What is NATO and when does it act?

By Ivana Kottasova and Bryony Jones, CNN

NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to give it its full name — is a non-aggressive European and North American defense alliance created to promote peace and stability and to guarantee the security of its members. .

The organization, which is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, was created as the Cold War escalated. Its aim was to protect Western European countries from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of communism after World War II.

In April 1949, its 12 founders – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and eight other European nations – signed the North Atlantic Treaty, pledging to protect each other by political means. and military.

Over the decades that followed, the alliance grew and now has 30 members. In alphabetical order, these are: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Macedonia North, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States.

Since the end of the Cold War, more than a dozen countries from the former Eastern bloc, including three former Soviet republics, have joined the alliance. Russia still sees NATO as a threat despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. Amid recent tensions with the West, Russia has demanded ironclad guarantees that the alliance will not expand further – something NATO members have resisted.

Despite the major geopolitical changes since the founding of NATO, its objective remains the same. The key principle underlying the alliance is that of collective defence: “An armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America will be considered an attack against them all.”

What does this mean in practice?

The principle of collective defense is set out in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It ensures that the resources of the entire alliance can be used to protect any member country. This is crucial for many small countries that would be defenseless without their allies. Iceland, for example, does not have a standing army.

Since the United States is the largest and most powerful member of NATO, any state in the alliance is effectively under the protection of the United States.

In fact, the first and only time Article 5 was invoked was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States; as a result, NATO allies joined in the invasion of Afghanistan.

However, NATO has also intervened on other occasions.

It implemented collective defense measures in 1991 when it deployed Patriot missiles during the Gulf War, in 2003 during the Iraq crisis and in 2012 in response to the situation in Syria, also with Patriot missiles. .

All three were based on requests from Turkey.

Does he have his own army?

No. NATO relies on the contribution of its member countries, which means that it is essentially as strong as the individual forces of each nation. It is in the interests of the entire coalition to ensure that each country devotes sufficient resources to its defense.

This has been one of the alliance’s main sticking points, with the US and UK often criticizing other member states for not doing their fair share.

US military spending has consistently eclipsed the budgets of other allies since NATO was founded in 1949. But the gap widened dramatically when the US increased spending after the 9/11 attacks.

According to NATO guidelines, every country should spend 2% of its GDP on defence, but most countries fall short of this target.

Former US President Donald Trump has been particularly vocal on this topic, demanding that European countries do more and even suggesting at one point that they “reimburse” the United States for its past failures.

According to the latest NATO estimates, seven member states, Greece, the United States, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and France have reached the target of 2% in 2021.

Still, it’s a significant improvement. In 2014, only the United States, the United Kingdom and Greece spent more than 2%.

At that time, all member countries that were below the threshold pledged to increase military spending to meet the target within a decade. Most keep the promise.

How has the organization’s mandate changed over time?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO evolved and expanded.

Over the years, its members have served as peacekeepers in Bosnia, fought against human trafficking and have been deployed to intercept refugees in the Mediterranean.

The alliance is also responding to new ways in which conflicts can unfold, for example by establishing a cyber defense center in Estonia.

What could he do in Ukraine?

NATO already had troops in Eastern Europe before the latest rise in tensions with Russia, but it has increased its presence there in recent weeks.

According to NATO, there are currently four battalion-sized multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, on a rotational basis.

These battle groups are led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States. NATO said on January 7, they are “robust and combat-ready forces”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance stands ready to rapidly bolster that presence by sending additional forces and capabilities to the region.

The Biden administration has put up to 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe.

More immediately, several NATO countries began sending arms and ammunition to Ukraine.

The United States sent two arms shipments to Ukraine, including 300 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 800 bunker bombs and hundreds of thousands of munitions. The UK has supplied Ukraine with new light anti-tank weapons and the Czech government on Wednesday agreed to donate more than 4,000 152mm caliber artillery shells.

Why is Germany criticized?

Berlin has recently come under fire for its policy of not exporting arms to crisis areas.

Germany has so far refused to send arms to Ukraine, instead promising to give Kiev a field hospital, medical training and 5,000 military helmets.

Germany’s complicated history means its governments have always been cautious about military spending and the idea of ​​getting directly involved in conflict is a tough sell there. It has also been criticized for not meeting the 2% of GDP spending target, along with other countries.

“The German government has very clearly agreed that we will not send lethal weapons or arms deliveries to conflict areas because we do not want to further fuel these conflicts,” the German defense secretary said on Thursday. , Christine Lambrecht.

Germany hosts more than 30,000 American military personnel and their families.

The UK came to Germany’s defense on the issue on Thursday, with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace saying his country does not judge Germany for its decision.

“The advantage of being in NATO is that there are 30 allies, so we can all help Ukraine in our own way,” he said.

“Obviously the UK has taken the view that lethal aid of a tactical defensive nature is something Ukrainians need, but we’re not judging other countries,” Wallace said.

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Frederik Pleitgen and Nadine Schmidt of CNN in Berlin contributed reporting.

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