Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, November 1990

The treaty on conventional armed force in Europe was signed in November 1990 by the NATO and Warsaw Pact states and came into force on July 17, 1992, as did the follow-up Concluding Act.  The treaty was a companion to concurrent efforts by the Soviet Union and the United States to cut nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which resulted in the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1988 and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties of 1991 and 1993.  All were part of the broader efforts once Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 to reduce Cold War tensions.  The CFE Treaty was a legally binding agreement intended to accomplish balanced reductions in the armed forces of each side in the former Cold War.  Neither of the two camps was permitted to possess more than 20,000 artillery pieces, 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored combat vehicles, 6,800 combat aircraft, and 2,000 attack helicopters.  It covered the entire area from the Atlantic to the Urals.  Within this area, several sub-regions were established, where each grouping would be entitled to have equal numbers of the various weapons systems.  No one single country could hold more than one-third of the total armaments covered by this agreement.  Weapons in excess of these limits were to be destroyed within 40 months of the agreement entering into force.  Subsequent negotiations resulted in the Concluding Act of the Negotiation on Personnel Strength of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (the CFE-1A Agreement), which established manpower limits for certain types of forces, though not sea-based naval forces, internal security forces, or military personnel serving under United Nations commands.  This agreement was signed in Helsinki on July 6, 1992.  The CFE treaty sought to establish military equilibrium between the two rival European camps at a lower level than had obtained in the past.  The CFE Treaty were negotiated and signed under the auspices of the Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) established under the Helsinki accords.  Two days after the CFE Treaty was signed, the CSCE formally declared that the Cold War had ended.

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was signed in November 1990 by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact. There are 29 signatories. Its objective was to reduce the levels of conventional troops stationed in Europe, establishing equal ceilings for all nations between the Ural Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean regarding the armaments needed for launching a surprise attack or carrying out a large-scale military offensive.

Under the agreement, neither side in the former cold war alliance can possess more than:

  • 20,000 artillery pieces
  • 30,000 armored combat vehicles
  • 20,000 tanks
  • 6,800 combat aircraft
  • 2,000 attack helicopters
The treaty also established ceilings for the amount of equipment that can be held by active units, setting the numbers at:
  • 17,000 artillery pieces
  • 27,300 armored combat vehicles
  • 16,500 tanks
The two groups have consulted internally to determine how the reductions will be broken down by country. The treaty also limits the proportion of equipment that can be held by any one European country to one-third of the total for the entire continent, and sets limits by region.

Equipment in excess of the agreed amounts must be destroyed. Most of the destroyed equipment will be older and the United States will transfer some of its new equipment to its allies to meet requirements. The destruction must be completed by the end of the third year after the treaty agreement, with one-quarter being completed after one year and 60% after two years.

The CFE treaty has complex and groundbreaking verification provisions that call for on-site inspections, information exchanges, on-site destruction monitoring, and challenge inspections. The treaty does not have an end date and gives all participants the right to monitor the destruction process.

The CFE-1A talks are mandated in the CFE treaty and require participants to reach agreement on further measures aimed at increasing stability and security on the continent. The CFE-1A talks ended on Jul 6, 1992 and include a political commitment by signatories to limit (and in some cases reduce) the size of their conventional armed forces. All the participants set their own ceilings, which were not subject to negotiation. The CFE-1A treaty has provisions for full information exchanges on manpower, with verification linked to the inspection program of the CFE equipment evaluation program.

CFE-1A, which took effect on July 17, 1992, incorporates three stabilizing measures:

  • A required 42-day notification period if any signatory plans to increase its personnel in any ground force unit by more than 1,000 and in any air force unit by more than 500
  • A provision requiring 42-days notification if a nation plans to call up 35,000 or more reservists (excluding call ups for such emergencies as natural disasters)

  • A provision that any personnel relocated to forces not under limitation remain subject to limitation for 12-24 months.

Further Reading
"Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe." November 19, 1990. U.S. Department of State. http://www.state.gov/t/ac/trt/4781.htm.

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