Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty

Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty

The United States, the Soviet Union, and twenty other member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact signed the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty on November 19, 1990. The most complex and comprehensive conventional arms control treaty in history, the CFE limits levels of conventional—that is, nonnuclear—weapons and equipment with the purpose of creating greater military stability in Europe. The CFE played a crucial stabilizing role during the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It also made possible steep reductions in U.S. troop and equipment levels in Europe. In a period of remarkable historical change that transformed the political map of Europe, the treaty's provisions enabled a "velvet" rather than a violent revolution.

The CFE grew out of arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1980s. In particular, treaty negotiations were prompted by a 1986 call for conventional arms control by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, and a 1989 proposal by U.S. president george h. w. bush to limit the United States and the Soviet Union to 275,000 troops each in Europe. However, as the Soviet satellites gained independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s and large numbers of U.S. and Soviet troops were transferred out of Europe, the initial level of troops proposed by Bush proved needlessly high, and subsequent negotiations focused on armaments alone.

By November 1990, a treaty had been completed. Meeting in Paris, Bush, Gorbachev, and other leaders signed the CFE that month. The U.S. Senate approved it on November 25, 1991, by a vote of 90–4.

The treaty placed limits on five types of conventional armaments deployed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains: tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles (such as armored personnel carriers), aircraft, and helicopters. It divided the area covered by the agreement into subzones, each having its own equipment limits. The agreement limited NATO and the Warsaw Pact each to 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored combat vehicles, 20,000 artillery pieces, 6,800 combat aircraft, and 2,000 attack helicopters. The treaty did not address naval forces.

As originally designed, the CFE was meant to stabilize relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. NATO, for its part, sought to relocate Soviet forces eastward from the German border and to prevent their concentration in the Soviet Union west of the Urals. After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact on July 1, 1991, and the breakup of the Soviet Union into 15 separate nations in December 1991, the CFE began to change its focus from management of the Cold War standoff to management of the effects of the Cold War's conclusion.

Later amendments adapted the treaty to the changing European political situation. On May 15, 1992, the Commonwealth of Independent States—the 15 successor states of the Soviet Union—ratified armament limits in their territories as specified by the CFE limits for the Warsaw Pact nations. All adherents to the treaty met subsequent arms reduction targets, though Russia continued to negotiate changes owing to unrest in Chechnya and other regions within its borders. By September 1994 the CFE had resulted in the destruction of more than 18,000 pieces of military equipment, including 6,000 by the Russian Federation.

The CFE enjoys widespread support in Europe and appears likely to remain in force for some time. CFE supporters argue that its armament limits and inspection requirements prevent an arms race and enhance the exchange of information between European countries, allowing each member nation to easily assess the military capabilities of its neighbors.

Further readings

Croft, Stuart, ed. 1994. The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty: The Cold War Endgame. Brookfield, Vt.: Dartmouth.

Falkenrath, Richard A. 1995. Shaping Europe's Military Order: The Origins and Consequences of the CFE Treaty. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

McCausland, Jeffrey D. 1995. "The CFE Treaty: Building European Security." Strategic Forum, no. 48 (October). National Defense Univ. Press.

Peters, John E., and National Defense Research Institute. 2000. The Changing Quality of Stability in Europe: The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty Toward 2001. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand.

——. 1997. CFE and Military Stability in Europe. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand.

Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE): Briefing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. 1997. Washington, D.C.: The Commission.


Arms Control and Disarmament; Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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