Fresh pact for Europe's new order

Nato, Russia and 13 other countries meeting in Vienna on Wednesday night agreed to update the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty to reflect the dramatic changes in the European strategic landscape since then.

Robin Cook, the British Foreign Secretary and diplomats yesterday hailed the outline agreement, reached under British chairmanship, as a triumph, coming so shortly after Nato's decision to invite three new members - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - to join the alliance in the face of Russian opposition.

Since it came into force in July 1992, the treaty has resulted in the destruction of more than 50,000 heavy weapons and armoured vehicles, but the new agreement will lead to further cuts in conventional arms.

The treaty was originally devised for the opposed military blocs of the Cold War. By the time it entered into force the Warsaw Pact Alliance and the Soviet Union itself had broken up. Since then, the Russians have pressed to have it modernised to reflect the new strategic geography.

The outline agreement abolishes the bloc-to-bloc basis of the original treaty. Instead, each country will have its own equipment quota.

Furthermore, many countries, including Britain and Russia, have agreed to new, lower quotas for the heavy weapons limited by the treaty - tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and helicopters.

Britain's quotas are cut by about five per cent - from 1,015 to 843 tanks, for example, but since its current holdings are far below the quotas, no more equipment has to be destroyed.

The Russians also argued that special limits on the heavy weapons deployed on the "flanks" - the Caucasus and the Baltic - should be lifted, mainly because they cramped their style dealing with problems in the Caucasus such as Chechnya. However, under Wednesday's agreement, those limits will remain.

The revised treaty will continue to allow temporary deployments of forces, which will enable Nato troops, for example, to exercise in the territory of the newly invited candidates. The revised treaty is due to be finalised by the end of 1998.

"This is good news for European security," Robin Cook said yesterday. He had discussed the outline agreement with Russian Foreign secretary Yevgeny Primakov on his visit to Moscow last week.

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