After the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Google searches for NATO increased. Most Americans may take being a member of the alliance for granted, but for some countries that are not part of the alliance, such as Ukraine, it poses security risks.
Shortly after the Russian invasion, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO, due to the war in Ukraine.
But what is NATO? And who is part of it? Why is Ukraine not a member, and why was Russia unhappy that Sweden and Finland wanted to join?
Just curious?:We answer your everyday questions.
What is NATO?
NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance made up of two North American countries – the United States and Canada – and 28 European countries. Founded in 1949 after the end of World War II, NATO is the “world’s largest peacetime military alliance”, according to the US State Department.
According to the State Department, NATO was the first peacetime military alliance the United States entered outside of the Western Hemisphere. Although it is often believed that NATO was formed in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the possible spread of communism in Europe after World War II, this is only partially true.
According to NATO, the alliance was formed for a triple purpose: in response to threats from the Soviet Union, to prevent a revival of nationalist militarism “in Europe with a strong North American presence on the continent, and to encourage European political integration”.
This was a break from traditional US foreign policy since, historically, the United States had practiced a policy of diplomatic isolationism which stemmed from President George Washington’s farewell speech, which advocated “no – involvement in European wars and politics”.
Why was NATO created?
World War II was the deadliest international conflict in history, killing between 60 and 80 million people. Civilians accounted for between 50 and 55 million victims. Additionally, 6 million Jews also died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, according to History.com.
Unlike the destruction wrought during World War I, which was largely confined to the battlefields, countries and cities were decimated across Europe. Estimated damages to governments involved in the conflict amount to more than $1 trillion, according to Britannica.
In the wake of this massive destruction, European nations needed large influxes of aid to help rebuild their economies. To do this, they largely looked to the United States for help in their recovery efforts, as the United States was seen as economically strong at a time when the continent was struggling.
US Secretary of State John Marshall proposed a large-scale economic stimulus program called the European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan, enacted in 1948, aimed to facilitate European economic integration and promote a common idea of cooperation between Europe and the United States. According to History.com, the program that provided $15 billion in economic aid to Europe also aimed to stop the spread of communism in Europe.
Despite receiving an invitation, the Soviet Union refused to participate in the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan thus added to the growing divide between Eastern and Western Europe and became a catalyst for the formation of NATO, according to History.com.
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What events led to NATO?
At the time the Marshall Plan was enacted, the Soviet Union posed a threat to democracies across Europe, including the 1948 Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia that overthrew a democratically elected government.
Following the coup d’etat in reaction to the democratic consolidation of West Germany, the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin in 1948 in an attempt to consolidate its hold on the city.
According to History.com, it was an attempt to prevent the United States, Britain and France from moving into their sectors of Berlin, which were surrounded by East Germany controlled by the Soviets. Although Western powers were able to airlift vital supplies to West Berlin for more than a year, the events of the Berlin blockade and airlift effort were the first conflict of the Cold War, according to History. com.
These events, however, raised fears in the United States that in the event of future security concerns, Western European countries would consider “negotiating with the Soviets”. To avoid this, the Truman administration proposed a Euro-American alliance that would commit the United States to securing Western Europe. Moreover, although the Marshall Plan had helped stabilize European economies, European countries needed to be confident in their own security before considering trading with each other again.
According to NATO, after numerous negotiations between the democracies of Western Europe, it was determined that the only way to deter the Soviet Union, prevent the revival of European militarism and lay the foundations for political integration was a transatlantic security agreement. With this, the talks to form NATO were born.
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When was NATO formed?
After debates between the nations of Western Europe and negotiations within the American Congress, NATO was formed on April 4, 1949, with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty.
According to NATO, these are the countries that joined the alliance in 1949:
- United States
NATO has adapted over the years as new global conflicts have arisen. A notable shift in the alliance occurred during the events of the Korean War, when many saw North Korea’s attack on South Korea as a communist attack led by the Soviet Union. In response to this, the United States increased troop commitments in Europe to stop possible Soviet aggression on the continent, according to the US State Department.
What is the Warsaw Pact?
West Germany’s entry into NATO in 1955 with the addition of the Federal Republic of Germany to the alliance led to Soviet retaliation by the formation of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, known as the Warsaw Pact.
The Soviet Union hoped that with the formation of the Warsaw Pact it could contain West Germany, negotiate with NATO as an equal partner, and bring eastern capitals closer to Moscow at a time when civil unrest was mounting in Eastern Europe.
Here are the countries that originally signed the Warsaw Pact:
- Soviet Union
- The German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Unlike NATO, the Warsaw Pact did not stand the test of time and was dissolved in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
What is Article 5 of NATO?
With the signing of the alliance, the NATO countries accepted collective defence. Article 5 states that an attack against an ally must be considered an attack against all. The first time that Article 5 of NATO was mentioned was after the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Who are the member countries of NATO in 2022?
Here are the current member states of NATO. Months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden submitted applications for NATO membership due to war-induced security concerns.
Here are the current member states of NATO:
- Czech Republic
- North Macedonia
- United States
Why is Ukraine not in NATO?
Article 10 of NATO states that any European country can apply to join the alliance. Countries are allowed to join the alliance if all other NATO allies agree, according to Article 10.
Ukraine has long intended to join NATO, especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 made this intention a priority for Ukraine, The Washington Post reported. Although NATO promised to add Ukraine to the alliance in 2008 and then again in 2021, Ukraine still remains outside the group.
Ukraine’s intention to join NATO contributed to the Russian invasion in February. Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said NATO and the United States had not done enough to stop NATO’s expansion in Europe. Putin has demanded that NATO return to its 1997 status, meaning that 14 states, including the Baltic states, Poland and Romania, would have to withdraw from the alliance.
Putin also demanded that the United States and NATO promise that Ukraine will never become a NATO state, which was rejected by the United States and NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for more support from NATO countries, including asking for a no-fly zone. His request was not met because the United States said that creating a no-fly zone creates the risk of engaging militarily with Russia, which the United States hopes to avoid.