BRUSSELS – The Benelux countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have announced that they are suspending the operation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) in response to Russia’s decision to withdraw from the landmark arms control agreement.
The CFE Treaty, signed in 1990, places limits on conventional weapons in Europe and establishes a system of verification inspections. Russia announced in June 2023 its withdrawal from the treaty, accusing the West of violating its terms.
In a joint statement on November 7, 2023, the Benelux countries condemned Russia’s withdrawal and declared that it is “leading to a further deterioration of the broader security architecture in Europe.”
The statement emphasized that the CFE Treaty is a vital legally binding instrument that enhances transparency, security, and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. It stressed the essential role of reciprocity in the treaty, and the Benelux countries cannot accept a situation where NATO allies remain committed to the treaty while Russia has withdrawn.
Consequently, the Benelux countries have chosen to suspend the operation of the CFE Treaty in compliance with international law. The statement clarified that this suspension is reversible and is intended to preserve the current arms control architecture.
The Benelux countries also reaffirmed their commitment to conventional arms control as a fundamental element of Euro-Atlantic security. They committed to continued consultation with other NATO allies regarding the implications of the current security environment and the implementation of measures to reduce military risk with states in the Euro-Atlantic area sharing their principles and commitments.
The suspension of the CFE Treaty constitutes a significant setback to arms control efforts in Europe. It occurs at a time when tensions between Russia and the West have reached their highest point since the end of the Cold War. The suspension is also likely to precipitate a new arms race in Europe.
The duration of the CFE Treaty’s suspension, whether temporary or permanent, remains uncertain. Nevertheless, the Benelux countries’ decision sends a clear signal that they are concerned about Russia’s withdrawal from the treaty and its impact on European security.