How Has the War in Ukraine Changed NATO?

From a New York Times story by Matthew Mpoke Bigg headlined “What Is NATO, and How Has the War in Ukraine Changed It?”:

Leaders of NATO countries are meeting in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, for an annual summit that is set to be dominated by the response to the war in Ukraine.

Europe’s largest war since NATO was formed 74 years ago has revived the grouping, returning it to its Cold War roots as a war-fighting alliance. It has also raised vexing questions about military aid to the government in Kyiv and the membership bids of Sweden and Ukraine itself.

One of those questions was answered Monday night, when NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that Turkey, which had been blocking Sweden’s admittance into the alliance, would no longer stand in Sweden’s way.

“This is good for all of us,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “This is good for Sweden — Sweden will become a full member — and it’s good for Turkey because Turkey is a NATO ally that will benefit from a stronger NATO.”

But the other questions are expected to loom over the two-day summit, which President Biden and other leaders are expected to attend. It will be the first summit to include Finland, which became NATO’s 31st member state this year, having abandoned a longstanding policy of neutrality toward Moscow. Finland’s accession was a dramatic sign of how the war has galvanized NATO, to the disadvantage of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has cited the alliance’s eastward spread as one of the reasons for invading Ukraine.

Here’s a quick guide to the alliance and how its role has shifted in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

What is NATO?

The mutual-defense alliance was established in 1949, after World War II, by the United States, Canada and 10 European countries.

The treaty for which the alliance is named has 14 articles by which all NATO members must abide. The most prominent is Article 5, which declares that an attack against one member state is an attack against them all.

That article placed Western Europe under U.S. protection in the face of a Soviet Union that was cementing its domination over Central and Eastern Europe and appeared then only to be growing in power and ambition.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 1990s, the alliance took on a wider role. NATO forces — made up of troops volunteered by member states — operated as peacekeepers in Bosnia in the 1990s and bombed Serbia in 1999 to protect Kosovo, where the alliance still has troops.

The alliance is also known by its French acronym, OTAN.

Which countries are members?

In addition to the United States and Canada, the countries that became part of NATO in 1949 were Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.

Since then, 19 more European states have joined: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Turkey, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Finland’s membership adds one of Western Europe’s most potent militaries to the alliance. At the same time, NATO’s commitment to collective defense will now extend to a country that shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

Mr. Stoltenberg, who made the announcement about Sweden from Vilnius, said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had lifted his objections to Sweden’s entry and would take the country’s bid to his Parliament for ratification as soon as possible.

Who is NATO’s leader?

Mr. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister who has held that post since 2014, had been expected to step down in September. But last week he announced that he had agreed to extend his mandate until October 2024.

His reappointment takes the contentious issue of who would succeed him off the table at the summit, after weeks during which the names of several possible contenders were floated.

These included Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace of Britain and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

How has the war in Ukraine changed NATO?

In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron of France described NATO as brain-dead and questioned the U.S. commitment to the alliance. But since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, NATO finds itself newly relevant.

Although the alliance does not directly provide military aid to Ukraine, NATO countries have sent tens of billions of dollars worth of equipment, led by the United States, the biggest overall donor. All NATO member states discuss military aid to Ukraine at monthly meetings in Ramstein, Germany. The alliance has also helped to coordinate Ukraine’s requests for humanitarian aid.

One debate is whether NATO countries should supply F-16 fighter jets, which Ukraine says would enhance its long-term air defense capability. A senior NATO commander said this month that delivery of the jets, while on the table, was unlikely to come in time for Ukraine’s current counteroffensive.

The war has also given new centrality to countries along NATO’s eastern border, particularly the Baltic States and Poland, a country that has acquired significant new clout within the alliance. President Andrzej Duda of Poland was among the first foreign leaders to visit Kyiv after the invasion began and has been one of its most hawkish backers. Poland’s government also strongly supports Ukraine’s bid for NATO membership.

Why did Turkey oppose Sweden joining NATO?

Along with Finland, Sweden applied to join the alliance in May 2022, breaking its own policy of neutrality toward Russia. But Mr. Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, had blocked its bid, saying Sweden has harbored Kurdish exiles and refugees affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey considers a terrorist group.

President Biden said last week that he was “anxiously looking forward” to Sweden’s acceptance into NATO, though its chances looked slim at the time. Earlier Monday, Mr. Erdogan said that the European Union should open the way for Turkey to join the bloc before Turkey would allow Sweden to join NATO.

As part of the deal for Sweden’s admittance, Sweden will help reinvigorate Turkey’s application to enter the European Union, the two countries will work together against terrorism, and NATO will establish a new “special coordinator for counterterrorism,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Every other NATO member had supported Sweden’s bid, except Hungary, which had said it was waiting for Turkey to give its assent.

Where does Ukraine’s membership stand?

Joining NATO has for years been a central goal of Ukraine’s foreign policy, part of its plan to secure its future within the European Union and the West. As far back as 2008, NATO said Ukraine would eventually become a member. Russia’s invasion raised the stakes, and the government in Kyiv applied to join NATO last September.

While countries including Poland and others in Eastern Europe favor giving Ukraine a road map toward membership, the United States, Germany and France, reluctant to take a step that could risk widening the war with Russia, have resisted.

They say the priority should be to aid Ukraine militarily and leave the issue of membership until a later date. President Biden said in a CNN interview that aired on Sunday that Ukraine was not ready for membership and that it was “premature” to begin the joining process during the war.

What about other European countries?

Other countries in Europe, including Ireland and Austria, have chosen not to join NATO, often because of a policy of neutrality.

Belarus, another country on Russia’s border, is not a member of NATO. President Alexander G. Lukashenko of Belarus is a close ally of Mr. Putin’s and allowed his country to be used as a staging ground for the invasion of Ukraine.

Ben Hubbard, Lara Jakes and Steven Erlanger contributed reporting.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg is a correspondent covering international news. He previously worked as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for Reuters and did postings in Nairobi, Abidjan, Atlanta, Jakarta and Accra.

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