Updated: 27-Oct-2000 Ministerial Communiqus


March 1988

Conventional Arms Control:
The Way Ahead

Statement issued
under the Authority of the Heads of State and Government
participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council

At Halifax in 1986, our governments issued a clear call to strengthen stability in the whole of Europe through conventional arms control negotiations. At Brussels later that year they elaborated the basic purposes and methods for such negotiations.

The military confrontation in Europe is the result, not the cause, of the painful division which burdens this continent. While seeking to overcome this division in other ways, we also seek security and stability in Europe at the lowest possible level of armaments. Both arms control and adequate defence programmes can contribute towards this goal.

  1. The Present Realities
    1. The Soviet Union's military presence in Europe, at a level far in excess of its needs for self defence, directly challenges our security as well as our hopes for change in the political situation in Europe. Thus the conventional imbalance in Europe remains at the core of Europe's security concerns. The problem is to a large extent a function of the Warsaw Pact's superiority in key conventional weapon systems. But it is not only a matter of numerical imbalances. Other asymmetries are also important, for example:

      • the Warsaw Pact, based on the Soviet Union's forward-deployed forces, has a capability for surprise attack and large-scale offensive action; the Allies neither have, nor aspire to, such a capability;

      • the countries of the Warsaw Pact form a contiguous land mass; those of the Alliance are geographically disconnected;

      • the Warsaw Pact can generate a massive reinforcement potential from distances of only a few hundred kilometres; many Allied reinforcements need to cross the Atlantic;

      • the Warsaw Pact's military posture and activities are still shrouded in secrecy, whereas those of Allied countries are transparent and under permanent public scrutiny.

    2. These asymmetries are compounded by the dominant presence in Europe of the conventional armed forces of the Soviet Union. They represent 50% of all the active divisions in Europe between the Atlantic and the Urals. This Soviet conventional superiority and its military presence in other Eastern European countries serve a political as well as a military function. They cast a shadow over the whole of Europe.

    3. Conventional arms control is not merely a technical corrective to a self- contained problem. It should be seen in a coherent political and security framework.

  2. A Political And Security Framework
    1. We reiterate our conviction that military forces should only exist to prevent war and to ensure self defence, not for the purpose of initiating aggression and not for the purposes of political or military intimidation. Our ability to prevent every kind of war, nuclear or conventional, rests on our capacity and determination to deter any form of aggression. All the Allies' military resources are designed to contribute to that objective. This approach is shared alike both by those Allies who belong to the integrated military organisation and by those who do not.

    2. The relationship between nuclear and conventional forces is complex. The existence of a conventional imbalance in favour of the Warsaw Pact is not the only reason for the presence of nuclear weapons in Europe. The countries of the Alliance are, and will remain, under the threat of Soviet nuclear forces of varying ranges. Although conventional parity would bring important benefits for stability, only the nuclear element can confront a potential aggressor with an unacceptable risk; therefore, for the foreseeable future deterrence will continue to require an adequate mix of nuclear as well as conventional forces.

    3. Hence the determination of our nations to ensure defence preparedness as a means of achieving the stability we seek. We will continue to ensure that our military forces are effective and up-to-date, in particular by:

      • continued compliance with the principle of shared risks and responsibilities and acceptance of the priorities essential to the strengthening of our defence capabilities;

      • provision of adequate defence expenditure, together with efforts to obtain the greatest return on our defence investment;

      • closer co-operation designed to remedy key ddeficiencies and, in this context, support for recent legislative and other initiatives designed to foster co-operation in the area of conventional armaments, especially research, development, production and procurement;

      • helping to meet the needs of the less advantaged Allies in strengthening their conventional defences, thus redressing important existing deficiencies.

    4. It will be important that defence and arms control policies remain in harmony in order to ensure their complementary contribution to the security of the countries of the Alliance. In framing their negotiating proposals for conventional stability, the Allies will ensure that the continued requirement for deterrence and defence is not prejudiced; accordingly they will neither make nor accept proposals which would involve an erosion of the Allies' nuclear deterrent capability.

    5. Security in Europe involves not just military, but also political, economic and, above all, humanitarian factors. We look forward to a Europe undivided, in which people of all states can freely receive ideas and information; enjoy their fundamental human rights; and determine their own future. Allied forces are stationed outside their national territory to protect these values and to uphold the solidarity of our free Alliance. They cannot therefore be equated with Soviet forces stationed in Eastern Europe. A just and lasting peaceful order in Europe requires that all states enjoy relations of confidence with their own citizens; trust them to make political or economic choices of their own; and allow them to receive information from and exchange ideas with citizens of other states.

    6. Conventional arms control talks should be guided by a coherent political vision which reflects these values. It was their adherence to this vision which enabled the Allies to secure a successful outcome to the Stockholm Conference. It is these same considerations that have led the Allies to decide that both the negotiations which they have now proposed, on conventional stability, as well as those on confidence and security building measures, will be undertaken within the framework of the CSCE process.

    7. Those on confidence and security building will involve all 35 CSCE signatory states and will have as their objective to build upon and expand the results of the Stockholm Conference; the agreement reached there marked a significant step towards reducing the risk of war in Europe. Fully implemented over time, it would create more transparency and contribute to greater confidence and predictability of military activities in the whole of Europe. The momentum generated by Stockholm must be maintained.

    8. At the same time we are conscious of the specific responsibility of the 23 members of the two military alliances in Europe whose forces bear most directly on the essential security relationship in Europe. Hence our decision that distinct and autonomous negotiations on conventional stability should take place between the 23 States.

    9. The adoption of mandates for both of the negotiations must be part of a balanced outcome to the Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting, which necessitates substantial progress in all areas of the Helsinki Final Act.

  3. The Allies' Objectives
    1. In accordance with the principles of our approach to conventional arms control, as set out in the Brussels Declaration, our objectives in the forthcoming conventional stability negotiations will be:

      • the establishment of a secure and stable balance of conventional forces at lower levels;

      • the elimination of disparities prejudicial to stability and security;

      • and, as a matter of high priority, the elimination of the capability for launching surprise attack and for initiating large-scale offensive action.

    2. This latter capability is the most worrying in relation to the seizure of territory by an aggressor. Its essential ingredient is the forward deployment of conventional forces capable of rapid mobility and high firepower. Tanks and artillery are among the most decisive components, though other elements of combat capability could prove to be similarly significant. Manpower is also important. But not all items of equipment are appropriate for limitation, if only for technical reasons, and manpower alone is an imprecise guide to offensive capability.

    3. Our aim will be to establish a situation in Europe in which force postures as well as the numbers and deployments of weapon systems no longer make surprise attack and large-scale offensive action a feasible option. We shall pursue this aim on the basis of the following criteria:

      • we need to enhance stability in the whole of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals; and to do so in a way which, while safeguarding the security of all Allies, takes account of the concentrations of Warsaw Pact forces and the particular problems affecting the Central, Southern and Northern regions;

      • in seeking to eliminate the ability to conduct large-scale offensive action, we shall focus on the key weapon systems;

      • we shall propose provisions dealing with stationed forces, taking account of the weight of forward-deployed Soviet conventional forces; we shall also take into consideration capabilities for force generation and reinforcement;

      • equal number or percentage reductions by both sides would not eliminate the disparities which threaten stability in Europe. Our proposals will concentrate instead on results and residual entitlements;

      • our goal is to redress the conventional imbalance. This can be achieved through a set or measures including, inter alia, reductions, limitations, redeployment provisions and related measures as well as the establishment of equal ceilings;

      • this outcome will require highly asymmetrical reductions by the East and will entail, for example, the elimination from Europe of tens of thousands of Warsaw Pact weapons relevant to surprise attack, among them tanks and artillery pieces;

      • reductions of combat-decisive equipment and modification of the Soviet forward deployment posture will only be part of our approach to reducing the risk of conflict. As a concurrent element in any effort to enhance stability and security, we shall also propose measures to produce greater openness of military activities throughout Europe, safeguard the maintenance of lower force levels, and support a rigorous, effective and reliable monitoring and verification regime;

      • this monitoring and verification regime will need to include the exchange of detailed data about forces and deployments; and the right to conduct sufficient on-site inspections to provide confidence that agreed provisions are being complied with.

  4. The Way Ahead
    1. Early agreement on a conventional stability mandate, as part of a balanced outcome to the Vienna Follow-up Meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, would be an important step forward. We seek the elimination of the conventional imbalances which so threaten stability and security in Europe. We also seek enhanced respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms on which lasting security and stability ultimately depend.

    Greece recalls its position on nuclear matters.

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