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.


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
, 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

The ‘strong’ state: threatening or protective?

By Steve Saideman

A few years ago, I worked with a great group of scholars on a core problem for anyone addressing civil wars: how do you develop a strong enough government so that it can thwart evil doers and deter potential rebels while assuring the citizens that its coercive power will not be used against them? The book did not make a huge splash partly because it was over-priced and partly because we did not have many great solutions. I am thinking of that book now because I see the problem so vividly in each of the media spotlights of August 2014.

The fundamental problem in Iraq now is not that the government did not have enough coercive capability but that the governors were using that capability against the Sunnis. The Iraqi government could have assured the Sunnis that force would only be used against those who were opposed to the government. Instead, promises were broken, and the focus was on exerting dominance, which then reduced both the capacity and legitimacy of the army that the U.S. had trained and equipped. The Sunnis who had opted to join with the less-bad choice of the U.S. in 2007 have now opted for the Islamic State.

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Putin’s Cynical Nationalism

By Steve Saideman

It has been a while since I focused on the events in Ukraine, so let’s check in and see where things stand now. The Crimea sham referendum seems to have done the trick—no one is really talking about rolling back Russia’s annexation despite the fact that it challenges international norms (Helsinki Accords, etc.) far more than the support of separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Despite more over-flights over the Baltics and other minor military maneuvers, Russia’s irredentism has remained quite inconsistent—only focused on Crimea and some regions of eastern Ukraine and not aimed beyond.

Still, the good news of the limits of Russia infiltration reminds us that Russia has been quite aggressive. The latest news has Ukraine finally winning some battles against separatist groups, retaking territory and Russia providing far less assistance to the separatists it had inspired, supported, organized, armed and staffed. Indeed, defeated separatists have been denied entry into Russia and have even been shot at. It is almost as if they are being treated like potential immigrants. [1]

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Pondering NATO’s Future

By Steve Saideman

This week, I had the chance to participate in a DFATD “Fast Talk” where a roomful of individuals at DFATD (as well as DFATD personnel around the world) has a conversation with experts around the world on a given topic via teleconference. I was one of the four non-Canadians brought into provide ten minutes of thoughts and then participate in a Q&A session. The others were an American, a German and a Pole, all working at elite think thanks. The session was held under Chatham House rules, so I cannot say what anyone said, but I found a good deal of consensus and some disagreements which I think I can report (with only my name attached).

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Always Open for Business: NATO, Afghanistan, and Ukraine

By Steve Saideman

In the aftermath of Russia’s decision to annex Crimea, the media has turned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), suggesting that it gives NATO new purpose or that it brings NATO back into the spotlight.  This, of course, reflects how limited our attention span apparently must be. After all, when the United States was attacked on 9/11, article V of the NATO treaty was invoked—an attack on one is equal to an attack on all—for the first time, ultimately leading to NATO taking ownership of the International Security Assistance Force  (ISAF) in Afghanistan. This effort came at great cost to NATO’s members and partners with much blood spilled and billions of dollars spent on a country that hitherto few had appeared to really cared about. 

Since 2003, ISAF has been a NATO mission, one that took place in the shadow of Iraq. While the United States was focused elsewhere, Canadian and European troops provided more than half of the troops engaged in the effort until the American surge in 2009. Certainly, the allies sparred with each other over burden sharing, especially over the restrictions that kept some countries confined to the less dangerous parts of the country.  Still, even these countries, such as Germany and Italy, paid a significant price.

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Inconsistent Irredentism: The Limits of Greater Russia

By Steve Saideman

This morning, Vladimir Putin completed the second step of the Irredentism Two-Step: annexing Crimea after recognizing its independence yesterday.  The question moves from how credulous does Putin think the world is, after a blatantly sham referendum, to what next?  And there are two dynamics to consider: Russia’s irredentism and NATO’s future.

First, when we speak of irredentism, we refer to efforts to unify a “lost” territory inhabited by ethnic kin.  What Russia is doing today is irredentism.  Irredentism is almost always very controversial and almost always very costly because it usually requires war.  Countries do not give up pieces of themselves all that willingly and when they do, it is to create new countries, not give hunks of territory to their neighbours.

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In Crimea’s sham referendum, all questions lead to ‘yes’

As originally published by the Globe and Mail.

The language of the new Crimea Referendum makes Quebec’s referendums appear to be models of clarity. According to the Kyiv Post, voters in Crimea next Sunday will be asked whether they support the union of Crimea with Russia (an act of irredentism) or whether Crimea should be independent (secession). There is no alternative – one cannot vote for the status quo ante of remaining within Ukraine.

This would suggest that the referendum might just be a bit of a sham.

Well, we already knew that the referendum was going to be gamed, as Russia is keeping international observers out of Crimea, it has moved the date of the referendum from much later in the spring first to March 30, and now to March 16, and there is the detail of the occupation of Crimea by Russian troops. This is somewhat puzzling because it raises the question of why have a vote at all if the effort is devoid of any possible taint of legitimacy?

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A Reply to Steve Saideman

A reply to Steve Saideman’s piece “In Crimea’s sham referendum, all questions lead to ‘yes’,” from David Carment.

The opening paragraph in this piece is simply wrong. Crimeans will have the choice of joining Russia or remaining an autonomous republic within Ukraine as per the 1992 constitution. To suggest that Crimeans are choosing between secession or irredenta indicates a poor reading of the situation since it is not even close to what the referendum is asking voters. A direct translation of the referendum questions from Ukrainian and Russian to English confirms the choice is autonomy within Ukraine as per the 1992 constitution (Crimea is already an autonomous region with Ukraine) or joining Russia contra Saideman.

There is not a single reliable source that states that the second question pertains to full independence or secession. Even  the Kyiv entry the author provides in Ukrainian states the choice as follows:

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Reading up on Irredentism and Secession.

A lot of discussion on Ukraine has focused on the implications of Russia reclaiming Crimean territory. These two studies provide empirical evidence and theoretical support  showing that typically irredenta are more violent than secessions and that leaders who choose to annex territory are driven by limited constraints internationally and domestically. Questions of salience and gravity of threat are examined as a basis for explaining high levels of  violence.

The International Dimensions of Ethnic Conflict: Concepts, Indicators, and Theory.


One of the growing debates among students of international politics concerns the precise linkage between ethnic conflict and international conflict. The present investigation attempts to contribute to this dialogue in three ways. First, prior studies of ethnic conflict and international relations are reappraised in terms of the central concepts and presumed causal linkage, leading to several changes in approach. Specifically, a typology of ethnic conflicts is devised deductively, including a rank ordering of types of ethnic conflicts in terms of the impact they have on levels of international violence. Second, testing focuses on the presumed ordering of ethnic conflicts from anti-colonial, secessionist and irredentist utilizing data from the International Crisis Behaviour Project on cases in the period 1945-81. A set of bivariate and multivariate indicators and an index of violence are used in the assessment of the proposed impact ethnic conflicts have on interstate violence. Four of the five propositions are confirmed. Third, the paper offers some preliminary conclusions about the policy and theoretical implications of the international dimensions of ethnic conflict, including directions for future research.

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The False Promise of Policy Making Through Analogy: Sudetenland and the Crimea

A version of the article has been published by iPolitics.

It is well documented that reasoning through analogy is an accepted form of argumentation though not always a particularly good one. For policy makers, analogies are a lazy way to make day-to-day decisions. During a crisis, they can be dangerous. In essence, reasoning through analogy imposes blinders on policy makers by restricting relevant information in generating appropriate foreign policy choices in response to a crisis situation.

Reasoning through analogy is like taking a short cut. Think of a good policy choice as one that comes from a process that considers a range of inputs and information sources, that weighs and balances those pieces of information, revises initial assumptions and then comes up with viable options. Under situations of uncertainty, like a crisis situation, decision makers don’t know exactly what their adversary intends to do, and they are, therefore, required to do a lot of assuming about their adversary’s intent. Decision makers might also not have a lot of time to search for the information they need. Crises are stressful situations because they typically impose a time constraint on leaders with the probability of war looming in the background.

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