On November 7, 2023, Russia formally withdrew from a landmark Cold War-era security treaty, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty).
The CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 and came into force in 1992. It was designed to limit the number of conventional forces (tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, and combat aircraft) that could be deployed in Europe. The treaty also established a system of verification and inspections to ensure that all parties were complying with the terms of the treaty.
According to Russia’s foreign ministry, the treaty is now being “history” after the United States allegedly undermined post-Cold War security with NATO expansion.
“The CFE Treaty was concluded at the end of the Cold War, when the formation of a new architecture of global and European security based on cooperation seemed possible, and appropriate attempts were made,” the ministry said per Reuters.
Russia criticized the U.S.’s strategy to expand NATO, alleging these countries “openly circumvented” the treaty’s team limits. Critically, the ministry explained that Russia considered the admission of Finland into NATO and an application from Sweden as the final death knell for the CFE Treaty.
In response to Russia’s withdrawal, NATO member states have decided to suspend their obligations under the CFE Treaty. This means that NATO member states are free to deploy as many conventional forces to Europe as they see fit.
Below is the statement from NATO:
Allies condemn Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), and its war of aggression against Ukraine which is contrary to the Treaty’s objectives. Russia’s withdrawal is the latest in a series of actions that systematically undermines Euro-Atlantic security. Russia continues to demonstrate disregard for arms control, including key principles of reciprocity, transparency, compliance, verification, and host nation consent, and undermines the rules based international order. While recognizing the role of the CFE as a cornerstone of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, a situation whereby Allied States Parties abide by the Treaty, while Russia does not, would be unsustainable.
Therefore, as a consequence, Allied States Parties intend to suspend the operation of the CFE Treaty for as long as necessary, in accordance with their rights under international law. This is a decision fully supported by all NATO Allies.
Allies reiterate their continued commitment to reduce military risk, and prevent misperceptions and conflicts. Allies strive to build trust and confidence, based on key principles of transparency, compliance, verification, reciprocity and host nation consent, thereby contributing to peace and security. Allies invite those states that share this commitment and these principles, to join our efforts to also contribute to increasing predictability and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
Allies remain united in their commitment to effective conventional arms control as a key element of Euro-Atlantic security, taking into account the prevailing security environment and the security of all Allies. This complements the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture that Allies have decided to further strengthen. Allies will continue to consult on and assess the implications of the current security environment and its impact on the security of the Alliance, and on our approach. Allies will make use of NATO as a platform for in-depth discussion and close consultation on arms control efforts.
The United States announced that it would suspend its obligations under the treaty from December 7, 2023.
Pentagon statement read:
Earlier today, the North Atlantic Council issued a statement announcing the decision of NATO Allied States Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) to suspend all of their obligations under the Treaty. The United States fully joins in and supports this decision. Our suspension of CFE obligations is consistent with our rights under international law, in response to a fundamental change of circumstances caused by the combination of Russia’s withdrawal from the CFE Treaty and its continuing full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, another CFE State Party, using the very forces the Treaty aims to constrain.
The U.S. suspension will take effect on December 7. A number of our CFE partners that are not NATO Allies also support and intend to join us in suspending CFE Treaty obligations in response to Russia’s actions. Russia’s continued destabilizing behavior undermines the key arms control principles of reciprocity, transparency, compliance, and verification, which have for decades been the bedrock of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture.
Russia’s withdrawal is not expected to have any practical impact on its force posture, given Moscow’s failure to abide by its CFE Treaty obligations since 2007. However, its withdrawal signals a further effort by Moscow to undermine decades of progress made towards building transparency and cooperative approaches to security in Europe.
Over the months since Russia announced its intent to withdraw from CFE, the United States and our NATO Allies have consulted closely to take into account the prevailing security environment and the security of all Allies. Russia made clear it had no intention of changing course. As such, we concluded that we should not continue to be bound by a treaty to which Russia is not bound. Suspension of CFE obligations will strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and defense capacity by removing restrictions that impact planning, deployments, and exercises.
The United States and our NATO Allies remain committed to effective conventional arms control as a critical element of Euro-Atlantic security. We will continue to pursue measures with responsible partners that aim to bolster stability and security in Europe by reducing risk, preventing misperceptions, avoiding conflicts, and building trust.
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