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The main role of the arms control agreements reached in Europe in the 1990s—along with associated politically binding confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs)—is to ensure predictability in military behaviour and promote confidence that armed forces exist only for legitimate defensive purposes. Concern has been expressed about whether they still play that role.
During 2013, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as Russia and other European states, questioned whether military exercises carried out in close proximity to the shared boundary between NATO allies on the one hand and Russia and Belarus on the other were consistent with the shared objective of making Europe more secure and more peaceful.
Current military developments, in close proximity to Ukraine, underline the continued relevance of the integrated set of arms control and CSBMs that were put in place in the 1990s.
Russia is about to begin large-scale training exercises that will last for five days, in which a number of different elements of the Russian armed forces will participate. Russia has been undertaking a thorough and far-reaching reform of its armed forces, and testing the efficiency of the new structures and procedures through exercises is a necessary and reasonable thing to do.
The Vienna Document on CSBMs, which was revised in 2011, requires states to exchange many different kinds of information, including prior notification of certain military activities. The training exercises that Russia is about to begin fall within the scope of a notifiable activity, and Russia has lived up to all of its obligations regarding transparency.
If the military activities that are about to begin in close proximity to Ukraine had taken place without notification and without transparency, the potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding would have been much greater.
In December 1994, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States signed a Memorandum on Security Assurances at the time Ukraine joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. In exchange for surrendering all of the nuclear weapons on its territory, Ukraine received certain assurances from the three nuclear-armed countries, which promised, in accordance with the principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, to respect the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine.
In the Memorandum, Russia, the UK and the USA promised, among other things, that none of them would ever threaten or use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and also pledged that none of them would ever use economic coercion to subordinate Ukraine to their own interest.
Events in Ukraine are currently being discussed at high levels in a number of different frameworks. If the signatories to the 1994 Memorandum of Understanding were to reconfirm their continued commitment to respect the content of that document it would be a valuable contribution to stability in Europe.
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