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Robbins: United we stand

… united we stand

Divided we fall

And if our backs should ever be against the wall



We’ll be together, you and I.

— Brotherhood of Man (Tony Hiller and Peter Simons)



NATO is surely what keeps Putin up at night.

But what, exactly, it is?

It is often said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. This is only partially true. In fact, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.

The aftermath of World War II saw much of Europe devastated in a way that, until Russian artillery began blazing in Ukraine was, until recently, difficult to envision. Approximately 36.5 million Europeans had died in the conflict,19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were astronomical and millions of orphans wandered the burnt-out shells of former cities. In the German city of Hamburg alone, half a million people were homeless. Think Mariupol today and that will give you some idea.

In addition, Communists aided by the Soviet Union were threatening elected governments across Europe. In February 1948, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with covert backing from the Soviet Union, overthrew the democratically-elected government in that country. Then, in reaction to the democratic consolidation of West Germany, the Soviets blockaded Allied-controlled West Berlin in a bid to firm their hold on the German capital. The heroism of the Berlin Airlift provided future allies with some solace, but privations remained a grave threat to freedom and international stability.

While the United States had traditionally held a policy of diplomatic isolationism, following the war, it provided aid to Europe through the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan (also known as the European Recovery Program) however more was needed. After the devastation and betrayals of the war, before they would begin talking and trading with each other, European states needed confidence in their security. Military cooperation, and the security it would bring, would have to develop in parallel with economic and political progress.

With this in mind, several Western European democracies came together to implement various projects for greater military cooperation and collective defense, including the creation of the Western Union in 1948, later to become the Western European Union in 1954. In the end, it was determined that only a truly transatlantic security agreement could deter Soviet aggression while simultaneously preventing the revival of European militarism and laying the groundwork for political integration.

After much discussion and debate, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed on April 4, 1949.

Perhaps what haunts Putin’s dreams the most is the treaty’s Article 5 which in consideration of the latest malaise in Eastern Europe, you have likely heard bandied about.

Before we get to what it provides, however, it is worth noting that Ukraine, although it would like to be, is not a NATO member. At least in part, its desire to join NATO is what set Putin off.

Presently, there are 30 NATO members which include the United States, Canada, and much of Europe. At present — although they have recently begun to angle for membership — neither Sweden nor Finland (which shares an 800-plus mile border with Russia) are members.

Article 5 provides that “an armed attack against one or more [NATO member]… shall be considered an attack against them all” and that following such an attack, each ally would take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” in response.

Significantly, Articles 2 and 3 of the treaty had important purposes not immediately germane to the threat of attack. Article 3 laid the foundation for cooperation in military preparedness between the allies, and Article 2 allowed them some leeway to engage in non-military cooperation.

Should the Russians launch a fusillade into Poland or Estonia or any other member nation, it is not hard at all to conceive that much of the world would swiftly be at war.

While the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty had created allies, it had not created a military structure that could effectively coordinate their actions. This changed when growing worries about Soviet intentions culminated in the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 and in the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The effect upon the alliance was dramatic. NATO soon gained a consolidated command structure and established a permanent civilian secretariat.

NATO’s main purpose is to deter. However, if bombs rain upon a NATO nation, all hell will undoubtedly break loose. The more troublesome question is how far will the alliance stretch to assist an allied but non-member nation such as Ukraine? How much loss and devastation must it take before NATO perhaps acts?

The answer to the questions — how far might NATO go, and how far can he push the NATO alliance — besides his thoughts of conquest and empire — are surely what fills Putin’s head and unsettles the Russian autocrat’s sleep.


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