NATO Is More Important Than Ever – What You Need to Know
Last Tuesday Turkey lifted its objections to adding two new countries to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This was a significant, albeit imperfect, compromise between Turkey and the other 29 nations that make up the defense alliance. The disagreement centered around Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey views as terrorists. The two NATO aspirants agreed not to impose arms embargoes against Turkey due to some of its actions in Syrian against Kurdish groups, which they have been implementing. Sweden and Finland agreed to take steps on Turkey’s requests for the extradition of Kurdish individuals they have linked to terrorism, though the details of that were purposely vague on the part of the two Scandinavian countries.
Turkey is a problem child for NATO. Yet their role is important as a bridge between Islamic-dominant Asia and the rest of Europe. The United States has a long and important relationship between its military forces and those of Turkey. Yet President Recep Erdogan has not been a team player with the West, has at times acted as a ruthless Islamist ruler, and he warmed up to Russia to the point of buying weapons systems from the former Soviet Union state, over the objections of his NATO partners.
However, the role of the NATO alliance is as important as ever. Formed in 1949 as a bulwark of nations to counter the aggression of the Soviet Union, it has served its purpose of deterring war in Europe well. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many (even recently) have questioned whether the world still needed NATO. Some have called for its disbandment. French President Emanuel Macron even floated the idea of replacing the organization with a new collective defense group built around the European Union, in other words, a defense alliance minus the U.S., Canada, Australia, and other non-European powers. It must be noted that European arrogance like that only lasts until the next invasion when Europe pleads for the U.S. to sacrifice blood and money to come to their rescue.
Vladimir Putin changed all that. Expressing a distrust of NATO and demanding that no new countries be allowed to join—and its military forces curtailed and moved away from borders with Russia—Putin’s naked aggression in Ukraine resulted in the exact opposite, the very thing which he did not want. His unwarranted invasion of a neighboring country, and the atrocities committed by Russian troops there, served as a reality check for the rest of the world. It was a stark reminder that geo-political evil still lives and that men like Hitler and Mussolini still exist in the post-modern world. Further, the concern must not be provoking Putin. His malevolent actions need no provocation. The greater danger would be to placate Putin. Trying to appease a man like this never ends well. This is a timely lesson for every peace-loving democracy on the planet.
There is a legitimate debate over every NATO country paying their fair share for collective defense. The requirement is that every member spend 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on their own national military. Only 8 of the 30 member countries meet that goal. Most of the bill for defending Europe and the West falls on the United States. Wealthy countries, like Germany, are some of the worst violators of this standard. Thankfully, pressure from then-President Donald Trump and now Russia’s behavior has caused many of the NATO members to up their ante.
Regardless, NATO is more important than ever. The expansion of the alliance by admitting Finland and Sweden is strategically important for Europe’s protection, for the underpinning of the world order and international borders, and for U.S. national security. Already these two nations seeking admission pay more for their military forces than some long-standing NATO members. Finland, which has an 830-mile border with Russia, has one of the largest and most modern militaries in Europe. This year they increased military spending by 70% and will enter NATO having reached the requirement of spending 2% on their military. Finland’s military is large enough they will not need additional NATO troops to patrol a peace-time border with Russia. Sweden has committed to reaching that goal as soon as possible; they presently spend about 1.6% on defense. In the defense of freedom Sweden has abandoned its long history of military non-alignment.
Most importantly, these two countries are critical to countering any future Russian aggression. In the future, Finland, with its long border with Russia, would be a likely target for Putin and his ilk. Sweden controls utilization of the Baltic Sea. It, too, would be a likely victim in the event of a wider war. The former Soviet republics who are members of NATO joined for the same reasons: self-defense and survival. If we have learned anything since February 2022, its that Reagan’s old approach to Russia of “Trust but verify” is no longer applicable. Russia cannot be trusted. Putin’s desire for conquest knows no limits. His flagrant violations of international law and human rights, and the civilized world’s condemnation of these acts, mean little or nothing to him.
Any major war in Europe would involve the United States. That is a reality. Certainly Article 5 of the NATO treaty (an attack on one member is an attack on all) would draw us in to a war in Europe now. But even if Article 5 did not exist, the U.S. would still end up fighting in any major war in Europe. It has happened twice before. NATO exists to deter war, and to decisively win a war if it came to that. Thus, the larger and more powerful that organization is, the more potent is its deterrent effectiveness. The enemies of justice and freedom must be shown the futility of attacking a group of nations who have banded together to defeat them. It is another example of peace through strength.
As nations who value freedom, democratic principles, and the rule of law seek to become part of a group to fight the enemies that would destroy those same values, the answer must be “Yes.” There will always be some political differences and allied squabbles. But history shows that we must stand together—or we fall separately.
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