Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Google searches for NATO have skyrocketed. Most Americans may take alliance membership for granted, but for some non-alliance countries, such as Ukraine, it poses security risks.
Shortly after the Russian invasion, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO because of the war in Ukraine.
But what is NATO? And who belongs to her? Why is Ukraine not a member, and why was Russia upset that Sweden and Finland want to join?
Just curious?:We answer your daily questions.
What is NATO?
NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance 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 US entered into outside the Western Hemisphere. While it is often believed that NATO was formed in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the possible spread of communism across Europe after World War II, this is only partly true.
According to NATO, the alliance was formed with three goals: in response to threats from the Soviet Union, to prohibit the resurgence of nationalist militarism “in Europe with a strong North American presence on the continent, and to encourage European political integration.”
This was a departure from traditional US foreign policy, as the US has historically practiced a policy of diplomatic isolationism stemming from President George Washington’s Farewell Address in which he advocated “non-intervention in European wars and politics”.
Why was NATO created?
World War II was the deadliest international conflict in history, resulting in between 60 and 80 million deaths. The civilian population accounted for between 50 and 55 million victims. In addition, according to History.com, 6 million Jews also died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Unlike the destruction inflicted during World War I, which was mostly limited to battlefields, countries and cities were destroyed across Europe. According to Britannica, the estimated damage to governments involved in the conflict was more than $1 trillion.
As a result of this mass destruction, European countries needed a large influx of aid to help rebuild their economies. To do this, they basically turned to the United States for help in their reconstruction efforts because the US was considered economically strong at the time when the continent was struggling.
US Secretary of State John Marshall proposed a large-scale economic recovery program called the European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan, adopted in 1948, was aimed at promoting European economic integration and promoting a common idea of cooperation between Europe and the United States. According to History.com, the program, which provided Europe with $15 billion in economic aid, was also meant to stop the spread of communism in Europe.
Despite the invitation received, the Soviet Union refused to participate in the Marshall Plan. Thus, according to History.com, the Marshall Plan deepened the growing divide between Eastern and Western Europe and catalyzed the formation of NATO.
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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 toppled a democratically elected government.
After a coup in response 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, this was an attempt to prevent the US, UK and France from reaching their sectors of Berlin, which were surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany. While Western powers could airlift vital supplies to West Berlin for over a year, according to History.com, the events of the blockade of Berlin and the attempted airlift were the first conflict in the Cold War.
These developments, however, led the US to fear that, in the event of future security concerns, Western European countries might consider “negotiating with the Soviets”. To prevent this, the Truman administration proposed a European-American alliance that would commit the US to the security of Western Europe. Also, while the Marshall Plan helped stabilize the European economy, European nations needed confidence in their own security before they would consider trading with each other again.
According to NATO, after long negotiations among the democracies of Western Europe, it was determined that the only way to contain the Soviet Union, prevent a resurgence of European militarism, and lay the foundation for political integration was through a transatlantic security agreement. This is how the negotiations on the creation of NATO were born.
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When was NATO formed?
After debates among the peoples of Western Europe and negotiations in the US Congress, NATO was formed on April 4, 1949, with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty.
According to NATO, the following countries joined the alliance in 1949:
- United States
- United Kingdom
NATO has adapted over the years as new global conflicts have arisen. A notable change in the alliance occurred during the events of the Korean War, when many perceived the North Korean attack on South Korea as a communist attack directed by the Soviet Union. In response, the US increased the number of troops 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 accession of the Federal Republic of Germany to the alliance, led to a Soviet response through the creation of the Warsaw Pact, 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 tie Eastern capitals closer to Moscow at a time when civil unrest was mounting in Eastern Europe.
The following are the countries that originally joined the Warsaw Pact:
- Soviet Union
- German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Unlike NATO, the Warsaw Pact did not stand the test of time and was dissolved in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
What is Article 5 NATO?
With the signing of the alliance, NATO countries agreed to collective defense. Article 5 states that an attack on one ally must be considered an attack on all. For the first time, Article 5 of NATO was mentioned after the September 11 attacks.
Who will become a member of NATO in 2022?
The following are the current member states of NATO. A few months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO due to security concerns caused by the war.
The following are the current member states of NATO:
- Czech Republic
- North Macedonia
- United Kingdom
- 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 an alliance if all other NATO allies agree, in accordance with Article 10.
Ukraine has had a long-standing intention to join NATO, especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which made this intention a priority for Ukraine, according to The Washington Post. Although NATO has promised to add Ukraine to the alliance in 2008 and again in 2021, Ukraine 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 US had not done enough to stop NATO expansion in Europe. Putin has demanded that NATO return to its 1997 status, which means that 14 states, including the Baltic states, Poland and Romania, must withdraw from the alliance.
Putin also demanded that the US and NATO promise that Ukraine would never become a NATO state, which was rejected by the US and NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on NATO countries for more support, including asking for a no-fly zone. His request went unfulfilled as the US said the establishment of a no-fly zone created the risk of a military clash with Russia, which the US hopes to avoid.