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Conventional forces reductions in Europe; can NATO manage the peace crisis?

Conventional Forces Reductions in Europe

Can NATO Manage the Peace Crisis?

NATO's negotiators at the Vienna talks on reducing Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) must be tempted to sit tight on their present positions and wait.

The once solid Warsaw Pact, with which they are negotiating, is crumbling before their very eyes. Headed by new governments committed to democratic elections, individual Pact nations are each beginning to cut their own forces unilaterally and call for Soviet troops to go home. Many Soviets consider that, so long as the bogey of a militarily resurgent Germany can be laid to rest, they should leave the East Europeans to look after their own security requirements.

Such is the speed of change in Eastern Europe that it is hard to know with whom the NATO negotiators will be negotiating next month, and what their individual arms control positions will be. It is even possible that by year's end, when a CFE treaty should be signed, there will be more than one signature in the space reserved for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Popular elections are being held this February in the independence-minded Soviet ethnic republics of Lithuania and Moldavia, and in the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Georgia in March. Several of the administrations thus elected may demand the right to be considered as sovereign states, perhaps - as suggested by a small, but growing number of deputies in the Supreme Soviet - in a confederation with the Russian Republic.

In an attempt to encourage this process, and make Soviet troop withdrawals irreversible, George Bush had suggested - after winning the approval of the US allies - the reduction of American and Soviet troops in a newly defined area of Central Europe to a floor-level of 195 000 each, below which the Americans were not prepared to go. The Soviets accepted this in principle, but dug their toes in over American insistence on keeping 30 000 troops in Greece, Turkey, Italy and the UK, over and above the 195 000. After some haggling, the Soviets finally gave in at Ottawa, so the final score is 195 000 to 225 000.

If, as seems highly probable, the Americans and Soviets can reach agreement on some variant of this proposal, it will transform the European defence scene and pave the way for serious cuts in West European armed forces.

This, however, is where caution should prevail. The Belgians and Dutch have already indicated their intention to cut back their forces stationed in Germany, in Belgium's case to scrap them altogether. In the United Kingdom, contingency plans are being made for the withdrawal of most, if not all, of the British Army of the Rhine. But none of these cutbacks can sensibly be made until an agreement with the Soviets has been signed, sealed and delivered. Right now, the Soviet Army is still in place in Eastern Europe. It was never invited there, unlike the US Army in Western Europe.

Much will be decided by the Germans. It is, after all, on their territory that the bulk of the foreign troops are stationed on each side, as a result of World War II and the subsequent Cold War. The popular rush towards social and economic unification, with West Germany remaining in NATO, on the understanding that no NATO troops are to enter East Germany has now been sanctioned by the Americans, but not yet by the Soviets.

It now seems likely that the West German electorate will call in November for the bulk of NATO troops to be withdrawn, together with all nuclear weapons. NATO's greatest difficulty is therefore not so much with the Soviet Union and disintegrating Warsaw Pact, but with itself. Can it reconcile the timing of domestically-dictated troop cuts with the timing of the signature and implementation of a binding CFE agreement?

The greatest threat to peace in Europe is no longer a possible Soviet invasion of the West, at least not in the near-term. It is, instead, the possibility of nationalist tensions erupting into civil war in the East, including the USSR. We have already seen the first manifestations of this in Azerbaidjan.

West Europeans would be well advised to provide themselves with the means to ensure that such internal eastern conflicts, and their aftermaths, do not spill westwards. No empire has ever been dismantled peacefully.

In addition, to take a long-term view, Russia's sole claim to superpower status is its military strength. It is most unlikely to give up this place at the top table, whatever its current policies.

To see if, and how, it will attempt to capitalize on this power in future...watch this space.
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Author:Furlong, Robert D.M.
Publication:Armada International
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Words:771
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