Conventional Armed Forces in Europe

The purpose of the paper is to study the specialties, role, and functioning of conventional forces. The research covers the notions of conventional forces, warfare, war, and conventional weapons. The aspect of arms is especially important in the light of the definition of conventional forces that can use all kinds of armor besides weapons of mass destruction. The paper analyzes the difference between armed forces and conventional forces. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and examples of conventional forces functioning in the United States demonstrate the difference in these organizations in various regions of the world. For comparison, the research considered other types of armed forces and conventional forces that appeared to be the most justified. However, the paper assumes that all countries should prefer diplomacy as the primary conflict resolution tool. The results of research help in understanding the structure of conventional forces and their role in the modern world according to the international law and conventions on the conflicts, war, and warfare.

One of the key components of every country’s functioning is having defense and military policies. Military agenda is an integral part of the governmental policy and policy of states, parties, and other socio-political institutions as they directly influence the creation of any military organization, as well as the preparation and application of armed violence with the aim to achieve political goals in both the country and the world. Military policy is a part of military affairs. The international public law defines diplomacy as the best way to resolve any conflicts, but many countries still engage in wars and use different means and forces. After the ban on the weapons of mass destruction, the terms of conventional weapons, conventional warfare, and conventional forces appeared. The objectives of the paper are to define the meaning of conventional forces and their components, describe examples of conventional warfare in the modern world and its peculiarities in different countries and regions of the world.

Armed Forces, Conventional Forces, and Their Peculiarities

Before talking about conventional forces, it is necessary to investigate their place in the system of a state and its military strategy. Almost every country is militarized; in other words, it has the own army, weapons, and armed forces. Armed forces are an armed organization of a state, designed to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the case of aggression or war. It is one of the most important tools of political power. It may consist of the regular and reserve components, including reserves of all types of armed forces and combat arms of the Armed Forces. Society, political system, and government policy, the size of the country, its geographical location, as well as historical, social, and cultural traditions, determine the purpose of the armed forces, the principles of their construction, training, and education of personnel. The economy and power have always had a decisive influence on the armed forces. In such a manner, better-developed countries have more opportunities to invest in the military equipment, training, and a number of involved people. The main task of armed forces is the protection and defense of the country in the case of any violation of the principles of international law.

The armed forces of various countries differ in strength, acquisition principles, organizational structure, and functions performed in both peacetime and wartime. Armed forces have subdivisions known as military branches. A military branch is a formation of the armed forces of a state; it acts in military (combat) operations in a particular environment such as land, water, air, and information space; in certain services (on land, on the sea/ocean, in the air/space, and in the information space), it can be a combination of applications. The formations of the armed forces of a state include such military branches as ground forces (army), naval forces (navy, previously navy, armada), aerospace forces, air force, and cosmic forces.

Each kind of armed forces has different types of troops, specific quantitative composition, main weapons, strategy, typical operations, and tactics of the application (way of doing military (combat) operations), organization, recruitment, procurement, training and passage of the service personnel. Conventional forces are a kind of armed forces.

One more term to call conventional forces is general-purpose forces. Conventional forces are a kind of armed forces that carries out military operations and uses so-called conventional weapons (all, besides weapons of mass destruction). Conventional forces comprise all military combat and support forces including theater nuclear forces, land-based and sea-based tactical aircraft, airlift and sealift forces, antisubmarine forces, and lesser units (Conventional Forces Law & Legal Definition, n. d.).

Conventional forces use conventional weapons. After the deployment of the first atomic bombs against Japan at the end of the World War II, it became necessary to distinguish between conventional warfare and warfare of mass destruction. Conventional weapon refers to the use of arms or ammunition that only function on the principle of accelerated propellants projectile or the effect of explosives. There are so-called normal (conventional) weapons and weapons of mass destruction; international conventions ban the usage of the last type. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are the arms of great destructive power, which aim at causing mass losses of life or property on the relatively large spaces. Chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, and biological weapons have all these features; therefore, one can consider them as the warfare of mass destruction.

Among the varieties of conventional weapons, there are firearms, shrapnel, and high-explosive ammunition, including artillery shells, bombs, and missiles. anti-money Melee, including grenades and mines, fighting incendiary substances such as napalm, pyrogen, thermite formulations, and phosphorus, among many others (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe). On the other hand, there is the second type of weapons: weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that include nuclear (atomic, hydrogen, and neutron), chemical (FOB, binary gases, blister agent, and asphyxiating), biological (botulinum toxin) weapons (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe).

Therefore, conventional forces are a type of armed forces along with the other types. Conventional forces aim at protecting the own country, its integrity, and sovereignty. State’s domestic and foreign policies define their functions and functioning. The most outstanding feature of conventional forces is the usage of conventional weapons that improves the overall situation in the world by minimizing the risk of the biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons usage.

Conventional Forces in the World

There are two well-known conventional forces in Europe and the United States. The structure of conventional forces in the US is rather complicated. It has four key elements that include army, navy, air force, and marine force (Bolt, Coletta, & Shackelford, 2005). Every group has subdivisions. The arms include Active Corps, Divisions (Active/National Guard), Active Armored Cavalry Regiments, Enhanced Separate Brigades, Separate Brigades; navy has Aircraft Carriers (Active/Reserve), Air Wings (Active/Reserve), Amphibious Ready Groups, Attack Submarines, Surface Combatants (Bolt, Coletta, & Shackelford, 2005). The air force includes Active Fighter Wings, Reserve Fighter Wings, Reserve Air Defense Squadrons, and Bombers. Marine Corps have Marine Expeditionary Forces, Divisions (Active/Reserve), Air Wings (Active/Reserve) and Force Service Support Groups (Active/Reserve) (Bolt, Coletta, & Shackelford, 2005).

The authorized representatives of the sixteen states of NATO member states signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) on 19 November 1990 in Paris. These members were Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United States, and Turkey. There were also six of the States Parties of the Warsaw Pact (ATS) (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia) (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe). The Treaty entered into force on 9 November 1992 (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe).

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe aimed at creating a balance of conventional armed forces of the member states of the two military-political alliances. One more objective was to limit the possibility of using and deploying conventional weapons between the blocks. The Treaty wanted to prevent any possible crises or sudden attack, as well as to reinforce the defense strategy of Europe. The agreement covered the following five categories of conventional armed forces: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe).

After signing the Treaty, the participating countries notified each other of the maximum available conventional weapons and equipment. The document considered the land territory of all member states in Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains, the Ural River and the Caspian Sea, including the islands (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe). In that territory, it defined four main districts, in which countries obliged to limit or reduce the number of their battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Paris). As a result, 40 months after coming into effect, the aggregate numbers did not exceed an agreed figure (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe). The two main groups of participating states aimed to possess an equal amount of conventional weapons. The Treaty restricted this figure significantly. It also established procedures and deadlines for reducing the number of arms and equipment in order to meet specified limits.

While the majority of countries have their conventional forces, there are countries that do not have armed forces at all. These countries include a small number of independent states in different parts of the globe. Often, however, their independence is very formal. At the same time, as a rule, in such countries, there is strong police or other forces that discharge functions of the army. Moreover, usually, they have an agreement with another country about their defense. Therefore, for example, Nauru does not have the own army but has such an agreement with Australia. Similarly, Japan completely abandoned own army in exchange for patronage, protectorate, and protection of the U.S. Army and government. Iceland and Monaco have no army in the classic sense, but special non-police structures function in these states. Some countries have undergone a complete process of demilitarization.

In sum, most countries in the world have conventional forces. Several documents define the role of conventional forces and the usage of conventional weapons, but the most important one is the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The presence of conventional forces balances the global political system by prohibiting the usage of any means that could cause irreversible damage to the world’s society.

Conventional War

Conventional war is an armed conflict between two or more states; the parties wage it in accordance with the international law: the rights of parties to the conflict, prisoners of war, civilians, as well as non-use of the weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear, chemical, and biological arms (Posen, 1991). The Hague Conventions, the Geneva Conventions on the Protection of War Victims of 1949, their Additional Protocols of 1977, and the UN General Assembly resolutions, among some other documents, give provisions on the conventional war (Posen, 1991). One of its main characteristics is the ability to use effective (high-precision, all the daily, and all-weather) weapons, reconnaissance and target means, means of communications, command and control and electronic warfare. There may be a high intensity and short duration of combat operations, a different range (from small to large-scale war, the local armed conflict), as well as the one conducted for a long time (the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988.) In some cases, however, it can end up in a short time (the war of 1991in the Persian Gulf) (Jackson, 2003).

Usually, the overall military-political and economic situation determines one’s success in the war. In a military sense, the quantitative and qualitative superiority in forces and weapons, level of training of the armed forces, and the necessary mastery of the military command personnel contribute to the victory. In a limited conventional war, one can use only a certain part of the armed forces and conventional weapons in their respective territories. These armed confrontations include regional and local wars, as well as short-term military conflicts. A long-term (prolonged) conventional war often develops in stages, includes a number of periods, campaigns, consisting of a set of the major strategic and minor operations. The term conventional war was used mainly in the Soviet military science and practice. Meanwhile, other countries use the term conventional war, which emphasized the permissibility of using only those means of warfare defined by international agreements and conventions.

Conventional weapons are the weapons that are not related to the warfare of mass destruction, including all kinds of the firearm, jet, rocket, bomb, mine explosion, flame-incendiary, torpedoes, aims at direct losses, caused high explosives or incendiary mixtures, and edged weapons. With the end of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the US, the threat of a global nuclear war minimized. However, even today, there are considerations for the development of small nuclear warheads.

In the modern world, a conventional war seems to be the easiest way of the conflict resolution. Contrasting types of wars using other forces are wars applying asymmetric warfare, psychological warfare, and unconventional warfare or low-intensity operations. The asymmetric war is a military confrontation between opponents in the military forces when there is a significant imbalance (asymmetry) or the use of fundamentally different strategies and tactics. To compensate for the imbalance in conventional means of warfare, a weaker side in the asymmetric warfare refers to unconventional means: guerrilla war, passive resistance, acts of terrorism, psychological warfare, support of anti-government groups, and support of anti-government movements, for example.

In addition, opposite to the conventional war, there is the unconventional warfare. It is a term, which, in the context of military operations, defines conducting such actions that fundamentally differs from the conventional warfare. Unlike a conventional war or military conflict, the purpose of which is reducing the military potential of an enemy, the tactics of unconventional warfare is an attempt to achieve a military victory by consent, surrender, or a secret support of one of the parties to the conflict at hand. Non-traditional fighting methods differ from the one used in the conventional war because their forces or targets are either hidden or not well defined. Their general or long-term goals aim at forcing the enemy to give up the further resistance and lay down the arms. The overall objective of an unconventional warfare is to create in the enemy, a conviction that peace and security in the conflict are impossible without compromises or concessions. Specific objectives include fatigue motives of the war, the enemy level restrictions of civil liberties population associated with the increased safety requirements, economic difficulties related to the cost of the war, spreading hopelessness, fear, and depression, which ensure that a person cannot protect oneself against an attack, and ultimately the collapse of the morale of an enemy.


In sum, today, conventional forces support the defense strategy of a country. In general, the structure of conventional forces includes navy, air force, army, and marine force. In the Old World, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe regulates conventional forces and weapons. It is important that conventional forces do not use the weapons of mass destruction. Even though the global community does not welcome any military confrontation, conventional war is conducted in accordance with the international law. Conventional forces have a specific structure and are well-funded, especially in developed countries. The concept of a conventional warfare has a tactical-strategic aspect. In this context, it means the traditional use of large military organizations, different arms (tanks, artillery, and infantry), and armed forces (Army, Air Force, Navy). Their goal is the destruction of the combat power of an enemy with the greatest possible protection of civilians and property.

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