ARMS control is finally starting to catch up to the political revolution that has transformed world order over the last year. The Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty tentatively agreed to by the United States and the Soviet Union last week would still allow thousands of heavy weapons on European soil. But it makes formal the large force reductions launched by the fall of the Warsaw Pact, and points the way to even bigger cuts in coming years.
The agreement sets the stage for a meeting of great symbolism this November, when the 35 nations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) gather in Paris. NATO and Warsaw Pact nations will almost certainly sign the CFE pact before this gathering, marking not only the end of the cold war but the beginning of a new European security system.
``As Europe is transformed politically, we must also redraw the military map of the continent and lift some of the shadows and fears that we and our allies have lived with for nearly half a century,'' said President Bush last week.
That political change is now pulling arms treaties along can be seen in the unprecedented swiftness with which the CFE accord was reached. Previous conventional arms negotiations, the Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks, stretched on for 15 years and accomplished little. CFE was completed in 19 months.
Final hurdles were overcome last week in a US-USSR negotiating blitz in-between UN meetings. ``The Soviets were ready to talk CFE,'' shrugs a senior administration official when asked why things came together so quickly.
US Secretary James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze last week weren't able to overcome final obstacles to a big strategic nuclear reduction accord. But Mr. Baker said progress had been made on a number of complex issues, and that he was optimistic a strategic treaty could be wrapped up this year.
The CFE treaty is also unusual in that the vast majority of its reductions will apply to only one side: the remnants of the Warsaw Pact, and particularly the Soviet Union. There are two reasons for this disparity. First, in terms of sheer equipment numbers the Warsaw Pact forces were much larger to begin with. Second, for most weapon categories limits agreed to turned out to be not as low as NATO negotiators had originally sought.
For example, NATO will have to destroy about 4,000 tanks to get down to the 20,000-per alliance that the conventional arms pact would allow. The Warsaw Pact, however, would have to destroy 19,000. For other weapon categories the disparity is greater.
Under the terms of the treaty Europe would remain a continent heavy with weaponry. Besides 20,000 tanks, each alliance would still be allowed 20,000 combat vehicles, 20,000 artillery pieces, and 2,000 helicopters, among other arms. ``This treaty doesn't save the strapped American taxpayer one penny,'' says David Shorr, associate director of the British American Security Information Council.
But besides allowing treaty inspectors into European military bases, say other analysts, the pact would add momentum to an almost irreversible trend toward further conventional arms reductions. The Pentagon has announced plans to bring home 40,000 US troops from Europe during fiscal 1991; the collapse of the Warsaw Pact as a military alliance means it appears almost certain the Soviet Union will bring home all, or almost all, their troops from Eastern Europe in coming years.
Limits on troop numbers were dropped from the current CFE negotiations. Both the US and the Soviet Union have already committed themselves to addressing troop limits again in some sort of CFE2 negotiations.
Whether CFE2 talks would continue to be alliance-to-alliance discussions is problematic. As a cohesive entity, the Warsaw Pact hardly exists any longer. Indeed, the forces of one ex-member, East Germany, have been subsumed into the other side since CFE talks first began.
Instead of negotiating bloc to bloc, further conventional arms talks will take place under the auspices of a newly important CSCE, says Congressional Research Service security affairs analyst Stan Sloan. The US continues to push for NATO as the cornerstone of European security. But it is inevitable that in Paris in November the CSCE will begin transforming itself from a shadow group into a real international organization.
Among other things, CSCE is expected to establish a permanent secretariat with a staff, and found a conflict-prevention center that will likely be located in Berlin and could be a forum for future conventional arms talks.