’s missile defense programs as obstacles to any new conventional arms control regime in Europe.

Speaking at last week’s session of the Russia-NATO Council, Antonov argued the modern military units can often employ force at significantly greater distances considerably more rapidly than more bulky Cold War units with less advanced means of transportation and long-range strikes. He therefore concluded that the regional numerical limitations such as the CFE flank zones have become less relevant.

Russian analysts are interested in applying the looser restrictions found in the New START agreement limiting Russian and U.S. strategic offensive forces. 

The treaty permits Russia and the United States to determine their precise force structure, in terms of bombers or missiles, within an overall total ceiling for nuclear delivery vehicles and their warheads.

In addition, Russian analysts have been insisting on the need for some mechanism, perhaps within the CFE, to address the growing capacity of new types of highly advanced conventional military systems such as precision-guided munitions, unmanned systems, and long-range ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads.

Although Russia also is acquiring such weapons — whose number, capabilities, and location are not constrained directly by any existing arms control agreements–the Russian armed forces lag behind some NATO militaries, especially the U.S. armed forces, in these capabilities.

For their part, NATO governments insist on the need to retain flank limits near Russia (of special importance to Turkey and the Baltic countries) as well as the issue of host-nation consent for the deployment of any foreign troops on its territory. They also want the NATO-Russia Council to complement other confidence-building efforts by providing a mechanism to exchange military data between Russia and NATO members and partners. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the regular sharing of information between Russia and NATO regarding their military postures, doctrines, and planned exercises “as well as specific measures to permit observation of military exercises and to allow visits to new or significantly improved military installations.”

Given that there are 30 state parties to the CFE Treaty and six more states that will have to enter the adapted or new treaty regime (the newer NATO members from the Baltic region and the western Balkans), the parties will require much time to negotiate a revised treaty that will then secure the agreement and ratification of all the state parties.

There is also the problem of disposing of the so-called unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment (UTLEs), which is conventional armaments limited by the CFE treaty but possessed illegally by separatists in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the occupied territories (including Nagorno-Karabakh) of Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, unlike the strategic arms negotiations, which involve only Russia and the United States, dozens of independent countries that must consent to change the existing CFE Treaty or bring a new one into force.

And it would be surprising if the parties did not try to link other issues to the treaty discussions.

These could include NATO membership enlargement, Russia’s large theater nuclear weapons stockpiles, NATO’s missile defense deployments, and Moscow’s proposed European Security Treaty.

Excerpt from Putin Attends Biggest Military Exercise in Russia’s Far East Since Soviet Era 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has flown over the area of the continuing military exercises of the Eastern Military District in the Sakhalin regionwhere some 160,000 soldiers, 1,000 tanks, 130 aircrafts are involved. These is the the massive military drill since Soviet-era.

After being airlifted to the Uspensky training range by helicopter, Putin received a progress report from the district’s Commander Konstantin Sidenko and climbed the observation deck, from which he watched the maneuvers. 

Director of the Russian Armed Forces’ Main Combat Training Department Ivan Buvaltsev provided a running commentary on the exercises to the president. 

After one of the stages of the drills was completed, Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu flew over the area of the exercises in a helicopter. 

The exercises aimed at assessing the combat readiness of the Eastern Military District’s forces were launched on July 13, involving units of the Central and Eastern Military Districts, the Pacific Fleet, as well as the country’s strategic and military transport aviation. 

The drills will also help analyze the quality of the soldiers’ skills, as well as the extent to which the district’s units are equipped with weapons and military hardware. 

The event involves up to 160,000 servicemen, around 1,000 tanks and combat armored vehicles, 130 airplanes and helicopters, including strategic and military transport airplanes, fighter jets and bombers, as well as 70 naval ships and other vessels…..