The independent resource on global security

15. Conventional arms control



I. Introduction

II. Conventional arms control: a balance sheet, 1990–2005

III. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe

IV. Building confidence and stability in Europe

V. The Treaty on Open Skies

VI. Mines and unexploded ordnance

VII. Looking ahead: some recommendations


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Much effort has been devoted to arms control in the field of conventional weapons, both globally and regionally, but it has failed to take firm root outside Europe. Europe remains a role model in this context insofar as controls on conventional forces continue to have a substantial stabilizing, security-building role in intra-European relations based on openness, transparency and mutual reassurance. However, because of critical security changes since 1989, even Europe faces serious challenges in maintaining this heritage.


The year 2005 marked the 15th anniversary of the signing of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty). The updating of Europe’s ‘hard’ conventional arms control regime remains stalled by disagreements between Russia and the West over texts adopted at the 1999 Istanbul Summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). As a result, entry into force of the 1999 Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty remains hostage to Russia’s completion of its promised military pull-outs from Georgia and Moldova. In Georgia, the May 2005 agreement on the complete closure of Russian military bases and other facilities in the country was welcomed as a promising ‘step forward’, but in Moldova deadlock persists over Russian personnel and equipment. In the spring of 2006 the viability of the CFE Treaty regime appeared uncertain, with Russia positioning itself for a showdown at the 2006 CFE Third Review Conference.


In 2005 the OSCE participating states continued to evaluate, adjust and develop certain arms control-related endeavours, including confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) and other arrangements. Little progress has been made in rethinking confidence- and stability-building approaches to the kinds of menace that Europe actually faces today: combinations of intra-state violence and trans-state or global threats. One of the vital tests for CSBMs is whether they are applicable in intra-state ‘foul-weather’ conditions (i.e., during times of crisis, conflict, war, etc.), such as the frozen conflict in Moldova. The ‘demilitarization’ and confidence-building schemes for Moldova presented by the OSCE were controversial on political and military grounds.


Globally, the problem of ‘inhumane weapons’ continues to engage the international community. The 1997 Anti-Personnel Mines Convention, widely supported both by states and grassroots movements, is viewed as a valuable contribution to ‘human security’ as well as traditional ‘hard’ security. With regard to Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, the three main actors—China, Russia and the USA—are reportedly moving more actively towards ratifying it. However, the main opponents to an agreement on anti-vehicle mines continued to block progress on various grounds such as doubts regarding civilian risks posed by such mines and the alleged technological and financial challenges.


Dr Zdzislaw Lachowski (Poland) is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Euro-Atlantic, Regional and Global Security Project.