What is Nato?

NATO is a military alliance of twenty-eight European and two North American countries that constitutes a system of collective defence. The alliance's process is governed by Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which allows for the invitation of "other European States" only, and by subsequent agreements. Countries wishing to join must meet specific requirements and complete a multi-step process involving political dialogue and military integration. The North Atlantic Council, NATO's governing body, oversees the accession process.

After its formation in 1949 with twelve founding members, NATO grew rapidly, including Greece and Turkey in 1952 and West Germany in 1955. The addition of West Germany into NATO prompted the Soviet Union to adopt their collective security alliance, which was informally called the Warsaw Pact later that same year. The following country to join NATO was Spain in 1982. In 1990 the Soviet Union and NATO agreed that a reunified Germany would join NATO under West Germany's pre-existing membership. However, restrictions were agreed to on the deployment of NATO troops on former East German territory. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to several former Warsaw Pact and post-Soviet states requesting to join NATO. This prompted an objection from Russia as it viewed these states as falling within its sphere of influence. In 1996, US President Bill Clinton called for former Warsaw Pact countries and post-Soviet republics to join NATO and made NATO enlargement a crucial part of his foreign policy.

Three years later, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO amid much debate within NATO itself and fierce Russian opposition. Another expansion came with the accession of seven Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. These nations were invited to begin membership talks during the 2002 Prague summit and joined NATO shortly before the 2004 Istanbul summit. Albania and Croatia joined on 1 April 2009, before the 2009 Strasbourg–Kehl summit. The most recent member states to be added to NATO are Montenegro on 5 June 2017 and North Macedonia on 27 March 2020.

NATO expansion to the east

As of 2022, NATO officially recognizes three states which have formally expressed their membership aspirations: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine.[3] Joining NATO is a topic of debate in several other countries outside the alliance, including Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Moldova and Serbia. In countries like Ukraine, support or opposition to membership is tied to ethnic and nationalist ideologies. The incorporation of former Eastern Bloc and post-Soviet states in the alliance has been a cause of increased tension between NATO and Russia. NATO expansion eastward was one factor given by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The alliance now has 30 members

Why is NATO in Eastern Europe?

NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe goes on, sometimes taking on the aura of melodrama, sometimes of farce; there has been little attempt to explain to Americans what NATO was and is all about. Perhaps history from the early cold war and before can be a guide.

Established in 1949 as a military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was the capstone of a policy, led and funded by the United States, to contain/encircle Soviet and Communist power in Eastern Europe, prevent powerful Communist parties in France and Italy from winning out and secure and eventually re-arm the new West German state -which was brought into the alliance in the mid-1950s, leading the Soviets to counter with their own formal military alliance, the Warsaw Treaty. In the 1950s, NATO extended the encirclement of the Soviets by including Turkey, neither a North Atlantic state nor a liberal democracy. For the American people, NATO was the first peacetime U.S. commitment to fight abroad as part of a coordinated multinational alliance and a major user of the multi-trillion dollar U.S. defence expenditures in the post-war period.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation and those committed to fighting foreign economic penetration and reconstituting some version of the old Soviet Union remain a powerful force in the country today. Creating a NATO that reaches the Russian border may provide an international military arm to the international economic campaign to guarantee privatization and open economies in the former Soviet republics and former Warsaw Treaty states.

One might answer that Russia, however anti-Communist and feeble its government may be today, remains both the second major nuclear power in the world and, in so far as it develops a capitalist industrial economy, an unaligned rival of the NATO states for foreign markets, spheres of influence and raw materials. Great power efforts to thwart such Russian ambitions go back to the nineteenth century.

It is important to remember that the “end of the cold war” has not brought about in the United States its logical concomitant, the end of cold-war military budgets, but rather a plateauing of those expenditures, as occurred after the Korean and Vietnam wars. Today, the Republican congressional majority, while hailing the “death of Communism” as proof that the future belongs to media-savvy versions of Herbert Spencer and Adam Smith, has loudly called for expanding current military budgets, which are at least twice as great as they should be in any natural post-cold war setting.

The last major component of the cold war was the struggle for what became known in the 1950s as the “Third World,” the Asian, African, and Latin American majority of the world’s people that was neither industrialized nor part of the NATO-Warsaw Pact blocs. Absorbing much of the former Warsaw Pact into NATO may function as a way to provide a military arm to undertake “police actions” for both the United Nations (whose “peacekeeping” activities are severely limited) and the International Monetary Fund-World Bank campaign for free markets in the Third World, globalized gunboat diplomacy to augment and protect globalized dollar-Euro diplomacy.

In challenging what became NATO in the late 1940s, former Vice President Henry Wallace called the idea a “WPA with guns,” or an attempt to prevent future depressions through long-term military spending. Although a generation of stagnating wages and living standards suggests that this policy has ceased to work, the corporate, military and political classes who make up what sociologist C. Wright Mills called in the 1950s the Power Elite continue to view such expenditures as entitlements. NATO expansion can provide those elites with new justifications for expanding military budgets and new markets for military exports.

Why isn't Ukraine a Nato member?

Nato initially offered Ukraine eventual membership back in 2008, and after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine made joining Nato a priority.

But this hasn't happened, mainly because of Russia's long-standing opposition to such a move.

Russia fears Nato is encroaching on its territory by taking on new members in eastern Europe and admitting Ukraine would bring Nato forces into its backyard.

Ukraine's President Zelensky has now accepted that his country cannot join Nato, saying: "It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of Nato. We understand this."

How is the West helping Ukraine?

The US has been the biggest supplier of military equipment. It initially sent $200m (£152m) and then a further $350m (£267m) of weapons.  The US has now expanded this and announced a $1bn (£760m) security aid package, including longer-range weapons and drones to Ukraine. 

Germany, too, has dropped its long-standing restrictions on supplying weapons to a combat area.

The EU has said it will spend up to 450m euros (£376m) on funding the supply of weapons to Ukraine. It is the first time in its history that the EU has helped provide arms for a warzone.

To clarify, please could it read exactly as follows: Britain, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are among those Nato members who have also been sending military equipment - including anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft missiles, ammunition, fuel, helmets, level 4 body armor and rations.

Why isn't Nato sending troops to Ukraine?

Nato countries have also made it plain that if their troops were to confront Russian forces in Ukraine, it could lead to an all-out conflict between Russia and the west. Ukraine is not a member of Nato, so the alliance is not obliged to come to the country's defence.

Why won't Nato impose a no-fly zone?

What is a no-fly zone, and what would enforcing one take? No-fly zones prevent a country from using warplanes to attack military targets or civilians on the ground, but declaring airspace off-limits is not enough. A no-fly zone is an area where specific aircraft cannot fly for several reasons. In a conflict such as the one in Ukraine, it would probably mean a zone in which Russian planes were not allowed to fly to prevent them from carrying out airstrikes against Ukraine.

How many troops does Nato have in Eastern Europe?

Nato is now sending elements of its 40,000-strong Response Force to Eastern European countries bordering Russia and Ukraine. It has 100 fighter jets on high alert and 120 ships, including three carrier groups, patrolling the seas from the far north to the eastern Mediterranean.