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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CFE Treaty Concession Makes Sense

Five years after the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement was signed in Vienna, putting an end to years of tortuous negotiations to achieve a balance between the armies of East and West that faced each other on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, the Western powers have acquiesced to Russian demands to move the goal posts.


The concession, which allows Russia to keep more tanks and other military hardware in the North Caucasus and St. Petersburg regions than stipulated by the treaty, might seem to throw into question the whole principle that treaties should be binding and also set a dangerous precedent for every agreement signed along the long and rocky path of d?tente. But in this instance, there are compelling grounds for renegotiation.


The main point is that the realities of today's Europe are very different to those of the Cold War era. The political and strategic balance has changed beyond recognition. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Its successor state, Russia, no longer occupies the same territory, nor does it command the same military might or pursue the same strategic interests.


This has left the Western powers with a simple choice: Either bend the terms of an outmoded treaty to accommodate the new Russia, or see Moscow unilaterally abrogate the treaty, making a nonsense of it. If there was any chance of salvaging any part of CFE, renegotiation was the only option.


None of this would cause many qualms to anyone outside the NATO planning rooms, were it not for the moral implications of sanctioning Russian troop deployments in Chechnya. While Russia has pressing and legitimate security concerns in the Caucasus region, the fact is that it has engaged in an extremely brutal war of aggression against its own citizens in Chechnya, for which there should be no reward.


The announcement last week that the Council of Europe was now ready to reconsider Russia's application for membership, frozen last February because of the military intervention in Chechnya, will have done little to reassure the people of the region that the West remains concerned with their plight. The army is still in place in the shattered republic, detentions without trial continue and allegations of atrocities abound.


But the renegotiation of CFE should not be seen as a betrayal of Chechnya. If the Chechens were betrayed by the outside world, that took place long ago when the decision was made that the Chechen war was an internal Russian affair, leaving the West with limited avenues through which to express its disgust. The CFE treaty provides no such an avenue, because its loss would do more harm to the West than to Russia.