Monday, July 16, 2007

Unconventional Forces in Europe - Why Russia Walked Away from the CFE Treaty

The existing Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE) is essentially at an end. Actions by the Bush administration/NATO and the Baltic States refusal (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to participate with the treaty have forced Russia to consider withdrawal from the Treaty. To restore the treaty will require all parties and all pieces to be brought to the table.

You're going to hear a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing towards Putin and Russia in the coming months about their possible withdrawal from the CFE treaty. What you should know is that the changes in Europe over the last 15 years, and particularly in the last several years, have made it essential that Russia revisit the treaty.

Originally implemented in 1992, the CFE treaty divided Europe into two blocks .. NATO and WTO (Warsaw Pact) within an area reaching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Five categories of treated limited equipment (TLEs) were established, with each side having a maximum limit on numbers of TLEs. Those limits were: 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored combat vehicles, 20,000 artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircraft, and 2,000 attack helicopters. There were other restrictions regarding placement of these pieces of equipment within Europe and temporary increasing of numbers due to training exercises and such - but essentially it was a tit for tat arrangement with each side having roughly equal conventional military force capabilities. This arrangement sufficed at the end of the Cold War, along with other agreements in place regarding nuclear missiles as a foundation for limiting military forces in Europe.

The treaty was amended in 1999, and that amendment reflected many of the realities at the end of the Soviet Union. Numbers of TLE in Europe were going to be greatly reduced and no longer would each side be limited to roughly equal pieces of equipment. Instead, areas of Europe would have limited number of TLEs, arranged within roughly concentric circles.

As a result of the 1991 and 1999 CFE agreements, to date Europe has destroyed about 59,000 pieces of TLE from its arsenals, including approximately 14,500 TLEs destroyed by Russia. Russia further removed roughly 57,000 TLEs to east of the Urals. It has been wildly successful at reducing heavy armaments in Europe.

However, the balance of power has still shifted towards the side of NATO as a result of new member states. While the treaty language no longer divides Europe into two sides, the shifting alliances still result in two sides - NATO and Russia. As of January 2002, NATO's 19 members claimed holdings of 60,358 TLE versus a cumulative limit of 88,986 TLE, while Russia reported holdings of 23,516 TLE against limits of 28,216 TLE - giving NATO a hardware advantage of somewhere between 2 to 1 or 3 to 1. This does not include the military forces of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - who are not participants in the CFE treaty. Due to flanking arrangments within the CFE treaty, the exclusion of the Baltic States and the possible inclusion of Ukraine in NATO becomes even more problematic. In essence, Russia would be outflanked to the north and south - even with no further changes in the CFE or other agreements.

We can make all the claims we wish about NATO not being an alliance against Russia, but as long as the Russian Federation is not a member, it sure looks an awful lot like us against them. From a military standpoint, that is how it is going to be evaluated by both sides.

Perhaps Russia could have lived with such a numerical heavy equipment and tactical position advantage on the NATO/Baltic States side. After all, the Russians still had their nuclear deterrent to keep NATO forces at bay. A few tactical nukes or cruise missiles dropped onto an advancing heavy armored column is enough to ruin any one's day.

Then in 2002, the wise Bush Administration, decided to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. As a few words in defense of the Bush Administration - the changing post-Cold War world does make it increasingly likely that nuclear-equipped nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles may be possessed by states hostile to the USA. Our foreign policies ensure there will be states hostile towards us and technology can only be contained for so long. The genie eventually escapes the bottle.

However, as such threats are still not imminent and defense against so-called rogue states is a shared concern, it is possible the Bush Administrations "go it alone" policies were problematic. By unilaterally abandoning the ABM treaty, Russia was faced with the possibility that their own nuclear deterrent could be targeted.

Talks of U.S. Nuclear Hegemony were not far behind, and certainly didn't help.

So, with all of this having happened since 1999, we now come to the proposed Poland/Czech Republic missile shield - a system of interceptors designed to shoot down possible ICBM nuclear missiles from Iran. Except, Iran doesn't have ICBMs and may never be able to develop sufficiently reliable technology to deliver a nuclear payload at such distances. And Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons. They actually don't even have enough weapons grade nuclear materials to build one, even if they knew how.

Oh, coincidentally, the placement of the interceptors and radar allows the US/NATO to get a better peak at Russian forces all the way to the Urals. In fact, that is the predominant area that is monitored by the placement of the radar installation. It may or may not have been the US strategy to get a better peek at western Russia, but the placement of the interceptors makes it a real possibility that Russia must consider.

Anyone who has played any computer-based military strategy games can envision how this is looking from the Russian perspective:

1) We are entered into a treaty that limits our numbers of conventional forces, such that we are outgunned by almost 3 to 1. We are outflanked to the north by non-CFE member states and could become outflanked to the south if Ukraine joins NATO.

2) Our nuclear deterrent against others actually using their conventional forces is now going to be limited by an anti-ballistic missile shield. Perhaps not 100% limited, but we may have to launch multiple missiles to achieve the same effect as before, in the event of military forces moving against us from the west.

So what happens? Russia first tries to test the US commitment to their proposed ABM radar and interceptor locations, by inviting cooperative use of their radar facilities in Azerbaijan. This possibility appears to be rejected.

And now Russia announces it will walk away from the CFE treaty in 150 days. In essence, this should result in all parties coming to the table to resolve the changing military environment within Europe and provide Russia with some future assurances that all these tanks and missiles are not pointed at them.

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