In the spring, experts throughout Europe will begin one of the biggest demolition jobs in history. Under the watchful eyes of inspection teams, they will start to destroy
thousands of pieces of military hardware. Altogether, over a three-year period, about 62,000 tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces and helicopters will be systematically
smashed, cut up, bent out of shape, filled with concrete or turned into harmless museum pieces as a result of the most far-reaching arms control agreement in history. Leaders of the 22 member states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, whose 40-year hostile standoff made Central Europe the most heavily militarized area in the world, concluded the deal last week in Paris amid mutual congratulations that they had finally eliminated the tensions that had so long divided them. Said Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: “This summit ends the Cold War— firmly, formally and, we hope, forever.”
The agreement, called the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, was the centrepiece of a summit of all 34 members of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). The accord provides for drastic cuts in non-nuclear weapons in a vast area from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains in the Soviet Union. But even as they toasted the advent of an era of peace in Europe, and took time out to relax at a glittering ballet-and-lobster gala in the Palace of Versailles, the leaders were privately talking war. Behind the scenes, President George Bush discussed possible military action against Iraq with the Soviet Union and his European allies. And the leaders’ hopeful vision of a peaceful Europe was clouded by the growing prospect of dangerous political and economic instability in Eastern Europe and inside the Soviet Union itself.
But despite those concerns, last week’s summit was plainly a milestone in postwar history. After the 22 NATO and Warsaw Pact leaders concluded the arms control treaty, all 34 CSCE leaders signed another document: the 19-page Charter of Paris for a New Europe, which sets out a vision of a continent that respects human rights, democracy, freedom of religion and economic liberty. Said French President François Mitterrand: “We 34 states share from now on a common vision of the world, a common heritage of values.”
Such a sunny assessment seemed scarcely imaginable in 1975, when the CSCE issued another grandiose statement of principles, the Helsinki Final Act. At the time, Communist regimes still prevailed in Eastern Europe and paid only lip service to democratic ideals. And there was little open optimism in March, 1989, when negotiators from the 16 NATO countries and the seven Warsaw Pact nations began negotiating the arms control treaty in Vienna. Although democratic reforms were then stirring in Poland and Hungary, the rest of Eastern Europe was still in the grip of hard-line communism. A senior Canadian official involved in the negotiations said last week that, when the talks began, “only cockeyed optimists would have suggested that we would be sitting here signing this.”
But the birth of non-Communist governments in the East overturned all their assumptions. East Germany, once the Warsaw Pact’s vital frontline state, ceased to exist, and the new leaders of Hungary and Czechoslovakia pressed the Soviet Union to withdraw its armor and troops from their countries faster than
even NATO negotiators had suggested. Last week, with the Warsaw Pact all but collapsed, several Eastern European leaders said that they intend to press for its formal dissolution. Czechoslovakian President Václav Havel, a onetime dissident who was repeatedly imprisoned in violation of the democratic ideals of the Helsinki declaration, said that the alliance was a “typical Stalinist product.” He added that its military functions should end this year. And Hungarian Prime Minister József Antall added that he had invited the other Warsaw Pact leaders to a summit in Budapest on Dec. 9 to set a timetable for that dismantling.
If honored, the arms treaty, which included a nonaggression pact, will eliminate the most dangerous source of military tension on the Continent: the possibility of a surprise attack by either side. It sets limits on the numbers of weapons of various types for each side: 20,000 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces, 30,000 armored combat vehicles, 6,800 combat aircraft and 2,000 attack helicopters. NATO now has 90,000 such weapons, while the Warsaw Pact has 129,500. The Soviet Union itself must make the deepest cuts: about 25,000 pieces of equipment. It has already moved thousands more items to locations east of the Ural Mountains, outside the area governed by the treaty, although Western officials say that they do not regard that as a serious threat.
Western nations, by contrast, could actually increase their stocks of helicopters and aircraft and still remain within the accord’s limits. The agreement will not affect Canada’s modest contribution to NATO’s defence, including 77 tanks and 54 fighter-bombers. After a 120-day inspection period, the treaty sets out detailed procedures for the destruction of excess weaponry over the next three years.
But wider concerns tempered enthusiasm over the treaty. As winter approaches and Eastern European countries face growing food shortages, last year’s revolutionary euphoria has given way to grave doubts about the future. “Freedom in the political sphere,” Yugoslavian President Borisav Jovic told the delegates, “is inseparable from freedom in the economic sphere.” Some leaders were already warning that a flood of immigrants, fleeing economic and political turmoil in the East, may soon inundate the West. Mitterrand said that Europeans could avert future conflict only by avoiding a “new division between haves and have-nots.”
And despite the apparent end of the Warsaw Pact threat, Western leaders insisted that NATO must retain its defensive role. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and some Eastern European leaders argue that the CSCE itself can replace both military alliances as a new security framework for Europe. But External Affairs Minister Joe Clark reflected the prevailing Western view when he commented: “NATO is an instrument that we know works. It’s not something we are building.” As Europe enters a new period of volatile change, Western leaders are clearly reluctant to give up their familiar guarantees.
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