by Ian Anthony
Russia’s termination of its participation in the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) is a blow to the integrated system of arms control and confidence- and security-building measures that was put in place to reduce the risk of major armed conflict, even if its practical impact is limited.
When the CFE Treaty was being negotiated, conventional arms control was neither an afterthought, nor an act of altruism; it was at the heart of security policy. The purpose of the CFE Treaty was to remove from states the capability to invade each other, seize territory by force of arms, and then hold it against any counter-attack by opposition forces. The Treaty included highly intrusive verification procedures, to make sure that states really did do what they had promised, and extensive obligations for follow-up verification, monitoring and information exchange, to safeguard against backsliding on commitments made.
Arms control opportunities were conditioned by military realities, and when parties proposed eliminating or capping different kinds of capability, what was possible (and not possible) was evaluated against the yardstick of sufficient defence. However, there was consensus that sufficient defence should be provided, to the extent possible, without building forces that others would see as provocative or disturbing. While remaining parties to the CFE Treaty are bound by its constraints, Russia faces no legal obstacle to building armed forces of any size or shape that it considers appropriate.