NATO & RUSSIA RELATIONS

The term “security” in the dictionary means, the legal order in public life, the state of safety, the state of the people can live without fear.[1] Today, it is still a controversial notion. States, like individuals, try to ensure their psychological and physical security. The concept of security is perceived as military defense, protection of borders, and prevention of internal disturbance in international relations. However, due to the increase in armament after World War II, war technology has gained importance. Social changes such as ethnic problems, migration perception, cybercrime, environmental problems, especially after 1980, have become more important than rational security issues. According to Barry Buzan, the traditional understanding of security has evolved. Now, the understanding of security includes not only military but also economic, historical, and cultural events. After the term security, we need to look at another important term, securitization. Securitization can be summarized as moving a public issue from the political sphere to the security sphere. In order for a public problem that becomes politicized and directly in the field of interest of the state to become a security issue, it must first be defined as a danger by the state. The public authority implements extraordinary and urgent measures for the problem, assuming that the institutional existence of the state is at stake. In fact, this is the main reason why a matter is secured: to prepare the ground where measures that cannot be taken under normal conditions can be implemented. For this reason, we can say that with securitization, states make their own powers legal.[2]

An issue or a problem can be non-securitized as well as securitized. Non-securitization is that a situation is not the subject of security, that is to say, it does not pose a threat. Or a situation that was previously the subject of security may have been removed from the subject of security, that is, it no longer poses a threat.

The best example of securitization is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO was established in 1949, after WWII, under the leadership of the United States to deter the existential security threat believed to have originated from the Soviet Union. NATO-Russia relations have always been in the form of instability from past to present. In exchange for the establishment of NATO, the unity of European countries, and the policies pursued by this union, the USSR signed the Warsaw Pact with eight socialist states in 1955. In this respect, it can be considered as the unity of the socialist countries in response to the unity of the European countries. Although there were some different opinions in NATO, a conclusion was reached with the Harmel Report which prepared in 1967. According to this report, the strategy to be followed against the Soviet Union was recommended to be built on two legs. On the one hand, it was aimed to strengthen deterrence and on the other hand, to seek opportunities for softening and cooperation.[3]

Photograph of President Truman signing the document implementing the North Atlantic Treaty at his desk in the Oval Office, as a number of dignitaries look on: (left to right) Sir Derick Boyer Millar, Chargé d’affaires, United Kingdom; Ambassador Henrik de Kauffmann of Denmark; W. D. Matthews, Charge d’Affaires, Canada; Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson; Ambassador Wilhelm Munthe de Morgenstierne of Norway; Ambassador Henri Bonnet of France; Ambassador Pedro Teotónio Pereira of Portugal; Secretary of State Dean Acheson; Jonkheer O. Reuchlin, Chargé d’affaires, the Netherlands; and Mario Lucielli, Chargé d’affaires, Italy.

The rapid increase in the armament of the Soviet Union and the powerful weapons they possess caused concerns among the European states due to their location. Although the US does not see itself as at risk as much as the European states, seeing the Soviet Union possessing intercontinental ballistic missiles continued to be a security threat to both the US and other NATO members. In 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, some conflicts occurred in NATO. The organization made some policy changes with the dissolution of the USSR, which constituted a major cause of its existence. We can say that the European states and NATO experienced a state of relief with the end of the bipolar order and the collapse of the USSR, which was seen as a major security threat. The newly established Russian Federation started to be evaluated within the concept of regional power instead of global power. In this period, Russia tried to improve its relations with the West and took some steps towards NATO, under the direction of Boris Yeltsin. Nevertheless, Russia shared its concerns about NATO’s enlargement with Western leaders, saying that they are against the idea of Poland and other Central European states’ for full membership of NATO. Official relations between Russia and NATO started in 1991 under the North Atlantic Council, later renamed Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Subsequently, the relations deepened with the participation of Russia in the Partnership for Peace program on 22 June 1994. [4]NATO’s airstrikes on Serbian forces in Bosnia in 1994 and the 1st Chechen War that broke out in 1994 also led to the change of Russia’s approach to NATO and an increase in the idea of the anti-NATO expansion of the people in Russia. In addition, Russia stated that it wanted NATO to be disbanded and replaced by a new organization during this period, and in fact, Russia wanted to follow the events from within as part of this organization. Although relations between NATO and Russia started to be established with these programs, it can be said that the atmosphere of tension and mutual distrust continued until the late 90s. Situations such as Russia’s negative rhetoric about NATO’s enlargement and NATO’s willingness to include Baltic countries such as Poland are the biggest events in maintaining tensions. Russia has always emphasized the possibility of a nuclear war if these countries enter NATO, and it has continued to pressurize these countries.

In 2000, Vladimir Putin became president in Russia. He revived the relations with NATO. On the other hand, NATO’s ongoing expansionist policy and movements to arm its members have been the main agenda to which Russia has always reported its discomfort. Russia adopted Eurasianism in response to NATO’s policies and wanted to establish a balance policy by conducting East-West relations together in this period. The terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001 caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and more than a hundred Russian citizens. As a result of these events, there have been convergences between the USA and Russia on taking measures against terrorism. This shows that a NATO-Russia relationship is needed. Following these events, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was established in Rome Summit in 2002. This organization has diplomatic importance in terms of ensuring security and making consensus for both parties. Although relations continued in this way for a while, the membership of other Baltic countries to NATO in 2004 caused a new crisis in Russia-NATO relations. However, tension reached its peak when NATO members insisted that Georgia and Ukraine join them and arm them at the Bucharest Summit. Russia’s disproportionate military action in Georgia in 2008 led to the suspension of formal meetings of the NRC and cooperation in some areas, until 2009.[5] The allies asked Russia to stop recognizing the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Georgian and Ukrainian NATO membership was postponed indefinitely. Upon the aggressive policy pursued by Russia during this period, Europe saw Russia again as a security threat. In these years, due to the closeness of Ukraine with the EU and the request for membership, Russia’s pressure on Ukraine increased, and in 2014, Russia made an intervention on Crimea. Upon this intervention, NATO members made some economic and political sanctions against Russia. The fact that Russia was with the President of the Assad in 2015 during the Syrian internal turmoil and that he performed military exercises in the Black Sea, Eastern Europe, and the Baltic regions with their military forces caused concerns within NATO. In response, NATO increased its military forces in those regions and carried out exercises by placing military forces in Poland and the Baltic countries in 2016. At this point, it is possible to say that a mutual exercise diplomacy has occurred.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.

Consequently, the constant instability of Russia-NATO relations has made it necessary for both parties to take political and military action to secure their existence. Russia’s longstanding discomfort with NATO’s expansionist policy, in response to this, following a balance policy and getting closer to China today, it is not welcomed by NATO and its founding member the USA. When we look at the side of NATO, we can see that they want a partnership with Russia and take advantage of their advanced intelligence networks and geographic location because of the impending Chinese thread. On the other hand, due to the military power of Russia and the nuclear weapons it possesses, NATO has continued its deterrence policy and always handled the issue of “Russia” as a security issue. Although NATO membership of Russia seems unlikely in the near future, we will see together what awaits us in the future in this global order where the “security” agendas are changing rapidly.


[1] Türk Dil Kurumu (Güvenlik) anlamı

[2] BAYSAL, B, LÜLECİ, Ç. “Kopenhag Okulu ve Güvenlikleştirme Teorisi”. Güvenlik Stratejileri Dergisi 11 (2015 ): 63

[3] Oğuzlu, Tarık, “NATO-Rusya İlişkileri”, Güvenlik Yazıları Serisi, https://trguvenlikportali.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/NATORusyaIliskileri_TarikOguzlu_v.1.pdf, 24 Nisan 2020.

[4] Erdurmaz, Serdar, ‘’ NATO – Rusya Federasyonu İlişkilerine Bir Bakış’’, http://turksam.org/nato-rusya-federasyonu-iliskilerine-bir-bakis, 24 Nisan 2020.

[5] Relations with Russia, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_50090.htm, 25 Nisan 2020.

Esma Batmaca
Gazi University, Department of International Relations
Posts created 1

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