The independent resource on global security

15. Conventional arms control



I. Introduction

II. European arms control

III. Building confidence and stability in Europe

IV. Regional arms control and confidence building

V. The Open Skies Treaty

VI. Mines

VII. Confidence building in Asia

VIII. Conclusions


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The year 2004 marked the fifth anniversary of the decisions taken by the participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit on ‘hard’ conventional arms control in Europe. Regrettably, the process remained deadlocked. Seven new members were admitted to NATO in 2004. This increased Russia’s concerns about the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty), which are related to the fact that Russia considers itself to be at a growing security disadvantage. The 1999 Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty did not enter into force because of the refusal of the NATO members and other states to ratify it in the face of Russia’s non-compliance with some of its so-called ‘Istanbul commitments’ related to military pullouts from Georgia and Moldova.


The prolonged crisis over the adapted CFE Treaty has had a corrosive influence on the political atmosphere and the prospects for a pan-European arms control regime. At the end of 2004 the two main actors on the European scene, NATO and Russia, continued to stick to their unyielding standpoints. Nevertheless, the conventional ‘hard’ arms control regime successfully weathered the 2004 wave of NATO enlargement and the associated problem of a legal CFE ‘black hole’ along the new NATO–Russia border (the Baltic states are not covered by the treaty). The Russian Federation made the conciliatory gesture of ratifying the Agreement on Adaptation, hoping to increase pressure on NATO to do the same. Meanwhile, new efforts were made by Georgia and Moldova to resolve their ‘frozen conflicts’ where Russia plays a pivotal role. Increasing difficulties stemming from the constraints that the outdated CFE Treaty place on NATO’s operational flexibility might also contribute to a Western review of the Agreement on Adaptation issue.


In 2004 regional arms control developed and functioned smoothly. Progress made allowed the OSCE to suspend the operation of the Agreement on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in Bosnia and Herzegovina from September 2004. The OSCE participating states continued to focus on adjusting and further developing certain norm- and standard-setting measures (NSSMs) in order to better respond to the risks and challenges that face Europe and its neighbours. The evolution of European confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) and NSSMs is currently directed at: sharing these accomplishments with adjacent regions and regions outside the OSCE area; developing measures to ensure stricter controls on small arms and light weapons, surplus ammunition, landmines, and the like; and further regional applications. Regional CSBMs that focus on security and military activities in the vicinity of borders, as well as other measures, could be usefully applied to deadlocked crisis situations.


Croatia and Slovenia ratified the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies in 2004. The prospects for this treaty regime have regional and possible non-military dimensions. The treaty’s review conference in February 2005 demonstrated that many states parties value the achievements of this aspect of European arms control and wish to maintain its relevance. An increase in the number of parties and extension of the Open Skies regime to countries in potential conflict zones in the Balkans and the eastern part of Europe would help to promote that goal.


The problem of inhumane weapons also continues to engage the international community. In 2004 the major humanitarian and military security frameworks continued to gain support and importance, thereby helping to reduce the scourge of mines worldwide, although the dilemma remains of choosing between a total ban and measures of restraint in the application of such weapons.