Created after World War II, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) played a pivotal role in fighting and ultimately winning the Cold War. Today’s NATO’s stated mission is “to guarantee the freedom and security of its members by political and military means.” It has also expanded to 30 member countries including some former Soviet staellites and even former Soviet states. Recently, the role of NATO in Europe has been revisited in the aftermath of the Russian annexation of Crimea and with the ongoing war in Ukraine. Join Active Minds as we take a look at the triumphs and challenges of NATO and how it continues to adapt to the changing 21st century landscape.

Key Lecture Points

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance binding the US, Canada and 28 European nations. Its key tenet is Article V which guarantees collective defense.  Thus, an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all. NATO’s activities between 1949 and 1991 reflected its origins as a Cold War institution, with the organization supporting détente between the US and USSR, but at other times fueling the arms race.
  • Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO has expanded its original mission, stating its modern role is “to guarantee the freedom and security of its members by political and military means,” becoming involved in crisis management and in forming partnerships with non-NATO members. Recently, NATO has had forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, Syria and has deployed for other operations such as counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.
  • NATO membership has come to include former Soviet satellites, including the Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and some of the former Yugoslav states, as well as the former Soviet Republics Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. This eastward expansion was welcomed by most in those countries but opposed by Russia.
  • Prior to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, some argued that NATO’s new roles and members were helping to reinvent the institution for the 21st century, while others suggested that it is an organization in decline, floundering to come up with some reason for existence since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, however, has galvanized the NATO alliance to its core mission of securing its member countries against Russian aggression.
  • Responding to the Ukraine War, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg convened NATO in Madrid in June 2022.  That summit culminated with the formal announcement of a new “Strategic Concept”, stating, “The Russian Federation has violated the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable European security order.”  Additionally, the strategic statement named China as a threat to the “interests, security and values” of NATO members.   At the Madrid meeting, NATO also formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the NATO alliance (after resolving issues raised by NATO member Turkey).

Exploration Questions

  • What was the founding mission of NATO and how has it evolved since the end of the Cold War?
  • What are the major issues facing NATO because of the Ukrainian crisis?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think NATO is still relevant?  Why? Why not?
  • What do you think NATO should do in light of Putin’s war in Ukraine?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Douglas E. Schoen, with Evan Roth Smith. Putin's Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence. Encounter Books, 2016. 200 pages. Vladimir Putin has a master plan to destroy Europe, divide NATO, reclaim Russian influence in the world, and most of all to marginalize the United States and the West in order to achieve regional hegemony and global power, which could inevitably and inexorably lead to the breakup of the NATO alliance, and potentially to war with the West.
    Click here to order
  • Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius, Dennis Halliday, Denis J. Halliday. The Globalization of NATO.  Clarity Press, 2012. 414 pages.  The authors discuss how NATO, originally formed as a guarantee against the Soviet threat to Western Europe, evolved to a broader area of operations outside the European continent to East Africa, Afghanistan and Libya.
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  • Ganser, Daniele. NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladeo and Terrorism in Western Europe.  Frank Cass Publishers, 2004. 315 pages.  This book describes how the CIA, the British secret service, NATO and European military secret services set up a network of clandestine anti-communist armies in Western Europe after WWII.
    Click here to order