Revitalizing Military Confidence-Building, Risk Reduction, and Arms Control in Europe | Remarks at OSCE Security Days

Flags of the OSCE participating States outside the Hofburg Congress Center in Vienna, Austria (USOSCE/Colin Peters)

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this subject. My introduction to conventional arms control came when I was at USNATO in the early 90’s, where I was the U.S. representative to the Verification Coordination Committee dealing with Allied implementation of the CFE Treaty. From NATO I moved to the OSCE, where I was involved in the negotiations on the Adapted CFE Treaty, Vienna Document 1999, and the Charter on European Security.

In my current position I have added Open Skies to my repertoire, so I think it is fair to say I have some history with conventional arms control and military confidence-building, even if it may not be a match for some of you in this room who know these issues far better than I.

Attending the CFE Review Conference this past week reminded me again of how much we accomplished in the 90’s, where it can be said that arms control contributed tangibly to our common security and the European security architecture. We have worked hard to preserve and build on these agreements and commitments during the intervening years, which proved remarkably resilient in managing the changes wrought by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

Thanks to CFE and other agreements and commitments, the potential for military conflict was reduced literally and figuratively through significant arms reductions and building confidence through on-site inspections and data exchanges.

Perhaps most importantly, the CFE treaty in particular tangibly demonstrates a set of principles, in parallel with the Helsinki principles for the OSCE writ large, which represents and underpins a common vision of pan-European security, and confidence in that vision, and which the United States believes must remain at the heart of any arms control agreements of the future.

Unfortunately, as we all are aware, Europe is living through a time of increasing distrust and insecurity rather than confidence and increased security, largely as a result of the actions of one participating State in particular, which have called into question, if not directly challenged, almost all of the accomplishments just named.

In some cases, this has involved challenging essential principles: frontally through violation of the territorial integrity of other participating States, and less directly but also perniciously through actions that hamper the ability of other participating States to make sovereign decisions about their security.

These actions also include violations of the terms of some of the agreements themselves, such as the so-called suspension of implementation of CFE. Separately, we are also concerned about selective implementation of Vienna Document and Open Skies.

In sum, we are confronted not with the problem of a few implementation issues here or there, but with actions by one nation that have called into question core tenets and key provisions of the entire European security architecture.

That there is a crisis of confidence is something about which there can be no doubt. In the face of that, the question is what we can do to manage and mitigate this increasingly less predictable and dangerous environment. We have a common interest in not allowing the situation to deteriorate further.

At the same time, the challenges in doing so are daunting. How can we begin to address this situation when one participating State has illegally annexed part of the territory of another participating State and is currently directly involved in destabilizing the east of the same country – or, in more abstract terms, is actively ignoring or contravening the very principles that would need to provide the basis for any new conventional arms control effort?

In the view of the United States, these circumstances – current, ongoing circumstances — make contemplation of a new arms control agreement in Europe difficult. History has shown us that, to be successful, such an agreement must be based on common principles. We in the OSCE have a clear and established set of principles, and the United States is not prepared to yield on these principles.

History has also shown us that successful negotiations are possible only when the participants share an incentive to reach agreement. Thus far, others have not shown any willingness to reverse their faits accomplis and restore something approaching the status quo ante. There is simply no basis for initiating negotiations on a new arms control agreement while blatant violations of existing agreements remain.

At the same time, doing nothing is not an option. In light of the current state of affairs, the United States believes that it makes more sense to work to preserve, strengthen, and modernize our existing agreements, and begin a dialogue on our security concerns.

It is for that reason that the United States has put so much effort into proposals for modernizing the Vienna Document and improving the implementation of the Open Skies Treaty. These agreements and commitments are supported by all sides, and compliance and implementation concerns are continually addressed in the FSC and the OSCC. Focusing on the Vienna Document and Open Skies allows us to take meaningful steps, that are possible right now, to manage distrust and/or improve confidence.

On Vienna Document, our priority has been to seek practical ways for increasing transparency and predictability. We think it is also important in the current environment to look at practical ways to aid in risk reduction and avoid miscalculation, which could have political-military as well as political aspects. OSCE participating States should strive to agree on a few modest steps in the coming weeks as a way to impart positive momentum in the lead up to the Hamburg Ministerial meeting.

In parallel, we believe the OSCE could benefit from a structured dialogue, as recently proposed by the Chairman-in-Office, aimed at achieving a better appreciation of participating States’ perceptions and bottom-line security concerns. Such a dialogue could serve as a confidence- and security-building measure in and of itself. It could help to mitigate tensions and improve confidence. The dialogue might explore ways to improve the OSCE tools for conflict prevention and crisis management, as well as avenues for improving military transparency.

The United States would welcome an invigorated discussion at OSCE of threat perceptions in all three dimensions, including the current and protracted conflicts, as well as transnational and multidimensional threats and challenges. With regard to the first dimension, the United States has already indicated we would welcome more discussion of military doctrines and trends in force postures. We would hope this focused dialogue would include discussion of activities that have the potential to cause concerns, and possible ways to improve confidence and reduce tensions.

Perhaps then, with a greater appreciation of our respective concerns, it will be possible to resume the process of confidence building and security cooperation that has been so rudely interrupted by the events of recent years.

Remarks by Bruce I. Turner, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, at the OSCE Security Days Roundtable on Re-launching Conventional Arms Control in the OSCE Context, Vienna