by Nicole Rybak

Following a tumultuous relationship caused primarily by the events of World War II and subsequently the Cold War, on May 27, 1997, NATO members and the Russian Federation signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security at the NATO Summit in Paris, France. This document was set to mark the beginning of an alliance between then-16 partner nations collectively and the Kremlin, striving to make the two parties non-adversaries that worked together to promote global cooperation and security. The signing of this document also solidified Russia’s membership in the Partnership for Peace program in 1994. 

Still in effect today, much of the document deals with the rights and responsibilities of armed forces of partner nations, namely building upon the Conventional Arms Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty signed by many NATO member nations in 1990. This signed agreement sought to limit the amount of weaponry in Europe, thereby limiting the conventional weapons the then-Soviet Union could possess and deploy, which was a worry of many European nations. Although excessive weaponry was a threat, excessive military power could constitute a problem, as well: this was a point expanded on by the aforementioned 1997 treaty. 

As directly stated in Section IV document, “…in the current and foreseeable security environment, the [NATO] 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.” This means that under the treaty, the organization would seek to proactively monitor national security threats rather than preemptively and permanently station considerable military forces in any individual nation. 

Tying the agreement back to recent debates over American troops being stationed in Poland under NATO, this excerpt answers the question of why these troops must be rotated out every 90 days. The underlying reason for this rotation must be speculated-upon, though, in conjunction with the aforementioned 1990 CFE treaty. As such, if an unlimited amount of conventional weapons poses a threat, an unlimited time in power of a military group can likely pose a threat in its own way, rendering the tactic logical and useful. 

Of course, the document follows with a discussion of exceptions: “…reinforcement may take place, when necessary, in the event of defence against a threat of aggression and missions in support of peace consistent with the United Nations Charter and the OSCE governing principles, as well as for exercises consistent with the adapted CFE Treaty, the provisions of the Vienna Document 1994 and mutually agreed transparency measures.” Such threats of aggression can be seen through Russia’s development and storage of nuclear weapons “behind closed doors,” despite the agreed-upon 1997 document condoning this behavior. Moreover, Russia has exhibited excessive controlling behaviors and revanchism over the past three decades after signing the treaty, including the so-called invasion of Moldova in 1992 (even though it agreed to withdraw troops in 1999) and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Both of these actions, among others, violate not only the agreement stated above, but from a humanitarian perspective, caused pain and loss to those affected. This brings up the point that the 1997 document was signed keeping in mind “the current and foreseeable security environment,” which has very apparently changed with the questionable and potentially dangerous stance Russia has taken, leading us to question whether the rest of the provisions stated in the document should be held, such as the aforementioned troop rotation in allied countries. 

While Russia withdrew from the CFA in 2015, I believe that until the nation itself repeals its accordance with the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO itself should continue to hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions that yielded negative global consequences since 2008, especially. While these actions may have violated the accord’s provisions, we should remember that the goal of the Alliance is to promote global security and I believe that minimal action can be taken to condemn the decisions of the Kremlin government if the Founding Act is repealed. While the Kremlin may continue to reap the benefits of being part of this agreement with NATO, the greater good of the majority involved should be considered. The official motto of NATO translates to “a mind unfettered in deliberation,” so let the mind be unfettered in this specific one. 

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