It sounds like a love story, and in many ways it has been. There have been plenty of ups and downs since the U.S. relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began in 1949. It’s like some poet once said: “Love isn’t about finding someone to live with, it’s like finding someone whom you can’t live without.”
Also known as the North Atlantic Alliance, NATO is a military defense alliance made up of 30 members. When it was first established in 1949 it just had 12 members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. Now, the other member countries are Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020). Most recently, Sweden and Finland have made application for membership as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine and out of their concern for Putin’s appetite for greater conquests in Europe.
Despite Putin’s phony claims that he invaded Ukraine because the country was full of Nazis and that he feared Ukraine was going to become a member of NATO, no such application for membership had been submitted and the enduring fact is that NATO is only a defense pact. It has never invaded any territory, nor has it ever threatened to attack any nation since its inception over 70 years ago, except for its famous Article 5, a threat which states that: “An attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.”
NATO has only invoked Article 5 once in 71 years and that was on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Towers were attacked in New York City. The Soviet Union and Russia have had multiple opportunities to engage with the rest of Europe in congenial and constructive ways — after World War II, the post-Cold War period, and in the aftermath of Gorbachev’s attempts at opening up the USSR (perestroika and glasnost).
The USSR was made a permanent member of the United Nations’ top decision-making council, the Security Council, when it was formed in 1945. They still are, which makes the U.N. virtually dysfunctional. More recently, Putin had been invited to be a part of the G-7, which then became the G-8, until Russia was kicked out following its annexation of Crimea. The G-7 is an intergovernmental group of western leaders whose assumptive role is in setting leadership on global economic, environmental and humanitarian-related issues. The dismissal of Russia from the G-8 was another example of the consequences for Vladimir Putin’s outsized vision of Russia’s singular place in world leadership and his brutally expansive territorial policies. Russia’s aggressive hegemonism is why a strong NATO is so important to the national security of European nations and world peace.
In the weeks before Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, promises were made to the world that Russia had no intention of an assault.
“Russia is not going to attack anyone,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters in late November. “It’s not like that.”
According to this report in U.S. News, “Peskov added, however, that Russia remains ‘deeply concerned about provocative actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the line of contact’ as well as ‘preparations for a possible military solution to the Donbas problem.’ Later the excuse was that Ukraine was a threat to Russia because it was a nest of Nazis.
The provocateurs, however, were the Russians with more than 100,000 troops lined up along its borders with Ukraine. Deception is Putin’s favorite game which is why western European nations cannot trust anything he or his minions say and why NATO has to stiffen its fortifications across its boundaries with Russia and accelerate memberships for both Sweden and Finland.
Some experts on Russia tried to make the case before the invasion that NATO was a bonafide threat to Russia and talk of bringing Ukraine into NATO was legitimately provocative. Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine quashes that argument and the fact remains that NATO, once again, is simply a defense alliance, never having invaded any other nation.
Vladimir Putin’s intentions were mistakenly to take all of Ukraine. His grandiose ambitions and his troubled military have clearly fallen short. Many now believe that Putin would settle for annexing the Donetsk-Luhansk regions and the “land-bridge” to Crimea. President Zelensky claims they will settle for none of it.
There seems to be a growing consensus that Putin has lost much more than his goal of swallowing Ukraine. His invasion has unified a NATO that was faltering, hesitant and struggling to stay united into an alliance as determined and cohesive as it has ever been. Separate from NATO, the European Union is now mobilizing itself to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas to near zero consumption by the end of this year. And, in spite of China’s “understanding” of why Russia invaded Ukraine, it has notably kept an arms-length diplomatic distance, and perhaps put the brakes on its own “special military operation” against Taiwan.
Putin has turned Russia into a pariah state, burdened by punishing sanctions making it difficult to get the parts and technology to replenish its retail shelves, its high-tech goods, its military parts, and its ability to process financial transactions. Over time these burdens will only get worse.
In a world challenged by great powers jockeying for economic and military supremacy, hordes of migrating people trying to escape from despotism, corruption, crime, hunger, poverty and the trials of a planet heating up from climate change, the need for peace and political stability are paramount.
NATO is a conglomerate of 30 nations about to become 32. Twenty-one of its members are also a part of a political and economic entity known as the European Union. Together these multinational organizations have enormous influence in world affairs and together with the United States even greater influence. It is imperative that NATO remains firmly united, strong and fiercely committed to its intergovernmental pledge of collective defense. As such, it is one of the world’s pillars of peace and stability.
No, NATO, we cannot live without you.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.