The NATO-Russia Relationship
November 14, 2008
In 1997, the NATO alliance and the Russian Federation turned history on its head and founded a forum for regular consultation on security issues. No longer adversaries, the two sides decided to trade in decades of escalating rhetoric, intimidation, and high-stakes maneuvers for dialogue and cooperation. Since then, the NATO-Russia relationship has traveled an incredibly tumultuous and unpredictable path, culminating in a complete rupture over the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008. At times, the relationship has been defined by genuine pledges of goodwill and cooperation. But the relationship has also generated successive waves of disappointment and frustration, which in the case of the Kosovo war in 1999 caused the Russians to suspend their ties to NATO altogether.
Today, the NATO-Russia relationship is deep in crisis. After war broke out between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia, NATO suspended all joint activities with the Russians. Before long, both sides were accusing the other of returning to Cold War tactics and making long lists of policy grievances linked not just to the recent Russia-Georgia conflict but to their entire relationship over the better part of the last two decades. For the Russians, NATO enlargement—from the first round in 1999 to the debate about Georgia and Ukraine in the spring of 2008—remains their chief complaint. U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic is another sore point. For NATO and the West more broadly, Russia’s behavior toward its neighbors, particularly Georgia and Ukraine but also the Baltic states and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, has spurred a steady stream of heated accusations about Russian hegemony. But before eulogizing NATO-Russia ties, it is worth examining the origins of the relationship, the roots of resentment, how the two sides sometimes found ways to work through previous crises, and why this often trying and unnatural relationship remains essential. This report provides just such an examination.