The NATO Russia Founding Act is O.B.E.*

*O.B.E is one of my favorite acronyms that I learned while working in the Pentagon for a year: overcome by events.

Some argue that NATO cannot do much more in the east because of commitments made as part of the NATO Russia Founding Act. My take is that the agreement is dead, dead, dead.  Let’s take a look.

There is a key line in the second paragraph:

NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries.

Um, oops.  That has been overcome by events.  Putin/Russia has been making nuclear and other threats towards NATO members, and has been guilty of killing citizens of NATO countries via the downing of the airliner.  So, this basic assertition is dead.

Ok, now lets look at the big conditions necessary for this all to work out (my commentary in red and bold applied wherever I feel like):

To achieve the aims of this Act, NATO and Russia will base their relations on a shared commitment to the following principles:

  • development, on the basis of transparency, of a strong, stable,
    enduring and equal partnership and of cooperation to strengthen security
    and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area; [do any of these terms still apply: stable, enduring partnership, cooperation?]
  • acknowledgement of the vital role that democracy, political
    pluralism, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and civil
    liberties and the development of free market economies play in the
    development of common prosperity and comprehensive security; [this almost reads like a joke.  How is that rule of law thing going in Russia?  Civil Liberties?  Kleptocracy and capitalism are often confused but are not identical]
  • refraining from the threat or use of force against each other as
    well as against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity
    or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United
    Nations Charter and with the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations
    Between Participating States contained in the Helsinki Final Act; [this is the killer principle that no longer applies as Russia has used force, it has violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty if Ukraine, it has issued threats against Denmark and the Baltics, nuclear ones, as well as others that I am forgetting about for the moment.  Repeat: the invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea is about as complete a violation of Helsinki as one can imagine]
  • respect for 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 as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE
    documents; [Do I need to repeat myself?  Irredentism is inherently a challenge to borders]
  • mutual transparency in creating and implementing defence policy and military doctrines; [Not so much]
  • prevention of conflicts and settlement of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with UN and OSCE principles; [Given that Russia’s first response to political change in Kiev was the use of force, we can pretty much write this principle off as well]
  • support, on a case-by-case basis, of peacekeeping operations
    carried out under the authority of the UN Security Council or the
    responsibility of the OSCE.

So, tell me, which principles that are supposed to serve as the basis of NATO-Russia relations are still intact?  Yes, exactly.

here is a fun paragraph:

Provisions of this Act do not provide NATO or Russia, in any way, with a
right of veto over the actions of the other
nor do they infringe upon
or restrict the rights of NATO or Russia to independent decision-making
and action. They cannot be used as a means to disadvantage the interests
of other states.

This could be read both ways, of course, but seems to me that NATO should do what it needs to do, considering the implications for Russia’s security but not subjecting itself to veto by Putin.

Another:

NATO and Russia affirm their shared desire to achieve greater stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

I guess this is just a “we agree to disagree” over what stability and security mean when Russia takes a hunk of a neighbor and calls it an effort to improve its security even as it creates insecurity for the neighbors.

Here is the key commitment that should not be seen as a commitment any longer:

NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security
environment
, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and
other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration,
and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent
stationing of substantial combat forces

Guess what?  The security environment has changed.  Russia has seized the territory of a neighbor and when that was not sufficient, invaded, using separatists as cover.  So, the security environment now is different from that in 1997.

Of course, folks can say that it changed with Kosovo, but there are many differences.  The big one, of course, is that NATO only used force after much effort to reach a peaceful settlement.  Russia, on the other hand, used force immediately after the change in regime in Kiev and did not give peace any chance at all.  The fait accompli was not driven by real fears of Ukrainian ethnic cleansing but by the desire to impose a new reality before anyone could react.  Good for judo, but not justified.

The NATO Russia Founding Act has been overcome by events.  If the Europeans (well, if Germany, France and Italy) want to stick to the letter of the agreement, then the US should act with willing partners to do what they feel is in the best interests of the allies.  This might hurt NATO a smidge, but abandoning the Baltics because one feels like this dead agreement still constrains is probably far more dangerous to the alliance.

By Steve Saideman

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