Nato issued a statement on 7 November stating that allied nations will suspend their part in in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), in response to Russia’s earlier withdrawal from the treaty in 2015 and illegal invasion of Ukraine last year.
The statement went on to reiterate “a commitment to reducing military risk and preventing misperceptions and conflicts.” In press briefing at the Pentagon on the same day the deputy press secretary could not provide details on whether this would result in a change of force posture in Europe.
The balance between ensuring security and the treaty requirement to avoid escalation stirred dispute between Nato allies earlier this year. In July, when Germany decided it would send 4000 troops in Lithuania, it was clear that this was outside the terms of the treaty, as the new forces would be beyond the limitations on permanently stationed forces near Russian borders.
When asked about the movement of troops to Lithuania, the Chair of Nato’s Defence Committee remarked that the plans were not part of the collective agreement coming out of Nato’s prior summit in Madrid. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told the Times that the treaty with Russia that deterred the defence of Nato’s eastern flank as ‘dead’, killed by Russia’s announcement to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, and that Nato should scrap its constraints on establishing permanent bases near Russia’s borders.
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The original treaty set limits on the number of troops within certain categories that could be stationed in Europe, grouping together on the one hand all the nations of Nato, and on the other the former soviet signatories of the Warsaw Pact, and giving each group the same ceiling for the number of forces they could have in reserve and on active duty in Europe.
The CFE was established in the final years of the Cold War, limiting military forces that can be placed within continental Europe, from the shores of the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains deep in Russian territory.
As the political context changed, the CFE underwent adaptation, including through the founding act on mutual relations, cooperation and security, that was signed between Nato and the Russian Federation in 1997 and updated through to 2009. When Russia withdrew from the treaty in 2015, Nato still adhered to elements of the treaty intended to avoid provocation within Russia.