On the eve of the forthcoming NATO summit in Wales, some members of the Alliance are eager to raise the issue of changing—if not completely denouncing—the NATO-Russia Founding Treaty of 1997. While there will be no consensus on the issue among the member states and while it is unlikely any decision will be taken over the course of a few days, the very debate is telling of the deepening crisis that exists in security relations in Europe, if not globally.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude toward his country’s partnership with NATO was always ambiguous, but his appointment of Dmitry Rogozin, a man with clearly pronounced anti-Western sentiments, as Russia’s Ambassador to NATO is quite telling. After all, it was Rogozin who first sent an obviously threatening message to NATO by planting a poplar tree at his residence in Brussels, clearly an overt reference to the Russian “Topol” missile complex.
It is also important to recall the moment when at NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit, Putin for the first time threatened to openly support separatists in Georgia (the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Ukraine (Crimea) should these countries receive Membership Action Plans. At the time, NATO, driven by the spirit of the 1997 Founding Act, refused to provide such plans for these two countries. Russia went ahead and not only recognized the two break-away Georgian territories later in 2008, but annexed Crimea as well earlier this year.
These acts completely invalidate the key tenets of the NATO-Russia Act. While the document states that “NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries,” Russia openly treats the Alliance as its major military threat. While the two parties pledged “to overcome the vestiges of confrontation and strengthen mutual trust and cooperation,” Putin made it clear that any form of NATO’s presence in Crimea would be “unthinkable.”
The 1997 Act also affirmed the mutual commitment to build a stable, peaceful, free and undivided Europe, yet Putin’s allusion to the possibility of “seizing Kyiv in two weeks” has nothing to do with any of those expectations of the past. Equally doubtful are references to common interests, reciprocity, and transparency – these legally binding concepts have simply been non-existent in Russia’s recent rhetoric and “the allegiance to shared values, commitments and norms of behavior” remains something to be found only on paper.
The same goes for “predictability and mutual confidence,” “prevention of conflicts and settlement of disputes by peaceful means,” and “respect for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security, the inviolability of borders, and peoples’ right of self-determination.” Against the background of a Russian-led proxy war in Ukraine, all of these statements look like nothing more than wishful thinking.
Having signed the Founding Act with NATO, Russia committed itself to refrain from the threat or use of force against “any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence in any manner.” However, this commitment has clearly been disavowed by Russia’s military involvement in preventing Ukraine from further Europeanization. The Act mentions “aggressive nationalism” as a common threat, yet this is the exact characterization of Russia’s policies today. It goes without saying that today any debate regarding Russia’s moves toward democracy and political pluralism remain hollow and meaningless.
Should the Act be ultimately revised or even discontinued, NATO will be relieved of its promise not to deploy nuclear weapons to the territory of new members, and not to change any aspect of NATO's nuclear posture. Against this backdrop, alas, the concept of nuclear deterrence does not look that outdated.