NATO at 75: No Time to Go Wobbly

by | Jul 10, 2024 | Editorial and Analysis


The leaders of NATO’s 32 member nations are gathered in Washington this week to observe the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (“NATO,” to anglophones, “OTAN” to our friends on the continent). While they will be celebrating three-quarters of a century of North American-European unity, the summit meeting will be set against a background of increasing nationalism spreading across Europe, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and deep skepticism of NATO by the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate and many of his supporters.

In a Foreign Affairs piece published last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted that for 75 years, NATO “has protected transatlantic peace, democracy, and prosperity,” but added that this week’s gathering is more than simply a celebration of that accomplishment. Indeed, “… the summit will be an opportunity to make decisions that matter for the future of one billion people across Europe and North America.”

At a press conference held two days after the article was published, Stoltenberg outlined the top matters to be addressed this week. The most urgent topic at the summit will be support to Ukraine. “Ukraine must prevail, and they need our sustained support,” he said.

According to the secretary general, NATO will assume the coordination and provision of the majority of security assistance to Ukraine, including a command led by a three-star general, some 700 personnel working at a new NATO command center in Wiesbaden, Germany, and logistics sites in NATO countries nearest the fighting. Stoltenberg insisted that such actions would not make NATO “a party to the conflict.” Rather, “it will enhance Ukraine’s self-defense,” he said.

Stoltenberg pledged that NATO will provide a sustained level of funding for the next year, more immediate military support, additional bilateral security agreements with Ukraine, and increased military interoperability, adding that the organization will work to enhance Ukraine’s defense industry, all of which, the secretary general acknowledged, is moving Ukraine closer to NATO.

In addition to Ukraine, topics on this week’s agenda include matters of increased deterrence and defense, and the importance of global partnerships. Citing China’s and North Korea’s support to Russia’s war, leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea have been invited to the summit.

According to Stoltenberg, “NATO was founded in Washington 75 years ago on a single, solemn promise: an attack on one ally is an attack on all. From that foundation, we have built the most powerful and successful alliance in history.”

Even as NATO has welcomed Finland and Sweden as new members since Russia’s ill-advised attack on Ukraine, signs of friction have surfaced within the alliance, with nationalism and far-right political parties making gains in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in the European Union.

 Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban defied European leaders and angered Ukraine last week by meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow during what Orban described as a “peace mission.” The visit came three days after Orban visited Kyiv, where he met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally, has expressed her desire to remove French troops from NATO’s integrated command, and even NATO supporter French President Emanuel Macron declared the organization “brain dead” in 2019 in frustration over internal bickering.

 Despite pledging her country’s “strong commitment” to NATO and efforts to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in late May that she is against Ukraine’s using Western-supplied weapons for strikes inside Russian territory.

At a political rally in South Carolina in February, former U.S. President Donald Trump made remarks that alarmed NATO allies when recounting a discussion he allegedly had with one NATO ally in which he said that he would “encourage” Russia to do whatever it wanted to NATO countries that were “delinquent” in hitting their funding target of 2% of GDP for the alliance.

“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recalled of his side of the conversation. “‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg released a statement the following day, saying, “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.”

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO allies agreed to aim for spending 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. Despite Republican claims that fewer than a third of NATO members are meeting the 2% target, 21 of 32 members, or 72%, are paying at least 2% of their GDP in 2024. Last year, a third of NATO members exceeded the 2% guideline. In fact, Poland pays a larger percentage of its GDP than does the United States.

In an article in last week’s Foreign Policy, national security and foreign policy expert Christopher Chivvis questioned how much there is to celebrate as NATO turns 75, suggesting that the alliance has experienced four phases since its founding in Washington, D.C., in 1949, when 12 founding members signed the North Atlantic Treaty: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

During its first phase, Chivvis writes, NATO had three goals: to bring Germany to heel by helping it rebuild after World War II, to provide for a common defense against the Soviet Union, and to link the United States to Europe.

Its second phase began following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, when NATO evolved from being a defensive military alliance into a force for political change in Europe, championing blossoming democracies and free market institutions.

On the day after 9/11, NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the first and only time in its history. Article 5 maintains, “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…” thus beginning NATO’s third phase as it joined the “war on terror.”

Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine and its subsequent seizure of Crimea in 2014 kicked off NATO’s fourth and current phase that has brought Russia fully back into focus. The problem, Chivvis writes, is that while Europe is focused squarely on Russia, the United States is more concerned about the threat that China represents, which has created “a major new tension at the core of the alliance.” As mentioned above, Indo-Pacific leaders are attending this week’s summit in Washington, in recognition of America’s dual concerns. Chivvis suggests as the NATO alliance ever larger, gaps in military strength and different geopolitical interests will make managing NATO’s differences increasingly difficult.

That said, NATO has proven to be a critical alliance for the past 75 years, deterring and containing Soviet ambitions, supporting fledgling democracies, countering violent extremism, and working to preventing direct conflict among the great powers. NATO largely has been a force for good, both for Europe and for North America. As it marks this milestone anniversary, NATO finds itself at a critical juncture, with a hot war in Europe, increasing global threats to democracy, and the possibility of reduced support or even abandonment by the United States. Now, more than any other time in its history, maintaining unity among alliance members is imperative. In the famous words of the late Maggie Thatcher, “Now is not the time to go wobbly.”


Captain Scott Rye, USN (Ret.), is a former correspondent for Daily Shipping Guide, the former long-time editor of Alabama Seaport magazine, and the author of Of Men & Ships: The Best Sea Tales and Men & Ships of the Civil War.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dynamis Media Group llc, or Any content provided by our authors and/or contributors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

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