Slacker’s Syllabus: NATO

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NATO has come up a lot lately.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the latter’s lack of membership in NATO, the Western military alliance, has been a hot topic. Ukraine had been asking to join for years, as a way to get protection from Russian aggression.

Some people are calling for NATO to intervene now in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, like by forming a no-fly zone. Although that hasn’t happened, the alliance did supply the Ukrainian military with weapons.

And in February, President Biden referenced NATO in remarks following Putin’s initial military onslaught.

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The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power. And the good news is: NATO is more united and more determined than ever.

But not everybody wants NATO involved.

Some anti-war activists say NATO’s involvement in Ukraine would prevent any chances of peace negotiations with Russia, given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intense hostility toward the alliance.

Recently, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced he is no longer pressing for NATO membership for Ukraine, stating, “The alliance is afraid of controversial things, and confrontation with Russia.”

But why is NATO such a key factor in this specific conflict?

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Short for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO formed in 1949 following World War II.

Why?

After the war, the Soviet Union had armies stationed in central and eastern Europe. Fearing potential conflict, NATO’s members wanted an alliance against the Soviets.

The treaty that each member must abide by contains 14 articles. Article 5 is the most well-known: Basically, it says if you attack one member of NATO, then you’re attacking them all.

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all . . .

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NATO’s founders included: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal.

Today, over 30 countries are in NATO.

Since 1997, NATO has expanded further into eastern Europe, including countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Technically, no single country leads NATO.

It is headed up by a secretary general, a position currently held by Norwegian politician Jens Stoltenberg.

But according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “Despite the alliance’s egalitarian structure, the United States’s leading role was clear from the start.”

CFR pointed to the role of Supreme Allied Commander Europe. This position heads NATO’s military operations and has always been held by an American. Right now, General Tod D. Wolters is SACEUR.

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After the Cold War ended, NATO needed a new mission.

An alliance formed against the Soviet Union had no need to exist after its collapse in 1991. But instead of dissolving, NATO re-defined itself as a “cooperative-security” organization.

In 1995, NATO had another major shift. It launched an air campaign against the Bosnian Army to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians.

This signaled the start of NATO moving “from a purely defensive alliance into a large, coordinated, and powerful military force operating beyond its members’ borders,” CFR wrote.

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9/11 was another significant moment for NATO.

It was the first time the organization invoked Article 5. As a result, NATO supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and sent naval forces into the Eastern Mediterranean.

Since then, NATO has been instrumental in the ongoing War on Terror.

The commitment to collective self-defense . . . was entered into in circumstances very different from those that exist now. But it remains no less valid and no less essential today, in a world subject to the scourge of international terrorism.

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Critics say NATO has outlived its original purpose, and that it shouldn’t be permitted to re-define itself forever.

Together, NATO allies make up 54% of the $1.9 trillion global defense budget. By dissolving NATO, many hope the money would be used for better causes like addressing climate change.

“The false narrative of security that NATO promotes ... is precisely what prevents us from living in a peaceful world,” Colombian activist Angelo Cardona wrote. “More weapons can only mean more tension, more war, and more death.”