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What is the Purpose of NATO?

NATO is an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is a military alliance that was formed in 1949 at the start of the Cold War, with the intent of guaranteeing the freedom and security of its members.

The alliance is composed of 30 European nations as well as the U.S. and Canada. NATO also has partners which it closely cooperates with, each on an individual basis. The most important of these partnerships include Japan, Australia and South Korea. 

Originally NATO was formed to oppose the Soviet Union, which had gained control over Central and Eastern Europe after the conclusion of World War II. After being invaded by Nazi Germany, the Red Army pushed the Germans out of Soviet territory and all the way back to Berlin—in the process, conquering the nations in between such as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

The expansion of Soviet power undermined the marriage of convenience which saw the U.S., U.K. and the USSR allied during World War II. While the West sought to liberate Europe from Nazi control and reestablish the independence of these nations, the USSR took the opportunity to absorb what it could. This difference was responsible for much of the tension which led to the Cold War. 

NATO was created to check Soviet expansionism. The fear of Soviet encroachment justified a mutual defense agreement between the NATO nations in Article 5. The nuclear age that followed led both NATO and the USSR to be weary of one another and avoid direct conflict.

Since 1949, there have been 10 rounds of NATO enlargement. Originally, NATO was made up of 12 nations, and in 2024, it has just gained its 32nd member. Half of current NATO members joined in the wake of the Soviet collapse. Most of these nations are former Soviet Republics. Other nations like North Macedonia and Montenegro worked to upgrade their militaries to meet the specifications necessary for a NATO member to gain the security guarantee offered by the alliance. 

After the Soviet collapse, NATO was relegated to intervening in minor humanitarian crises like in Yugoslavia and Somalia. Eventually, it participated in the coalition formed to combat Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, as well as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. NATO had deteriorated in defensive purpose to the point of fighting offensive wars in the Middle East.

Currently, figures like Donald Trump denounce NATO as a burden on U.S. taxpayers and for member states not meeting the GDP spending requirement. With the USSR gone, NATO was running on fumes of justification until Russia invaded Ukraine. 

In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, offering a renewed reason for NATO to exist, hence Norway and then Sweden joined the alliance, which has doubled NATO’s border with Russia. The obsolete condition of NATO has been refurbished by a kinetic war in Europe.

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Interesting piece Ryan! NATO was in a struggling situation, which represented a good opportunity for Putin to invade Ukraine. However, did Putin expect such a strong reaction from NATO in response to his decision?

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