Weekly Columns

NATO at 70

Apr 15 2019

During a recent address before a Joint Session of Congress, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg vividly described the two monuments that stand out front of the organization’s headquarters in Belgium. One, a piece of the Berlin Wall. The other, a twisted steel beam from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 

As Secretary General Stoltenberg noted, both serve a special purpose. These monuments stand as powerful reminders for NATO members of where we have been, are going and our commitment to one another.

NATO turned 70 this month. The United States and our Trans-Atlantic allies in the organization have seen the world change considerably during those seven decades. The threat posed by the Soviet Union—one of the main reasons the alliance was formed—no longer exists. However, the international community now faces the challenge of an increasingly hostile Russia in its place.

When Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, it carried out an alarming act of aggression that Europe hasn’t seen since World War II. Realizing that he faced little recourse for that action, Vladimir Putin stepped up his belligerent acts by arming pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine, carrying out bombing campaigns on behalf of a murderous regime in Syria and conducting cyberattacks on Western democracies.

As if this litany of aggressions isn’t enough, Russia has deployed mobile, nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. This is a clear violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that will have long-term ramifications for NATO countries. As the Secretary General stated in his Joint Session address, “an agreement that is only respected by one side will not keep us safe.”

We don’t have to return to a Cold War-era arms race as a result of Russia’s actions. However, we must, as Secretary General Stoltenberg noted, “prepare for a world without the INF Treaty and take the necessary steps to provide credible and effective deterrence.” 

While the threat posed by a resurgent Russia reinforces the need for a strong NATO, it is far from the only concern facing the alliance.China’s expanding global influence and the aspirations of smaller rogue nations like North Korea and Iran will continue to challenge the west moving forward. Despite making great strides to eliminate ISIS, the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorists remains ever present and knows no boundaries. 

Amidst all these challenges, NATO stands as a very visible deterrent. When half the world’s military strength stands together, bad actors take notice. Collectively, NATO members also make up half of the world’s economic might. The bond the U.S. shares with our NATO allies extends far beyond security cooperation, as many of these nations are our most reliable and trustworthy trading partners. 

The strength of NATO is contingent on each and every member paying its fair share. Every member nation must meet the agreed upon defense spending levels. Secretary General Stoltenberg stressed this point during his address and this message has begun to resonate with NATO members. An additional $41 billion has been spent on defense by our European allies and Canada in the last two years alone. That number is expected to reach $100 billion by the end of the year.

President Trump deserves credit for bringing about this sea change. His words to our allies that were not living up to their commitments were conveyed in a direct manner. NATO must be a fair alliance.    

We have accomplished a great deal together, but many challenges remain for NATO. As we mark the 70thyear of the alliance, we do so with the knowledge that our friends from across the Atlantic will continue to be trusted partners who stand by each other in our hours of need.