Baba’s Explainer – NATO

  • IASbaba
  • May 14, 2022
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International Relations
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Baba’s Explainer – NATO


  • GS-2: Policies and politics of developed and developing countries.
  • GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

Why In News:

While countries were thinking about the security dynamics of Europe, Finland’s Prime Minister had insisted that her country was unlikely to join NATO even as Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border in February.

  • Three months and one invasion later, Finland is hurtling to join the alliance — a monumental shift for a nation with a long history of wartime neutrality and staying out of military alliances.
  • Sweden, another neutral Nordic country, is also so alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that it is also now seriously considering joining NATO.

What is NATO?
  • Nato – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – is a military alliance. It was formed in 1949 by 12 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and France.
  • Nato’s original aim was to counter Russian expansion in Europe after World War Two. NATO’s essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means
  • Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many of its former Eastern European allies joined Nato.
  • In order to join Nato, countries must be democracies, treat minorities fairly and commit to resolving conflicts peacefully.
  • They must also provide military support to the alliance. Nato members agree to spend 2% of their GDP on defence
  • Nato is based on Collective defence principle enshrined in “Article 5” of NATO’s founding Treaty (Washington Treaty). This principle views an attack on one member as an attack on all.
    • NATO has only once invoked Article 5, on September 12, 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US.
  • NATO has its headquarters in Brussels but is dominated by the massive military and nuclear missile power of the US.

There are currently 30 members in NATO

  • Its original members were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • Joining the original signatories were
    • Greece and Turkey (1952)
    • West Germany (1955, from 1990 as Germany)
    • Spain (1982)
    • Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland (1999)
    • Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia (2004)
    • Albania and Croatia (2009)
    • Montenegro (2017)
    • North Macedonia (2020).
How does NATO Function?
  • NATO has an integrated military command structure but very few forces or assets are exclusively its own.
  • Most forces remain under full national command and control until member countries agree to undertake NATO-related tasks.
  • All 30 allies have an equal say, the Alliance’s decisions must be unanimous and consensual, and its members must respect the basic values that underpin the Alliance, namely democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.
  • NATO’s protection does not extend to members’ civil wars or internal coups.
  • NATO is funded by its members. The U.S. contributes roughly three-fourths of NATO’s budget.
Was there a counter military alliance by Soviets?
  • In 1955, when the Cold War was gaining momentum, the Soviet Union signed up socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe to the Warsaw Pact (1955).
  • The Pact, essentially a political-military alliance, was viewed as a direct strategic counterweight to NATO.
  • It included Albania (which withdrew in 1968), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.
  • The Pact was officially disbanded in early 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself.
What are the Alliances of NATO?

NATO participates in three alliances that expand its influence beyond its 30 member countries.

Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC):

  • It is a 50-nation multilateral forum for dialogue and consultation on political and security-related issues among Allies and partner countries.
  • It provides the overall political framework for NATO’s cooperation with partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic area, and for the bilateral relationships developed between NATO and individual partner countries under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.
    • The Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a programme of practical bilateral cooperation between individual Euro-Atlantic partner countries and NATO.
    • It allows partners to build up an individual relationship with NATO, choosing their own priorities for cooperation.
  • Established in 1997, the EAPC succeeded the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), which was set up in 1991 just after the end of the Cold War.

 Mediterranean Dialogue:

  • It is a partnership forum that aims to contribute to security and stability in NATO’s Mediterranean and North African neighbourhood, and promote good relations and understanding among participating countries and NATO Allies.
  • Currently, the following non-NATO countries take part in the Dialogue: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

 Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI)

  • It is a partnership forum that aims to contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering non-NATO countries in the broader Middle East region the opportunity to cooperate with NATO.
  • Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates currently participate in the Initiative.
How does Russia view NATO?
  • Russia, and more specifically President Vladimir Putin, does not see NATO as a defensive alliance. Quite the opposite. He views it as a threat to Russia’s security. He has watched in dismay as NATO steadily expanded eastwards – closer to Moscow – after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.
  • Earlier, Moscow controlled all the countries of eastern Europe, with Russian troops stationed in most of them. Today, nearly all those countries have opted to look westwards and join NATO.
  • Even the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, have joined the alliance.
  • Shortly before President Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on 24 February, he demanded a redrawing of the security map of Europe.
  • NATO troops, he insisted, should pull back from all of these eastern European countries, and no new countries should be allowed to join.

Why isn’t NATO sending troops to Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine?

  • As Ukraine isn’t a member, NATO isn’t obliged to come to its defence.
  • NATO countries fear that if their troops confront Russian forces, it could lead to an all-out conflict between Russia and the West.
Why Finland want to join NATO?
  • For decades, Finland and Sweden have carefully nurtured their neutrality. Culturally, they are firmly in the western camp, but were been wary of antagonising their giant nuclear-armed neighbour, Russia.
  • The idea of not joining NATO or getting too close to the West was a matter of survival for the Finns.
  • The Ukraine invasion prompted a radical rethink, with both government and people in Sweden & Norway wondering if they might be lot safer under the NATO camp.
    • According to a public poll conducted by Finnish broadcaster YLE, 76 per cent of Finns favour joining the alliance. This number used to be around 25 per cent for years before the invasion
  • From a purely military perspective, the addition of Finland’s and/or Sweden’s substantial militaries would be a major boost to Nato’s defensive power in the north of Europe, where it is massively outnumbered by Russia’s forces.
  • Being a member of NATO will give the nations a security guarantee under the alliance’s “Article 5” on collective defence. The article essentially guarantees a military response and protection by NATO countries if any member of the organisation comes under attack.
  • Geographically, the addition of Finland fills in a huge gap in Nato’s defence, doubling the amount of its border with Russia.
    • Only 6% of Russia’s vast borders are with Nato countries, yet the Kremlin is feeling encircled and threatened.
  • Security and stability in the Baltic Sea are now dramatically improved.
  • Politically, it would add to the cohesion of western mutual defence, sending a signal to Putin that almost all of Europe is united against his invasion of a sovereign country, Ukraine.
  • The symbolic consequence of this cannot be ignored as well. More sovereign powers siding with the west and increasing its strength is a direct blow to Russia.
    • It would show Russia that the war is counterproductive and it only strengthens Western unity, resolve and military preparedness”.

Was this a long time coming for Finland?

  • For Finns, events in Ukraine bring a haunting sense of familiarity. The Soviets had invaded Finland in late 1939 and despite the Finnish army putting up fierce resistance for more than three months, they ended up losing 10 per cent of their territory.
  • The country adopted to stay non-aligned during the cold war years. However, insecurities started growing since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 as Finland military spending went up.
  • Finland was “mentally prepared” to join the organisation for a long time. In 1992, Finland bought 64 US combat planes. Three years later, it joined the European Union, alongside Sweden.
What about Sweden?
  • Sweden is likely to apply for a membership after Finland’s final call. If Finland joins, Sweden will be the only Nordic non-member of NATO.
  • Now, unlike Finland, whose policy stance was a matter of survival, Sweden has been opposed to joining the organisation for ideological reasons.
  • The ruling Social Democratic Party is currently conducting a security policy review in its parliament to analyse the pros and cons of joining NATO.
  • In terms of public perception, the Swedes seem to be on the same page with the Finns.
  • A poll conducted by Swedish daily showed support for a NATO membership rise to 61 per cent, as compared to a 42 per cent in January.
What the concerns raised with regard to Finland/Sweden joining NATO?
  • Put simply, the risk here is that such a major expansion of Nato, right on Russia’s doorstep, will enrage Russia so much that it retaliates. Putin has already threatened to take “military technical measures” in response this expansion.
  • It is widely taken to be two things – a reinforcing of its own borders by moving troops and missiles closer to the West, and possibly a stepping up of cyber attacks on Scandinavia.
  • Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally to Putin has warned that this may prompt Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania.
  • Staying neutral has served Finland and Sweden very well over the years. Giving up that neutrality is not to be taken lightly. There will also be an economic cost for Sweden’s domestic arms industry if the country is obliged to buy Nato weapons instead of its own.
How has West reacted to Finland & Sweden willing to join NATO?
  • NATO, too, has shown eagerness about Finland and Sweden’s memberships. Usually, becoming an official NATO member can take up to a year as it requires the approval of all existing member states.
  • However, NATO Secretary General has ensured that the countries could join quickly and that the organisation would make full security arrangements during the interim period.
  • Fellow European nations and the United States have welcomed the announcement. Norway and Denmark said that they would push for a faster approval of NATO admission.
  • The US stated that it was ready to provide any defence support or address concerns that might arise till the membership becomes official.

Mains Practice Question – What are the security implication if Finland and Sweden join NATO?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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