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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Clear Sign the Treaties are Obsolete

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President Vladimir Putin's announcement on Thursday that Russia would suspend its obligations under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and might actually withdraw from the agreement should have come as no surprise. But it seems to have startled the signatories of the treaty who have turned a deaf ear to the Kremlin's repeated warnings that it will not tolerate a situation in which Russia fulfills its obligations under the treaty and others do not.

For several years, senior Kremlin officials have voiced frustration that no NATO members have ratified and adapted the 1999 version of the CFE Treaty.

Still, the United States and other powerful NATO members have preferred to ignore the grievances or counter them will calls for Russia to fulfill a declaration that it signed along with the adapted treaty at an Istanbul summit in 1999. The declaration calls on Russia to withdraw all troops from Georgia and Moldova.

There is no direct legal link, however, between the ratification of the updated treaty and the military pullout, so the U.S. argument is flawed -- even though some argue that it would be in the spirit of the two documents for Russia to withdraw from Georgia and Moldova.

But a country like the United States has little moral right to argue about the spirit of the adapted CFE Treaty. The United States has not only failed to ratify the adapted treaty but also a number of key international treaties, including the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This 1969 convention requires that signatories fulfill treaties they have signed, regardless of whether other countries have signed as well. Russia has signed this convention, obliging it to fulfill the adapted CFE Treaty, while the United States has not, even though it is a signatory of the adapted treaty.

This leaves Russia with no choice but to pass legislation to abrogate either the Vienna convention or the CFE Treaty if it wants to end its obligations under the CFE. There is no clause in the treaty that allows a signatory to suspend its obligations.

Or NATO signatories could finally heed Russia's grievances and ratify the treaty, a cornerstone of European security architecture that sets limits on weapons and ensures the transparency of deployments.

Otherwise, Russia -- which is close to completing the pullout of troops from Georgia, with the exception of peacekeepers -- may indeed walk out of the CFE Treaty. Such a withdrawal -- coming at a time when the START-I treaty is expiring and Russia is threatening to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty -- would send the remaining European security architecture tumbling down. This would not lead to a new Cold War but would make geopolitics on the European continent far less stable and predictable.