THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
JANE SHARP is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, and author of: Striving for Military Stability in Europe: Negotiation, Implementation and Adaptation of the CFE Treaty. Routledge, 2006
The Conventional Forces in Europe treaty is seen in NATO as the bedrock of post-Cold War stability on the continent, because of the transparency and predictability of its compliance mechanism, which mandates regular exchanges of information and on-site inspection. Nevertheless, as an interbloc agreement, it was overtaken by events when the Warsaw pact disintegrated, Yeltsin started to complain about the impact of NATO enlargement on the treaty in 1993 and, soon afterwards, about the constraints it imposed on Moscow’s ability to deal with unrest in the Caucasus. After successive amendments in Russia’s favour, including more generous ceilings for Russia on the edges, a new adapted treaty was signed in Istanbul in November 1999. Yeltsin also agreed to withdraw Russian forces from Moldova and Georgia – a precondition for NATO to ratify the new treaty. Putin did not attend the 1999 meeting, however, and has always denied the link between Yeltsin’s commitment to withdraw from Georgia and Moldova and NATO’s ratification of the new treaty. He would also exclude Russian ‘peacekeeping forces’ from the withdrawal commitment.
THREAT TO TREATY As NATO enlarged its membership further, and entered into various cooperative military arrangements to train and equip new allies like Bulgaria and Romania and former Soviet states like Georgia, Putin increasingly voiced his opposition to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. He emphasised that the three Baltic members of NATO were not subject to treaty limits, although he knows that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all promised to join NATO once the new treaty is concluded. Putin called an extraordinary conference on Conventional Forces in Europe. This was held in Moscow in June. But there was little meeting of minds and in mid-July Putin announced that Russia would cease compliance with the treaty within 150 days – by December 12 – unless NATO ratified the new treaty in the meantime. So far, only Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have ratified. A particular irritant to Putin, parallel to the arguments about conventional forces in Europe, is the US proposal – a pet project of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – to deploy ten ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and a 360 degree X-band radar in the Czech Republic. These are linked to an Alaska-based ballistic missile defence system, for which Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed in late July – without the public debate his predecessor had promised the previous February – to provide facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith in Yorkshire. This American system was initially justified to counter a threat from North Korea, then rationalised against an Iranian threat. Putin, however, sees missiles deployed in central Europe as primarily directed against Russia, specifically the Topol, Topol-M and RS-18 inter-continental ballistic missiles stationed in the regions of T’ver, Ivanovo, Kaluga and Saratov. Putin’s fears are well founded as a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld in January 2002, and a national security directive from Bush the following December, both specify
that these ballistic missile defence systems would be upgraded as US technology advanced. Putin’s initial response in February 2006 to the prospect of missiles in Poland was to threaten new missiles in Kaliningrad. In a slightly more conciliatory mood at the June G8 meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany, he offered, as an alternative to a US radar in the Czech Republic, the use of Russia radars in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and at Armavir in southern Russia; an offer he repeated in early July at the Bush holiday home in Kennebunkport. The US response was cool, proposing only some form of ‘joint architecture’.
NATO does not always speak with one voice on how to deal with either Bush or Putin. In June NATO defence ministers agreed to assess the implication of new American missiles in Europe by next February. European allies deeply resent the fact that the US by-passed NATO to discuss the issue bilaterally with Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic. The US Congress was none too pleased either and deleted funds for the Polish missiles and the Czech radar from the 2008 defence spending. Some Czechs complain about the likely health hazards from the proposed radar, and in Poland a former defence minister, Radek Sikorski, thinks the risk of hosting American missiles outweighs any potential benefits. He is right. In the unlikely event that the system actually intercepted an incoming missile, the collateral damage to surrounding European countries could be catastrophic. Fortunately, Poland seems to be moving away from the knee-jerk acquiescence to Washington practiced by the Kaczynski presidential and prime ministerial twins. The new Prime Minister Donald Tusk, head of the centre-right Civic Platform party, campaigned on promises to withdraw Polish troops from Iraq, and to renegotiate the missile shield agreement. Germany has been the most sensitive to Russian concerns and the most active in trying to preserve the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. One issue in dispute is whether Russia must withdraw even peacekeeping troops from Moldova and Georgia – as the US, Britain and Canada insist, while Germany, Italy and Belgium would be more flexible. Another is whether NATO can make more concessions on Russian equipment on the edges of the zone – vigorously opposed by Turkey and Norway. After the lack of progress at the meeting in Moscow in June, and a number of subsequent bilateral talks between Russia and various allies, Germany called a meeting of all thirty Conventional Forces in Europe states in early October. That gathering discussed ‘a parallel process of NATO and Russian actions that could end the current stalemate’. NATO offered to help finance Russia’s withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova and consultations in the NATO-Russia Council for the Baltic states and Slovenia to join to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. Russia was apparently unmoved and continues its litany of complaints.