French President Emmanuel Macron said in 2019 that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was in a state of “brain death”. But the alliance has formed a united front since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Could the Russian war herald the beginning of a permanent NATO revival?
In a first for the organisation, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has deployed a 40,000-strong rapid reaction force to fortify European borders in response to the war in Ukraine. NATO forces – including ground, air, sea and special operations forces – which have been in operation since 2004, have only been used to respond to natural disasters and coordinate the departure from Afghanistan in 2021.
In Romania, 500 French soldiers are now expected to be near the NATO base in the country, while 1,000 have been sent to bolster deterrence forces in Poland and the Baltic states. Fighter planes have also been deployed to ensure air security in the neighboring countries of Ukraine and Russia.
NATO’s firm and broad response to the crisis encouraged Finland and Sweden, two countries that had never joined the alliance, to review whether they wanted to join. This unexpected announcement highlights the organization’s central role in the war in Ukraine.
“NATO returns to its original goal”, split by Macron and former US President Donald Trump, discredited, and destabilized by the chaos of the US exit from Afghanistan, a short time ago, the alliance looked weaker than ever.
“Vladimir Putin’s actions have enabled NATO to strengthen its relations and relaunch itself,” Jenny Rafik, a researcher and specialist in NATO history at the University of Nantes, told France 24. “With the Russian invasion, NATO has returned to its original goal, which is also causing the least conflict among the member states.”
NATO was established in 1949 during the Cold War to defend the countries of Western Europe against the Soviet bloc in the east. Samantha de Benderen, a researcher at think tank Chatham House, told France 24 that NATO is a defense organization that aims to put Western countries under the US “nuclear umbrella.” Although divided for years, the threat from Russia has now removed the main points of contention.”
The end of the divisions: This resolved the long-running differences of opinion between the eastern and western members of NATO. After the fall of the Soviet Union, countries that were formerly the Soviet bloc, such as Hungary and Poland, joined NATO to defend themselves against their powerful Russian neighbor. Recent events justified their concerns to France, Spain and the United States, who wanted to see the alliance shift its focus to the Mediterranean, China, and the dangers of terrorism.
It also resolved criticism from the United States about the lack of military investment from European countries, and Germany in particular. Chancellor Olaf Schulz announced on February 27 a historic change in German military policy. In addition to its €100 billion defense budget, Berlin will now spend more than 2% of its GDP on the armed forces through 2024, something the United States has been demanding for years.
Doubts have also been raised about the loyalty of some members. US President Joe Biden said on February 24 that he would defend “every inch” of NATO territory against Russia. “For several years, Europe has been concerned that the United States will not fulfill its duties in NATO,” said de Bendern. Small countries in particular are skeptical that the United States would respond with force if attacked.
Joe Biden’s position [over Ukraine] This fear has subsided, even if the Europeans are fully reassured only when the United States has demonstrated its loyalty by defending them in an armed conflict.”
Turkey also joined NATO, when some were worried it wouldn’t. “Recep Tayyip Erdogan has maintained a fairly close relationship with Vladimir Putin,” Bendern said. “The Turkish president’s decision to deliver weapons to Ukraine and close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. [between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea] On the warships dispelled any doubts.”
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The Nuclear Threat However, there is no guarantee that the current united front will lead to a long-term consensus against Russia. Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the country’s drift toward the alliance was justified for the Russian invasion. As such, it remains unlikely that Finland and Sweden would risk joining the group and see if Russian threats against them would turn into reprisals.
After World War II, Finland declared a form of neutrality toward Moscow that favored neither the East nor the West. Sweden has also refrained from sending weapons to conflict areas in the past.
Both broke with tradition and said they would send weapons to Ukraine. With that said, “Finland’s neutralization was one of the major issues of the Cold War.” “There is no guarantee that NATO members will accept the risk of angering Russia by allowing Finland in.”
The risks increased when Putin announced on February 27 that he had put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert. In an attempt to calm the situation, the United States has publicly reiterated that it will not send troops to Ukraine.
This means that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which the US military will have to implement, has so far been rejected.
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The European Union has sent fighter planes to Ukraine, and air defense is “Ukraine’s best chance of winning a military conflict,” says de Bendern. But Biden was clear: There would be no NATO air intervention in Ukraine to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.
As such, the future of NATO and the possibility of expanding its influence remain uncertain after the conflict in Ukraine. “It is difficult to predict how the situation might develop amid the current high sentiment in the context of the war,” Revlik said. At the moment, public opinion in Europe supports spending on defense and support for the development of NATO operations. But when the situation calms down, will people feel the same? “