Created after World War II, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) played a pivotal role in fighting and ultimately winning the Cold War.  Subsequently, NATO took on different roles in countries like Bosnia and Afghanistan.  Recently, the role of NATO in Europe has been revisited in the aftermath of the Russian annexation of Crimea.   Join Active Minds as we take a look at the triumphs and challenges of NATO and how it continues to adapt to the 21st century landscape.

Key Lecture Points

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance binding the US, Canada and 26 European nations.  Its key tenet is Article V which guarantees collective defense—an attack on one member is seen as 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, and at other times fueling the arms race.
  • Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO has expanded upon its original mission, becoming involved in crisis management and in forming partnerships with non-NATO members.  At this time, NATO has forces in Afghanistan, Kosovo and other operations such as a counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia.  Further, NATO membership has come to include former Soviet satellites, including the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary 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 and Russian sympathetic populations in the region. 
  • 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.    With the increased unpredictability of Russia, NATO has a new relevance, returning to its founding purpose of deterring or responding to an attack on a member’s territory. 
  • The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea makes Eastern European NATO members nervous and feeling vulnerable to similar acts of Russian expansionism.  Meanwhile, NATO tries to balance its alliance obligations with a reluctance to further inflame the situation with Russia. 
  • The next NATO summit will be held in Wales September 2014.  Key agenda items will be the uncertainty of Russia’s future direction and calls to increase member nation defense spending.

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 incursion into Ukraine?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • 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
  • 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.
    Click here to order