Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe | Remarks at the Fifth Review Conference

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

I would like to express my great appreciation to the Chair, Norway, and the CFE Treaty Depositary, the Netherlands, for their organization of this conference.

Five years ago at the 2011 CFE Review Conference, the United States reiterated its commitment to multilateral conventional arms control as a means to provide military transparency and increase security in Europe. The United States still firmly holds that conventional arms control serves a stabilizing role in European security and should contribute to further enhancing transparency and confidence.

Much has been achieved since the end of the Cold War, in particular because of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Regrettably, in the last decade, much has been lost because of lack of respect by some for its provisions and the principles that underpin our work here together.

The CFE Treaty – with its legally binding and comprehensive structure of limitations on key categories of military equipment, robust information exchange, and intrusive verification regime – provides useful insight into military forces and military force structures.

CFE also reflects key principles of European security that are of enduring importance and must be respected, in particular the principle that nations have the right to choose whether to allow foreign forces to be stationed on their territory.

While all in this room are well aware of the Treaty’s many successes since its signature in 1990, there are serious issues that greatly diminish the military confidence and security cooperation that CFE was designed to promote.

The most egregious of these remains Russia’s unilateral “suspension” of CFE implementation that has persisted, and even deepened, since 2007.

As the United States does not consider Russia’s “suspension” to be a legally available option under that Treaty, we still consider Russia to be bound by the CFE Treaty’s provisions, including its limitations.

Ceasing implementation was Russia’s decision alone. The U.S. and NATO Allies tried hard to find ways ahead that would enable Russia to reconsider that choice. Since our last review conference in 2011, Russian representatives have stressed that they have no intention of returning to implementation.

The fact that Russia, which has the largest and most active military in Europe, is not complying with CFE diminishes the Treaty’s ability to accomplish its objectives.

Without data on and inspections of Russia’s forces, States Parties have limited information on Russia’s modernized forces and no ability to verify Russian equipment levels; this increases the risk of military misunderstanding as Russia conducts the largest exercises on European soil in well over 20 years.

Russia’s refusal to accept CFE inspections has resulted in an unhealthy imbalance in transparency within Europe. Overall, this makes it more difficult to trust Russian declarations that its exercises of over 100,000 personnel are exempt from Vienna Document reporting commitments.

Even full implementation of the Vienna Document and its associated voluntary transparency measures could not fill the void left by Russia’s failure to implement CFE. Russia’s selective implementation of Vienna document falls short of this modest standard.

The negative impacts of Russia’s decision – erosion of overall military transparency and reduced confidence in Europe – are felt by all of us today. Russia’s failure to implement CFE has resulted in increased uncertainty about the largest military force in Europe.

We encourage all States Parties to continue to call on Russia to return to CFE, to engage in serious dialogue about security concerns in the OSCE, and to increase transparency provided about military forces through a modernized Vienna Document.

The continued implementation of the Treaty by the 29 States Parties here is a testament to the value we as a group place on arms control. Toward that end, we will continue to encourage constructive engagement by all States Parties to identify and resolve outstanding CFE compliance and implementation issues, such as: completing required reductions, making proper notifications, providing site access, and receiving inspections.

As noted in the Warsaw Summit Declaration, the United States, together with all Allies, reaffirms our willingness to preserve, strengthen and modernize conventional arms control in Europe based on key principles and commitments, including reciprocity, transparency and host nation consent.

Arms control can help stabilize military relationships, even in situations of tension. But arms control can only work if all sides share a common vision of goals and principles. The credibility of arms control is undercut and its purpose is undermined if a party to an agreement prohibiting the stationing of foreign forces without host country consent is prepared to use military force to violate the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of a neighbor, actually to change borders by force.

2016 is, in our view, a moment for focusing on implementation of and compliance with key arms control regimes like CFE and Open Skies. It is a moment for updating our existing transparency regimes like Vienna Document in order to fill the transparency gap and provide critical insight into large scale force movements. We also believe that now is the time to initiate a broad dialogue on security issues among OSCE member states. While this is no substitute for military transparency or legal limits on forces, it is necessary to help in re-building understanding.

The United States is committed to engage in serious discussion to examine ways to confront today’s challenges and take action to overcome them. This includes full participation in CFE and effective modernization of the OSCE’s Vienna Document to enhance military transparency and confidence.

Mr. Chairman, I ask that my remarks be included in the journal of the day.

Remarks by Bruce I. Turner, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, at the Fifth Review Conference of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Vienna