The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents NATO with one of its greatest challenges since the alliance’s founding in 1949. But what kind of organization is NATO anyway? And what is NATO’s role in the Ukraine conflict?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO for short – is a political and military cooperation between thirty countries. Besides the Netherlands and the United States, almost all EU countries are members. Canada and Turkey are also part of the alliance.
NATO was founded in 1949 with the aim of protecting its member countries from the threat of the former Soviet Union after the Second World War. The organization originally consisted of twelve countries, including the Netherlands.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many former Soviet countries joined NATO.
The most important part of the treaty is Article 5: which states that an attack on one of the NATO countries is considered an attack on all member states.
Why isn’t NATO defending Ukraine? (Ukraine conflict)
The answer to that is simple: because Ukraine is not a member of NATO.
That means Ukraine is on its own right now. In theory, countries apart from NATO can decide to support Ukraine militarily, but the chance of that happening is very small.
According to Peter Wijninga, strategic analyst at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, countries are on the lookout. “There is no treaty that obliges them to do so. Not even the neighboring countries of Ukraine,” he told NU.nl on Thursday.
There is only one exceptional situation in which NATO members could help Ukraine militarily, although that scenario is very far-fetched at the moment. “If there really is a huge humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, with ethnic cleansing and huge refugee flows, then there is a chance that NATO will at some point scratch its head and think: we have to do something about this,” said Wijninga.
Why is Ukraine not a member of NATO?
The Ukrainian government of President Volodymyr Zelensky would have liked to see Ukraine already a member of NATO.
At a NATO summit in 2008 in Bucharest, members decided that Ukraine could submit some sort of membership application, with the idea that it could eventually join. Ukraine would then first have to meet a number of NATO requirements. This is how the country should tackle widespread corruption.
Although Ukraine has made many reforms in recent years, it has not yet made it to NATO membership. There is also another reason: Russia. The Russian anger that Ukraine’s membership would bring made the other NATO countries too hesitant to take that step.
Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, NATO cannot make Ukraine a member any time soon, if only because there is currently a conflict on Ukrainian soil.
What is Putin’s problem with NATO and Ukraine?
Ukraine is a former Soviet republic that borders both Russia and the EU and is home to many ethnic Russians. Culturally and socially, the countries have close ties with each other.
The Kremlin considers Ukraine a ‘backyard’ of Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently went the extra mile by saying that Ukraine really is part of Russia.
In recent years, however, Ukraine itself has increasingly turned its attention to the West. Since 2008, the country has also been trying to become a member of NATO. Russia wants assurances from the West that this will never happen. However, the US and other countries are refusing to make that commitment. They believe that Ukraine should be allowed to choose its allies.
What is NATO’s role in the Ukraine conflict?
The fact that NATO does not send troops to Ukraine does not mean that the organization is not doing anything in Ukraine. For example, several countries have sent material.
NATO is sending more troops and equipment to its member states in Eastern Europe. For example, the Netherlands has deployed two F-35s to protect NATO airspace over Eastern Europe.
In addition, at the request of Poland, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, NATO has initiated a procedure for Member States that feel threatened. Article 4 of the founding treaty of the alliance prescribes emergency consultations, allowing members, for example, to exchange information and pledge support to each other.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg would not say whether NATO members are actually in danger of a Russian attack.
JOIN US ON WHATSAPP