NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation Pact Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The signing of a cooperation pact between NATO and Russia cleared the way for eastward expansion of NATO. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic would join NATO in July.

Summary of Event

On May 27, 1997, leaders of the sixteen member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russian president Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement that institutionalized a consultative role for Russia in NATO deliberations. The agreement was widely understood to be the source of political cover that Yeltsin required to allow him to accede to NATO’s expansion into Eastern European countries that once were Soviet satellites. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Founding Act (NATO-Russia, 1997) [kw]NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation Pact (May 27, 1997) [kw]Russia Sign Cooperation Pact, NATO and (May 27, 1997) [kw]Cooperation Pact, NATO and Russia Sign (May 27, 1997) [kw]Pact, NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation (May 27, 1997) North Atlantic Treaty Organization Founding Act (NATO-Russia, 1997) [g]Europe;May 27, 1997: NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation Pact[09690] [g]France;May 27, 1997: NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation Pact[09690] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 27, 1997: NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation Pact[09690] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 27, 1997: NATO and Russia Sign Cooperation Pact[09690] Blair, Tony Chirac, Jacques Clinton, Bill Kohl, Helmut Yeltsin, Boris

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established in 1949 as a military alliance linking the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. The organization’s founding was prompted by the rapidly escalating Cold War and by increasing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union over Germany. In the same year, Germany was divided into democratic West Germany, which was allied with (and to a large extent controlled by) the United States, Britain, and France, and communist East Germany, which was dominated by the Soviet Union. West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955; East Germany was included in the newly formed Warsaw Treaty Organization (usually called the Warsaw Pact) Warsaw Pact several weeks later.

The North Atlantic Treaty placed on NATO members obligations of mutual defense; an attack on any one country would be considered an attack on all. This binding of American security interests to Europe was the military centerpiece of U.S. containment policy. For four decades, NATO would be credited with preventing the spread of Soviet communism beyond the Soviet Union’s eastern sphere of influence and with permitting the rearmament of West Germany to be accomplished with sufficient international safeguards. In the words of Lord Ismay, NATO’s purpose in Europe was to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.

Eventually NATO expanded to sixteen member countries, including most of Western Europe. The Warsaw Pact included the Soviet Union and six Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. The European political order thus was bipolar, centered on Washington and Moscow. The two blocs were separated by an imaginary “Iron Curtain” Iron Curtain that ran between East and West Germany. In many respects, the existence of the two alliances ensured a “balance of power” that had eluded Europe for centuries. As a result, the Great Powers of Europe (and North America) did not directly fight one another for the next half century and beyond.

In the late 1980’s, however, the Soviet bloc began to fall apart. In 1989, all of the Warsaw Pact countries overthrew their Soviet-imposed Communist governments and adopted varying degrees of democratic reforms. Perhaps even more dramatically, German unification seemed increasingly likely once East Germany’s Communist government was eliminated. Because East Germany Germany;reunification was arguably the most strategic country of the Warsaw Pact, German unification could well destroy what little was left of the European balance of power. Based on that logic, the Soviets insisted that any plan for the unification of Germany could not cede the territory of eastern Germany to NATO. The question of German unification thus came to hinge on the matter of NATO expansion.

By the fall of 1990, Germany did unify wholly within NATO. A few months later, the Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved. These previously unimaginable events were facilitated largely by Western assurances to the Soviets that NATO would not use its geographically expanded and now unchecked strength against legitimate Soviet interests. Those assurances could not protect the Soviet Union from nationalist movements within the country, however, and the Soviet Union dissolved into its fifteen constituent republics before the end of 1991.

Under President Boris Yeltsin, post-Soviet Russia sought to reestablish itself as an influential European power. The continued existence of NATO, however, served as a constant reminder that the West had “won” the Cold War. Cold War;conclusion Constantly chafing at this geopolitical reminder of Russia’s marginalization in post-Cold War Europe, Moscow alternately called for the elimination of NATO, for its conversion from a military alliance to a political one, and for Russian membership in the organization. Meanwhile, the former Warsaw Pact countries publicly expressed a desire to join NATO, as did many of the former Soviet republics. Those countries presumably wanted to institutionalize their long-sought escape from Soviet military pressure and political domination. There was significant sympathy in Western Europe and the United States for expanding NATO to those countries. In the eyes of Moscow, however, NATO’s further expansion into Eastern Europe (beyond eastern Germany) without a suitably influential Russian voice in NATO would be a violation of the spirit of NATO’s promise not to take undue advantage of Moscow’s weakened condition.

By the mid-1990’s, an unofficial short list had emerged of countries likely to be considered for membership in an expanded NATO. That list included Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, all of which were eventually admitted into NATO on March 12, 1999. Russia vociferously opposed such proposals, arguing that expanding NATO in such a way would simply redivide Europe, which had so recently managed to draw back the Iron Curtain. Although the Russian public did not consider NATO expansion a particularly salient issue, Russian politicians—particularly those in the Communist and nationalist parties—made it a rallying cry. Yeltsin came under increasing pressure by various opposition groups in the parliament to halt the expansion, but it was unclear exactly what Moscow could do about it.

The issue reached a climax as a July, 1997, meeting of NATO leaders neared. NATO was expected to announce at the Madrid meeting the specific countries to which an invitation to join the alliance would be extended. The NATO leaders clearly hoped to secure Yeltsin’s acquiescence, however grudging, in order to prevent a major diplomatic row with Moscow. Toward that purpose, a NATO-Russia agreement was negotiated in the months leading up to the Madrid summit. The NATO-Russia “Founding Act” was signed in Paris on May 27, only weeks before the Madrid summit.


The Founding Act generally committed Russia and the NATO countries to cooperate in building “a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe, whole and free, to the benefit of all its peoples.” More specifically, the agreement provided for the establishment of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council, Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council[Russia NATO Permanent Joint Council] based in Brussels, to facilitate Russia’s participation in NATO’s policy discussions. (It did not, however, provide Moscow with either a vote or a veto in NATO’s decision making. Yeltsin had repeatedly sought this.) The Permanent Joint Council would meet monthly to discuss matters of concern to any of the countries.

The agreement also committed the countries to negotiate new national limits on the 1991 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Although not specified in formal treaty commitments, NATO did reassure Russia that the alliance had neither the intention of nor interest in deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of new member countries. For his part, Yeltsin promised that Russian nuclear weapons previously targeted at NATO countries would be dismantled.

After its signing, the Founding Act was to be considered for ratification by the legislatures of the signatory countries. The agreement was expected to encounter especially strong opposition in the Russian parliament, where Russian nationalist and Communist parties held sway. At the time of the Founding Act’s signing, the Russian parliament still had not ratified the 1993 START II START II (1993)[Start 02] agreement, which would cut American and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. Indeed, the possibility of NATO expansion was one of the main issues that held up Russian ratification of START II.

In any event, the Founding Act was less important as a legal instrument than as a symbolic expression of NATO’s assurances to Russia and Russia’s acquiescence to NATO expansion. To be sure, Yeltsin continued to insist that NATO expansion was “a grave mistake,” but he seemed to accept that it was inevitable. In that sense, the signing ceremony was a post-Cold War catharsis.

In 2004, NATO added seven new members, all from the former Soviet bloc—Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia—bringing membership to twenty-six. In 2002, the NATO-Russian Council was established to foster the cooperation between the expanded alliance and Russia that had begun with the signing of the cooperation pact in 1997. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Founding Act (NATO-Russia, 1997)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brenner, Michael, ed. NATO and Collective Security. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Offers useful background information on NATO and its role in ensuring international security. Includes a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clemens, Clay, ed. NATO and the Quest for Post-Cold War Security. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Collection of essays focuses primarily on NATO’s complex role in furthering collective security in Western Europe without offending the national interests of individual members.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gann, L. H., and Peter Duignan. Contemporary Europe and the Atlantic Alliance: A Political History. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997. Provides an excellent overview of how NATO shaped and was shaped by postwar European political developments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rupp, Richard E. NATO After 9/11: An Alliance in Continuing Decline. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Discusses the state of NATO since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Argues that threats to Western security have failed to unify the organization’s member nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whitney, Craig R. “Russia and NATO Sign Cooperation Pact.” The New York Times, May 28, 1997, A1. Describes the terms of the Founding Act and the signing ceremony itself.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wijk, Rob de. NATO on the Brink of a New Millennium: The Battle for Consensus. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1997. Focuses on organizational changes within NATO that occurred after the late 1980’s and how these changes shifted the balance of power among its member nations.

Gorbachev Initiates a Policy of Glasnost

Gorbachev Agrees to Membership of a United Germany in NATO

Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

Categories: History