The One Tool 2016 Presidential Candidates Haven’t Addressed When Dealing With Russia

While 2016 candidates talk about nuclear issues and domestic gun control, there is one forgotten treaty that would enable the US and NATO to drastically reduce the likelihood of armed conventional conflict with Russia and at the same time keep an eye on Russian military modernization.

Outlaw Patriot


CFE – The Forgotten Treaty

The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, or CFE for short, was the culmination of many long years of negotiation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the height of the Cold War. While largely forgotten to a generation so far removed from the specter of the nuclear and conventional arms race during that period, literally thousands of conventional arms, from tanks and artillery to quick strike fixed and rotary wing aircraft stared across a line in the middle of Europe at one another, ready to go to war with one another at a moment’s notice. Even though both sides recognized the need to pull forces back and demilitarize, trust was the primary obstacle and neither side wanted the other to gain the upper hand. Though other plans were tried throughout the 1970s and 1980s, in 1990, amid the internal strife that was already chipping away at the Soviet superpower, the CFE treaty was signed in Paris. It provided for bloc and zonal limitations from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains (ATTU), removed the tension between forces throughout Central Europe, and became known as the “Cornerstone of European Security” for almost 20 years. Key to the agreement was the ability of both sides to receive annual numbers and locations of equipment subject to the treaty, as well as conduct on-site inspections to verify the data exchange.

The treaty entered into force in 1992 even in the midst of the colossal geopolitical changes that were sweeping across Europe and throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union.  While the original treaty was signed by 22 states, it would be ratified by 30 in 1991 due to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. The original 30 states to ratify the treaty were:

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States

With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the treaty was already outdated at the time that it entered into force, as the number of inspections provided by the treaty were calculated upon the number within each bloc and then divided amongst the bloc members. With one bloc no longer in existence, the states simply moved into an inspection regime that was a bloc of NATO and a bloc of “all others”. Germany re-unified in 1990 and the East joined the West in NATO. In 1999, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO, all former Warsaw Pact members. 2004 would bring another substantial expansion of the NATO pact, bringing in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, again, either former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact members.

In 1999, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference in Istanbul, Turkey, the parties to the treaty signed an “Agreement on Adaptation” of the treaty, which would do away with the previous bloc-based limitations and inspection regime and replace it with national and territorial limitations. It would also provide the legal means for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia to accede to the treaty. However, the NATO states also stated that they would not ratify the amended agreement unless Russia first pulled equipment subject to the treaty from Moldova and Georgia. Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine have ratified the agreement (though Ukraine has never deposited its instrument of ratification).

With growing concern over the expansion of NATO despite Russian protests and insistence that it had been given a promise at the end of the Cold War that NATO would not expand into what it deemed it’s “sphere of influence”, Russia called an extraordinary conference in 2007 and announced that due to security concerns it would no longer be a participant in the CFE treaty. While this placed a huge stumbling block in front of one of the most prominent inspection regimes ever created (the CFE treaty was largely the inspiration also for the Dayton Peace Accords which brought about an end to the humanitarian crisis and armed conflict that evolved from the break up of the former Yugoslavia), the other members continued inspection activities and continued to provide annual data exchange information to the Russian Federation until 2011 when the US stated it would cease carrying out certain obligations of the treaty with Russia, and that other NATO states had agreed to, as well. This came after a renewed push by the Obama administration and the State Department to bring Russia back into the treaty.

Russian Military Modernization

Russia began a campaign of modernization of its military forces around 2005, with the culmination of this modernization to be completed around the 2020-2025 time frame. The first steps of this plan began with a re-organization and restructuring of the military industrial complex away from a quasi-Soviet system to a more modern and Westernized structure. This included the building of modern facilities and upgrading repair and maintenance facilities, as well as changes within the production capabilities. Along with these changes, President Putin tapped Anatoly Serdyukov, a former furniture salesman, to be the Minister of Defense. Parallel to this, Russia began a process of departing from conscript service to a professional contract military, though these reforms have met with struggles.

Following the cessation of treaty activities by Russia, which would have given a better look into the restructuring of the Russian military, Putin and Serdyukov set about on a campaign to change the overall structure of the military command. Russian partnership with the US and NATO, and exchange of ideas between the two along with joint exercises, had shown the Russians the value of a well-trained and empowered NCO corps over their officer-heavy military. Russia cut its officer corps by almost 50% and set about making institutional changes to build a better NCO corps. At the same time, it departed from its previous Soviet-era command structure and switched to a structure with less steps from top to bottom, alleviating bureaucratic bog by going from a four-tier command structure to a two-tier with strategic commands and mobile combat brigades.

Now, with the support and command structures in place, Russia is beginning to field modernized equipment based upon designs with “lessons learned” from Western war fighting. While it has been pointed out that some of this equipment lacks the technological punch of its Western counterparts, one thing the Russians have always done well in design and production of its equipment is redundancy of platforms and parts that are interchangeable, making production and maintenance easier. “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is the watch-phrase of the Russian military arms producers, and what the Russian military loses to Western equipment in technology, it more than makes up for in ease of use and maintenance simplicity, keeping forces operational in environments where Western militaries might become bogged down (not to mention the obvious bonus of less on-board electronics meaning less loss effect from the use of EMP weapons – a growing threat in the 21st century battlefield). The recent Russian military parades and MAKS air show have given us a glimpse of some of the new armaments (that would have been subject to inspection under the CFE treaty) the Russians are starting now to field, in what is one of the largest modernizations of the Russian military since the 1960s-1970s:

Armata Universal Combat Platform

Most new Russian armored platforms are being designed off of the Armata Universal Combat Platform (shown above).

T-14 MBT

The T-14 Main Battle Tank.

T-15 Heavy IFV

The T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle.


The 2S35 Self-Propelled Artillery.


The BMD-4M (composed mostly of upgraded pieces from the BMD-3)

kurganets 25 ifv

The Kurganets-25 Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

kurganets 25 apc

The Kurganets-25 Armored Personnel Carrier.




The Bumerang Armored Personnel Carrier (meant to replace BTR-series vehicles).


The Mi-28NE Attack Helicopter.


The Ka-52 Attack Helicopter.


The PAK-FA T-50 Fighter.

Why Bringing Russia Back to CFE Would Matter

With the modernization and restructuring of the Russian military and military industrial complex, all information that the West is receiving in regards to this process is what the Russian government and military wants the West to know. While intelligence can give us some information in regards to satellite imagery, and signals intelligence mixed with reporting from military attaches, it doesn’t give us the full picture, nor does it provide insight directly from the source without it being checked by public relations officers within the Russian military. This doesn’t even take into account the well-documented ability of the Russian military to make imagery unreliable due to countermeasures, nor the continuing development by Russian public and private sector sources to create encryptions that our intelligence services are not able to break.

The benefits of the CFE treaty exchanges and inspection regime are clear:

  1. Annual data exchanges give the numbers and locations of equipment and demand that movements of such equipment are notified to all parties, meaning that all states within the treaty know where the equipment is at all times and lessens the ability to pull off a “sneak attack”.
  2. “Boots on the ground” conducting verification inspections give states peace of mind in knowing that they may verify the data exchanged, but also yields a wealth of other information, such as condition and maintenance of equipment, training conducted, and overall readiness of the unit. In addition, it cannot be understated the benefit of military officers and NCOs from potentially adversarial countries coming together and talking outside of official events.
  3. The treaty provides for limitations of arms subject to the treaty within certain areas. Much of Russia’s equipment was either reduced (and reductions also must be verified by another state part of the treaty) or moved beyond the Ural Mountains to be out of the area covered by the treaty.
  4. When a state brought new equipment into service within the area covered by the treaty, it was obliged to show that equipment to other states that were in the treaty, and they were given unique access to the equipment.

This unique access to the equipment and the military men on the ground, coupled together with information from other sources, allowed us to create a very clear picture of what was transpiring in Russia. That picture is now far out of focus, as displayed by the surprise of Western media and military at the efficiency and effectiveness of Russian airstrikes in Syria.

Why the Candidates Have It Wrong

In following the debates and speeches from the 2016 Presidential candidates from both parties, as well as media coverage of these events, it has become clear that this particular tool of soft power, or diplomatic power, has become forgotten. While candidates on the Republican side often try to liken themselves to Ronald Reagan, they have chosen not to ally themselves with one of the more powerful tools that he used in his battle to deconflict the growing tensions between the two superpowers – arms control. They all have made statements on the importance of nuclear non-proliferation and control over these arms, but conventional arms continue to be used around the world in various crises, and the growing tension in Europe and between the US and Russia could at the very least lead to another arms race, and could very well lead to armed conflict between the various powers. The best tool to step away from the collision course the US and Russia are currently on, and to slow the gradual movement of Russia and China into alliance is the resurrection of this treaty and others like it. “Punching Russia in the nose” only provokes the growing giant that has now risen from off its knees from the devastation of the 1990s. Russia is not the Soviet Union, and Putin is not guiding a nation headed for crumble and ruin. Resurrection will very much depend on how the US and NATO approach the issue, not with the usual demands, but with concessions in hand. However, the pay off just might be the placing of the “cornerstone of European security” back in place, and renewed friendlier relations between East and West.

(Outlaw Patriot was an interpreter/arms control inspector that conducted inspections in accordance with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the Vienna Document of 1999, and the Dayton Peace Accords.)

For further reading on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and Russian Military Modernization, please refer to the following links:

Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe – Wikipedia

Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe – NTI (Nuclear Threat Initiative)

Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Putin’s New Model Army – The Economist

The Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe Treaty and the Adapted CFE Treaty at a Glance – Arms Control Association

NATO Russian Military Modernization General Report – 2015

A US Response to Russia’s Military Modernization – The Heritage Foundation

Photos used in this article were pulled from internet commons. If you are the owner of one of these photos and would like it removed, please contact the author at



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