The Threat of Conventional Weapons

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chapter 2

Weapons are an integral part of any military. Conventional weapons of the early twenty-first century are accurate and deadly enough to destroy almost all types of military targets, including buried command centers, hardened aircraft shelters, and tanks and other armored vehicles. Challenging and combating the proliferation, or spread, of weapons that can be used against the United States and its allies is a top priority on the national security agenda.

Weapons proliferation involves both the spread of arms across national borders and the buildup of states' arsenals. An increase in weapons sales and production, however, is not always associated with wars or other conflicts. Such factors as power, prestige, ideology, and perceived threats can influence greatly a state's decision to buy, sell, or produce weapons. Often companies and states increase their weapons production and export levels because of political and economic factors or the perceived need to stay ahead in technological innovation.

Both conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose their own set of unique problems. Conventional weapons include all types of armaments that do not fall under the WMD category, including small arms, machine guns, grenades, land mines, armored vehicles, radar equipment, aircraft, submarines, and ships. Key players in arms trafficking are individuals, transnational groups (which may include terrorists, organized crime, religious groups, drug traffickers, multinational businesses, or others), defense contractors, and governments themselves. Trade in surplus weapons is a significant source of revenue for several countries, including the United States.

Key factors in the proliferation of conventional weapons since 1990 have included Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, which made some Persian Gulf states increasingly insecure about their own national security; the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which released weapons systems into the international market that were no longer needed by the newly independent states; and technological innovation that has reduced the time between a weapon's development and its replacement by a newer system, creating a surplus of outdated, but still powerful, weapons that find their way onto the world market.


Although international transfers of major conventional weapons have generally declined since their peak in 1997, vigorous trade in such weapons continues. (See Figure 2.1.)

Most arms sales go to developing countries, particularly those involved in regional conflicts or disputes. Among the biggest importers of arms are China, Taiwan, Israel, India, and Turkey. As a region, the Near East is the largest buyer of arms, followed by Asia, Africa, and Latin America. African countries have shown the largest increase in arms purchases in the period from 1995 through 2002. (See Table 2.1.)

Trends and Players

In previous decades, the cold war saw the increased export of arms from the U.S. and Soviet blocs to countries around the world to help maintain regional strongholds and, thereby, the balance of power. Both sides were also eager to ship weapons to their Third World allies to support various "national movements" or to suppress insurgent (rebel) activities. Such regional hotspots as Iran/Iraq, Pakistan/India, and Afghanistan became lucrative markets for arms sales. Unfortunately, these weapons were often used by corrupt regimes against ethnic minorities or to commit other human rights violations. Developing countries that spent millions of dollars acquiring weapons and weapons systems diverted resources from critical social programs.

The end of the cold war disrupted the worldwide arms flow but did not bring an end to global hostilities. Conflicts in the Balkans and Africa, as well as intrastate and interstate tensions in the former Soviet bloc, continued to create markets for weapons. Although the disintegration of the Soviet Union temporarily halted arms sales from that region, the immediate need for hard currency in the newly independent states and the abundance of Soviet-made weapons and weapons systems drove them onto the arms market.

The first years of the twenty-first century have seen an interesting pattern of buyers and sellers that is different from the sales patterns established during the cold war. Key Western allies, such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have turned to the former Soviet states for certain weapons systems, as have China and Iran. Russia aggressively marketed its defense equipment in order to raise funds to help stabilize its fledgling market economy and finance its oil sector. Despite Russia's internal political upheavals and problems within the military, countries including Kuwait, India, the UAE, and Malaysia still view it as a strong military supplier. Russia sold T-72 tanks to Syria and Su-30 fighter jets and SA-20 surface-to-air missiles to China, much to the displeasure of the American government.

The U.S. Role

u.s. arms exports. Western arms sales go not only to developing countries but also to such key U.S. allies as Israel, Taiwan, certain Persian Gulf states, and NATO countries. Frequently, countries such as Pakistan and Israel use U.S. military assistance programs to finance the purchase of American military equipment. These high-quality, American-made weapons, though sold to U.S. allies, can eventually find their way into various states of concern and into the hands of dangerous transnational groups (terrorists and organized crime) after the initial exchange. U.S. armed forces are accustomed to using these weapons, not facing them in the hands of opposing armed forces. This is a source of concern to defense planners.

Despite U.S. concern about American-made weapons being used against U.S. troops, the United States was the world's largest weapons supplier between 1995 and 2002. (See Table 2.2.)

"U.S. Policy on Small/Light Arms Export," a report prepared by Lora Lumpe of the Federation of American Scientists for the Academy of Arts and Sciences Conference on Controlling Small Arms, December 1997, identified five primary channels through which arms leave the United States:

  1. Foreign military sales (FMS), which are negotiated at a state level between governments
  2. Excess defense weapons under the Foreign Assistance Act
  3. Direct industry sales
  4. Covert government operations
  5. Illegal markets

According to the Congressional Research Service's report Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1995–2002, some of the major weapons sales by the United States in 2002 included:

  • Sixteen AH-64 Apache helicopters and related equipment to Kuwait (valued at $870 million)
  • Ten F-16 C/D combat fighter aircraft to Chile (valued at $500 million)
  • Three Aegis combat systems to South Korea for its KDX-3 destroyers (valued at over $960 million)
  • Twelve F-16 C/D fighter aircraft, munitions, and support to Oman (valued at over $700 million)

the regulation and control of u.s. arms sales. U.S. arms sales are technically governed by regulations that forbid sales to certain countries of concern and regimes known to be oppressive. The 1976 Arms Export Control Act (AECA), overseen by the Office of Defense Trade Controls (ODTC) within the Bureau of Political Military Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, is the primary law regulating U.S. arms sales. AECA mandates that American weapons must be exported only for United Nations (UN) operations, self-defense purposes, and as responses to internal security threats. It also requires the Departments of Defense and State to produce regular


Regional arms transfer agreements, by supplier, 1995–2002
(in millions of current U.S. dollars)
AsiaNear EastLatin AmericaAfrica
Note: All foreign data are rounded to the nearest $100 million. The United States total for Near East in 1999–2002 includes a $6.432 billion licensed commercial agreement with the United Arab Emirates in 2000 for 80 F-16 aircraft.
*Major West European category included France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy.
source: "Table 1C. Regional Arms Transfer Agreements, by Supplier, 1995–2002," in Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1995–2002, Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2003, (accessed September 23, 2004)
United States5,4266,46213,31427,2071,2451,87789109
United Kingdom3,8005001,20060000200700
All other European1,9001,2003,1002,1001,9006007003,800
All others2,7002,0001,2001,9001,000600800800
Major West European*7,3005,00010,0001,9001,1003004003,200


Arms deliveries to the world, by supplier, 1995–2002
19951996199719981999200020012002Total 1995–2002
source: "Table 9A. Arms Deliveries to the World, by Supplier, 1995–2002," in Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1995–2002, Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2003, (accessed September 23, 2004)
United States19,38217,63319,04419,09719,87713,8719,98710,241129,133
United Kingdom6,4207,7017,8934,3005,5307,0074,7164,70048,267
All other European4,2394,0285,1073,7343,2083,1262,0961,80027,339
All others2,4222,3692,9022,0372,5442,1562,3062,10018,836

reports and notify Congress of any significant arms sales. The ODTC is responsible for the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which contains a list of all munitions acceptable for export. All companies wishing to sell such equipment need to register with the ODTC and obtain the appropriate export license before concluding any sales.

Another important law regulating U.S. arms sales is the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, which calls for military and other developmental aid to friendly governments. This law bars any sales to oppressive governments and countries adhering to policies contrary to American values and beliefs.

These regulations have not always proved effective, as demonstrated by arms sales to oppressive regimes such as Iraq (during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980–88) and Indonesia. Perhaps the biggest blow to U.S. credibility on its arms export policies was the Iran-contra affair. In November 1986 officials of the administration of President Ronald Reagan announced that some of the money earned from arms sales to Iran had been redirected to aid the Nicaraguan contras (rebels), an act that violated an existing ban on aid to Nicaraguan military and paramilitary activities. The arms sales to Iran had been conducted primarily to secure the release of Americans held hostage in the Middle East. High-ranking members of the Reagan administration, including President Reagan himself, Vice President George H. W. Bush, National Security Advisor John Poindexter, Secretary of State George Schultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and Director of Central Intelligence William Casey were aware of the arms sales, but how many members of the administration were directly aware that the money was being rerouted to the contras is not clear. The independent investigation that followed embroiled the Reagan administration in a major scandal; National Security Advisor John Poindexter, former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, and their assistant Lt. Col. Oliver North resigned as a result.

The U.S. Department of State began the Blue Lantern program in 1990 to strengthen U.S. export controls to make sure U.S. arms exports do not end up in the wrong hands or abet any illicit supply networks. The primary function of the program is to perform end-use checks on all U.S. arms exports. Generally conducted by U.S. personnel abroad, their purpose is to ensure the material is not acquired using fraudulent documentation. The Blue Lantern program is designed to promote the responsible sale of weapons to allies and to prevent the transfer of dual-use technology to adversaries. (Dual-use items are controlled materials that have either military or civilian applications.)

According to the State Department, in 2003 the ODTC conducted 413 checks and discovered 76 transactions that were in violation of established policies. Of these, the majority (47%) of recipients were in the Western Hemisphere, followed by Asia (22%), Europe (18%), the Near East and South Asia (at 5% each), and Africa (3%). (See Figure 2.2.) Most of the sales in the Western Hemisphere involved firearms, ammunition, and explosives. Sales in Asia were often aircraft and helicopter spare parts. In "End-Use Monitoring of Defense Articles and Defense Services Commercial Exports," the State Department reported that in fiscal year (FY) 2003 cooperation between U.S. Customs and the State Department led to more than 665 commercial arms seizures, worth more than $106 million.

Other Countries

A number of countries acquire weapons to either expand or replace military equipment, and there is intense and increasing competition among weapons suppliers. In addition to the United States, countries including France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and Germany are also significant players on the world arms market. According to the Stocklholm International Peace Research Institute in 2004, Russia's weapon sales were about $7 billion in 2003. For the period 1999 through 2003, Russia sold $26.2 billion worth of weapons. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom followed with $6.4, $5.2, and $4.2 billion worth of sales, respectively, over the same period.

Although weapons sales by European countries declined in the early twenty-first century, especially sales to developing countries, Western European contractors heavily compete with American companies for sales. Additionally, they have historically served as significant suppliers in the conventional arms market to those countries that are not traditional clients of the United States.

Russia's increased arms trade is a direct result of the economic and political turmoil Russia faced after the


Soviet breakup. It continues to supply its past allies and those already familiar with Russian technology, including India, China, and Iran. In March 2003 the U.S. charged (Daily Telegraph, March 25, 2003) that Russia had violated UN trade sanctions by supplying Iraq with advanced weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and night-vision goggles. Illicit arms sales are also a continuing problem. According to a 2001 UN report on illicit arms traffic (Report of the Panel of Experts Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001), paragraph 19, concerning Liberia, United Nations, New York, NY, October 26, 2001), former KGB officer Victor Bout is a leading arms dealer who sells millions of dollars worth of Russian and Eastern European weapons to embargoed African countries engaged in civil wars.

In comparison with other states, China entered the arms market somewhat late, in the 1980s. With sales of approximately $1.5 billion from 1999 to 2003, China supplies arms to countries unable to afford newer, more sophisticated technology. It sold antiship missiles to Iran and remains the primary supplier for Pakistan. China is rumored to have provided missile technology to Iran and North Korea, raising concerns within the arms control community.

The Persian Gulf remains one of the most active theaters when it comes to arms sales. Five states surrounding the Gulf (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Yemen) and five more in its near vicinity (Egypt, Israel, Libya, Syria, and Turkey) possess ballistic missile capabilities and are prime buyers of Western weapons equipment. Along with these missile capabilities, several other factors make this region of particular importance to the West. These include energy resources (there is an abundance of oil and natural gas fields in the region), the Iranian threat (the country has defiantly continued to develop its nuclear weapons capability), and strategic military alliances (Israel, Egypt, and Jordan all serve as important Western allies in the area). Extensive talks have taken place among U.S. and regional policy makers about the implications of deploying a theater missile defense in the Gulf. The main purpose of deploying this system would be to protect U.S. vital strategic interests and those of its main regional allies: member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Contributing to a heightened perception of threats for most states in this theater are past use of WMD, revelations about Iranian and Iraqi WMD programs, and the instability in other Gulf states and the former Soviet Union. Accordingly, purchasing top-of-the-line equipment is a strong priority for the defense ministries of these countries.

An ongoing Cooperative Defense Initiative between the United States and its GCC allies, focuses, among other things, on improved interoperability (coordination between two separate entities, such as by holding joint exercises and simulations) among these countries. Also, through the Hizam al-Taawun ("belt of cooperation") project, these states are coordinating their shared early warning and air defense systems. This should theoretically allow the GCC states to pool their defense resources, spending less money individually but sharing in collective security. The project was initially undertaken in 1997, when GCC defense ministers collectively agreed to purchase "a $500 million ground-based early warning system that would link the GCC states' radars and communication systems" (Robert Shuey, "Theater Missile Defense: Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, May 22, 2001). Nevertheless, besides a few Patriot units deployed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the region still lacks a cohesive joint infrastructure to protect against missile attacks. (Patriot units consist of the Patriot missile, its launcher, high-tech radar, and an engagement control station [a station where operators control the missiles and identify targets]. The Patriot missile is a high-velocity missile that focuses on neutralizing incoming missiles before they hit the ground. It can achieve supersonic speed within twenty feet of leaving the launcher and has a range of at least 100 kilometers.)

Arms Importers

On the receiving end of arms sales, the United States obtained less than $1.3 billion worth of arms from 1999 to 2003, ranking number twenty-seven in the world in arms imports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in 2004. China was the largest arms importer, receiving $11.8 billion worth of major conventional weapons from 1999 to 2003. India ranked second with $7.8 billion worth of imports over the same period, followed by Greece ($4.4 billion), Turkey ($3.5 billion), and the United Kingdom ($3.3 billion). Two countries showed particularly dramatic increases in their arms imports during this period: Greece (from $556 million annually to $2 billion annually) and India (from $1 billion annually to $3.6 billion annually).


Small arms are highly desirable to guerilla and other sub-national groups because they tend to be cheap, easy to conceal, and easy to transport. Though definitions vary, examples of small arms include revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, light machine guns, sub-machine guns, and assault rifles. Examples of light weapons include heavy machine guns, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable antitank guns and recoilless rifles, portable launchers of antitank missile and rocket systems, portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars of calibers less than 100 millimeters. Such weapons are of grave concern to individual states and the international community, but the issue has not been addressed multilaterally (by more than two nations) until quite recently. The definition of terms and concerns about sovereignty, among other things, have impeded a global consensus on small arms proliferation.

Organizations Battle Small Arms Proliferation

International government organizations (IGOs)—organizations made up of various countries, typically represented by government officials of these individual countries—and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—organizations set up to study particular areas of focus and are typically not made up of any government officials—have been very strong proponents of halting small arms proliferation.

the united nations (un). The UN organized a platform for debate on conventional small arms sales. After its initial proposition in 1997 and subsequent reiteration in 1999 by a panel of experts, the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons was held July 9–20, 2001. Representatives from the governments of more than 150 countries attended. The conference adopted a program of action, described in the DDA 2001 Update (UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, June-July, 2001) as "a comprehensive document, containing unprecedented political commitments and concrete measures at the national, regional and global levels to tackle the illegal trade in small arms."

The United States, in particular, had reservations regarding rules and regulations proposed at the conference because of domestic considerations. The National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful American gun owners' lobbying group, among others, maintained that the UN's recommendations violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Second Amendment deals with individual citizens' "right to bear arms" and therefore affects measures that might constrain the legal manufacture of small arms and prohibit civilians from possessing them. As a matter of sovereignty (a nation's right to make its own laws and policies), the United States would not accept any language that would infringe on Americans' national right to bear arms.

The end result of the conference was an eighty-six paragraph report (the "Programme of Action") dealing with illegal trade in small arms and assistance to affected states. The Programme of Action called for implementing an arms embargo, improving interstate cooperation, and encouraging cooperation among civil society organizations (another label for NGOs).

The future of the UN conference and the Programme of Action is questionable. Although various international groups strongly support it, states remain hesitant about endorsing the agreement. Furthermore, ambiguous language and the conference's inability to agree on definitions leave it susceptible to violations. Verification of states' compliance would also be difficult. However, the conference is still viewed by many gun-control activists as a step in the right direction. A follow-up series of meetings was held in New York in July 2003 to discuss progress toward full implementation of the Programme of Action. According to a summary report issued at the conclusion of the meetings by Kuniko Inoguchi of Japan, who served as the meetings' chairperson, "Barely two years after the adoption of the Programme of Action, progress has been made across the world in public disclosures about the origins, destinations, modus operandi and profiling of groups engaged in illicit arms trade." A review conference will be held to assess the broader success of the program no later than 2006.

the world health organization (who). The WHO is another IGO that confronts the problem of arms sales. The WHO believes it has a direct stake in the issue, since thousands of people are killed or injured by violent armed attacks annually. In October 2002 it issued the World Report on Violence and Health, a study that included seeking "practical, internationally agreed responses to the global drug trade and the global arms trade" among its key recommendations.

the international criminal police organization (interpol). The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) tackles arms trafficking by creating a platform where countries agree to share information to help eliminate it. Interpol has 181 member nations and runs a database to collect information on illegal firearms and track stolen and recovered weapons.

the organization for security and cooperation in europe (osce). Small arms trafficking is one of many issues related to international security and stability dealt with by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In April 2000 the OSCE Forum for Security and Cooperation held a seminar on small arms proliferation and conventional weapons trafficking. A product of this seminar was the OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which aimed to help the UN combat illicit weapons trafficking. The OSCE document pledges that member states will take extreme precautions when it comes to arms transfers (which are to be undertaken only for legitimate purposes) as well as develop confidence-building and transparency measures. (Confidence building implies unilateral or joint efforts to boost trust between member parties, while transparency implies openness. Generally, these are achieved by holding joint exercises as well as on-site inspections and data exchanges.) It is important to note that the document does not call for the creation of a new authority to combat small arms trafficking. Rather, it relies on the voluntary declaration of participating states to stand by the principles of the document.

the international action network on small arms (iansa). The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) is an umbrella organization representing more than 340 NGOs dedicated to combating arms proliferation. IANSA encourages coordination among human rights groups, development agencies, gun control lobby groups, public health organizations, and religious groups. These groups also focus on ways to rein corporate former combatants, including child soldiers, into everyday life.

african and latin american ngos. Not all NGOs believe that loose coordination among international groups is the best method for eliminating the arms trade. Some NGOs in Africa and Latin America, such as the Vivario—a Brazilian organization that fights to abolish arms and educate the public about their dangers—are proponents of establishing a strong, centrally organized, international body to fight conventional arms proliferation.


Land mines are another type of conventional weapon of concern to the United States. Once a land mine has been placed in an area it can remain active for years, even decades. Since they are usually planted in large numbers they can render entire regions unsafe for anyone, combatant or civilian, to enter even long after a war is over. Over 100 countries possess more than 250 million antipersonnel land mines (APMs), and a worldwide grassroots movement has emerged to rid the globe of these deadly weapons. Land mines and other unexploded ordnance affect hundreds of thousands of people. According to the U.S. State Department, more than sixty countries have unexploded land mines on their territory. The U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program estimated on its Web site ( in 2004 that some fifty-five million land mines deployed worldwide cause some ten thousand casualties each year. The State Department considers these types of weapons especially dangerous because they:

  • Kill and maim thousands of people annually.
  • Create millions of refugees.
  • Prevent productive land use, especially for agricultural and industrial purposes.
  • Deny road/travel access.
  • Deny access to water and create food scarcities, leading to starvation and malnutrition.
  • Inflict long-term psychological effects on victims.
  • Undermine political and economic stability.

The global anti-land mine campaign is spearheaded by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. The efforts of this group culminated in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. The treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999.

The convention has 143 countries as parties, while nine countries have signed but not ratified the treaty. As of October 2004, forty-two countries had not signed the treaty, including China, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States. One of the criticisms of the treaty is the lack of a strong monitoring and verification authority. Most countries that refuse to sign the treaty rely heavily on APMs in their areas of conflict. Increased mine laying by India and Pakistan along their disputed border has caused serious concern among antimine activists. Countries such as Sri Lanka and Russia claim they have not signed in order to defend themselves against mines laid by internal insurgents and terrorists.

The United States meanwhile believes that mines serve an important purpose in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, where U.S. military personnel are deployed. American officials believe the United States does not have a strong enough military presence along the DMZ to defeat potential North Korean aggression without the help of APMs. The United States had been a leading proponent of the anti-land mine treaty as long as it gained an exception for the Korean issue. When such an exception was refused, the U.S. delegation withdrew from treaty negotiations and refused to sign the treaty.

Though the United States has not signed the ICBL treaty, it has had a moratorium on producing mines since 1996. It has also unilaterally destroyed 3.3 million mines from its arsenal. In February 2004 a new land mine policy was announced by Lincoln P. Bloomfield. Jr., the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. The new policy commits the United States to eliminate persistent land mines (those without an automatic self-destruct or self-deactivation mechanism) from its arsenal, to destroy all of its non-detectable land mines within one year, and to use land mines only for the defense of the South Korean border (Fact Sheet: New United States Policy on Landmines: Reducing Humanitarian Risk and Saving Lives of American Soldiers, Washington, DC: Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, February 27, 2004).

The United States has also provided assistance with fighting the land mine problem through the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program. Operating under the Department of State, demining programs assist countries around the world, both financially and through direct training. According to a fact sheet issued by the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the United States contributed more than $800 million toward demining activities from 1993 through fiscal year 2003. In 2001 the United States and the government of Mozambique partnered in the creation of a Quick Reaction Demining Force (QRDF), which could be immediately deployed to mine crises around the world. A QRDF was sent to Sri Lanka to assess the mine threat there and perform short-term clearance tasks, primarily in the heavily mined Jaffna peninsula, as well as the Vanni and Killinochchi regions. The team previously worked in stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and post-conflict Kosovo. Following the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom in liberating Iraq, the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program worked in Iraq to find and destroy an estimated ten to fifteen million land mines deployed in some 2,500 minefields. Along with this effort to destroy land mines, the program also seeks to eliminate unexploded ordnance, much of it left over from the Iraq-Iran War, and abandoned munitions depots.


International treaties are intended to restrain the development and potential use of conventional weapons. They are sometimes limited, either by the types of weapons included in the treaty (for example, a treaty dealing only with land mines) or their application (they may not be signed by all parties with the type or types of weapons concerned). In efforts to reduce the threat to its own security, the United States has proposed, signed, and ratified many such treaties over the years, particularly with the Soviet Union during the cold war era. Many of these treaties are bilateral (involving two parties), but some have been ratified or signed by other countries, especially the Warsaw Pact Organization countries, which were allied with the Soviet Union, and the countries of NATO, which are allied with the United States.

Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was originally drafted primarily for NATO and Warsaw Pact countries and was signed on November 19, 1990. Because of the breakup of the Soviet Union and other changes in Europe, thirty states now are parties to this treaty, which aims to restrict the overwhelming number of conventional forces in Europe. As of 2004, members of the CFE include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As new members are added to NATO, each will be asked to comply with CFE requirements.

In November 2002, at a NATO conference in Prague, Secretary General George Robertson stated that NATO: "reiterated the goals, principles and commitments contained in the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, and in the Rome Declaration. Reaffirming adherence to the CFE Treaty as a cornerstone of European security, [NATO] agreed to continue to work cooperatively toward ratification by all the States Parties and entry into force of the Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty, which would permit accession by non-CFE states." He also "welcomed the approach of those non-CFE countries who have stated their intention to request accession to the adapted CFE Treaty upon its entry into force, and agreed that their accession would provide an important additional contribution to European stability and security."

"The Atlantic to the Urals" is the so-called area of application (AOA) for the CFE. This means that parties to the treaty can deploy only a limited number and certain types of weaponry within the AOA. Some signatory countries actually lie outside the AOA or their territories extend beyond it; for them, limits apply only to any of their forces stationed in the zones of Europe established by the treaty. The first negotiations addressed only equipment levels in the AOA; follow-up negotiations addressed troop limits, resulting in the CFE 1A document (discussed below).

The CFE limits the use of five categories of arms within its AOA: tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), combat aircraft, and attack helicopters. Limits on the equipment levels allotted to each country are stated in the treaty according to each country's boundaries and according to the zones beyond its sovereign territory in which it may operate. These four zones lie in a concentric fashion that calls for fewer troops and fewer weapons deployed the closer one moves to the center of Europe. The smallest of the zones is the central zone; the largest is the flank zone, on the northern and southern flanks of Europe.

Further limits on the number of combat vehicles a single country could possess altogether are also stated in the treaty. A restriction to 20,000 tanks, 30,000 ACVs, 20,000 heavy artillery pieces, 2,000 attack helicopters, and 6,800 combat aircraft in the AOA for all NATO and former Warsaw Pact members is also imposed. Each alliance divides its "bloc" limit among member parties. One state cannot possess more than one-third of the treaty's allowed maximums.

As of 2004, Russia's continued presence in Chechnya stood starkly in violation of the CFE, but Russia continued to unilaterally destroy military items it inherited from the Soviet Union. On the tenth anniversary of the treaty in November 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated his support of the treaty and said Russia would comply with the CFE as soon as its military operations in Chechnya ended.

The CFE embraces several methods of compliance, including onsite inspections, information exchanges, and national/multinational technical means. All of these are overseen by the Joint Consultative Group of Vienna, Austria. The types of inspection permitted by the treaty are several: announced inspections of declared sites, challenge inspections within a specified area (for which, if a country refuses the inspection, it is required to issue a reasonable assurance of compliance), and inspections to verify the destruction or redeployment of equipment.

The Concluding Act of the Negotiation on Personnel Strength of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe

The Concluding Act of the Negotiation on Personnel Strength of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, also called the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe 1A (CFE 1A) Treaty, was intended as a politically, not legally, binding document that does not have to be ratified. Signed on July 17, 1992, its point was to limit or reduce personnel levels in the AOA of the CFE treaty. Parties to the treaty are generally members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, plus those countries that were part of the former Soviet Union located in the AOA of the CFE. Each country sets its own limits on personnel levels. Once set, these limits are open to discussion but not negotiation. Personnel counted within the limits can be (1) active-duty land or air forces, including land-based air defense; (2) command and staff of those units; (3) land-based naval aircraft and naval infantry, coastal defense units, and other forces holding equipment under the CFE treaty; or (4) reserve personnel called up for active duty for more than ninety days. Seabased naval personnel, internal security units, and forces under UN command are exempt. The treaty sets forth additional measures to stabilize personnel, such as forty-two day advance notification required to: increase personnel strength by more than 1,000; increase an air force unit by more than 500; or call up more than 35,000 reservists (except if the reservists are called up for natural disasters or other emergencies). At a meeting held in Vienna, Austria, in 2001, the thirty states who are parties to the treaty reaffirmed their continuing commitment to the CFE.

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies

Signed by thirty-three countries, the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (often referred to as simply the Wassenaar Arrangement) was developed in 1998 to promote transparency and set arms sales limitations on certain weapons and dual-use goods and technologies. Its signatories include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The countries have agreed to a control list in terms of their weapons exports.

These countries actively participate in preventative enforcement, follow-up investigations, and information exchanges to control dual-use equipment. Dual-use items are equipment and materials considered to be controlled commodities that either cannot be exported at all or that require an export license because of the potential for misuse. The items, such as certain telecommunications equipment, chemicals, or even microorganisms and toxins, have potential civilian as well as military uses.

To ensure that surplus military equipment does not get into the wrong hands, parties to the Wassenaar Arrangement agreed to increase safeguards on military equipment. They agreed that surplus military equipment should fall under the same export controls as new materials and that the physical security of, and inventory controls on, these materials should be increased. To ensure that its goals are met, the Wassenaar Arrangement requires data exchanges biannually (in April and October) to report on transactions from the previous six months. The arrangement continued to undergo refinement in 2003 and 2004 as additional categories of small arms and light weapons were added to control lists.

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The Threat of Conventional Weapons

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