On November 7, 2023, the Russian Foreign Ministry officially announced the withdrawal of Russia from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). This decision was accompanied by a list of concerns raised by the ministry regarding the actions of Western countries. They argued that the United States and NATO had breached the treaty’s terms, and Russia’s withdrawal was described as a justified response to these alleged violations.
The CFE treaty was a historic agreement signed on November 19, 1990, in Paris during the final years of the Cold War. This landmark treaty involved 22 NATO member countries and former Warsaw Pact nations. The CFE treaty considered a pivotal element of European security, established comprehensive restrictions on major categories of conventional military equipment in Europe. Furthermore, it mandated the destruction of surplus weaponry.
The treaty aimed to bring about equitable limits for both groups of states involved: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. Its primary goal was to uphold a military balance between NATO and the then-existing Warsaw Pact countries, allaying concerns of potential offensives by either alliance against the other.
In 2007, Russia suspended its participation, and subsequently, in 2015, it fully withdrew from the treaty. The recent formal announcement on October 7 also signifies Russia’s decision to sever ties with two related agreements. The first of these is the Budapest Memorandum, signed on November 3, 1990, which imposed limits on conventional weaponry for six Warsaw Pact nations. The second agreement is the Flank Agreement, concluded on May 31, 1996. This agreement introduced amendments to the original Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, addressing specific issues related to the treaty’s implementation and provisions. Russia’s withdrawal from these agreements reflects its changing stance on conventional arms control in Europe.
Since its establishment in 1949, NATO’s membership has steadily expanded from 12 to 31 countries, achieved through nine rounds of enlargement. The most recent addition to the Alliance was Finland, which officially joined on April 4, 2023, further bolstering NATO’s member states and its role in ensuring collective defense and security.
Russia has expressed its concern regarding the U.S. push for the expansion of NATO, stating that this expansion has led to alliance countries openly circumventing the treaty’s group restrictions. In response to these developments, Russia has also commented that the admission of Finland into NATO and Sweden’s application to join the alliance signifies, in its view, the demise of the treaty. This information was reported by Reuters.
Russia’s withdrawal from the treaty has raised concerns about the security of European nations, as it disrupts the existing security framework in Europe. The treaty had been a crucial source of transparency regarding military holdings, and its absence may result in heightened tensions between Russia and NATO member countries. This withdrawal eliminates a significant aspect of transparency and confidence-building in the region.
Moreover, the withdrawal from the treaty could set a precedent that encourages other nations to withdraw from similar agreements, potentially jeopardizing arms control, disarmament efforts, and negotiation processes. Such actions may be seen as an arbitrary willingness to abandon established treaties and agreements, potentially leading to future threats to international security and stability.