What’s the big deal about NATO?

Much like the ignorant arguments about vaccines, I worry some of the great progress achieved by our grandparents following World War II may come undone due to its own success. I fear many take for granted the political structures and alliances in place that have allowed the United States to achieve security and prosperity.

Exhausted by two world wars, the “Greatest Generation” established the United States-led world order through diplomacy by setting up alliances designed to deter war. Rhetoric from the president-elect over the weekend has many experts in the field of international affairs concerned one of their greatest achievements may be at risk: NATO.

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 by 12 member countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States) to form a defense coalition to counter Soviet aggression. It would serve as a deterrent to the U.S.S.R. because an attack on just one member country would result in retaliation from all the other member countries.

Here’s a vintage newsreel explaining the birth of the alliance:

The alliance has changed as the world has changed and NATO has now grown to include 28 countries including: Greece, Turkey, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia.

The countries, united in democratic principles, promise to aid each other politically and militarily. An attack on one is an attack on all. They work to solve problems diplomatically but also share military resources and intelligence to mutually assure each other’s security.

Putin hates NATO because it keeps his aggression in check and Russia is not a member. If Putin were to invade any of those former Soviet countries (say like Estonia), under the alliance NATO countries would jointly respond. It’s important to know that these Soviet countries legitimately worry Russia could invade. So do countries like Norway, which even has a “House of Cards” type fictional political television show based on “What if Russia invaded Norway?”

There are debates that can be had by reasonable people about whether all the member countries are pulling their weight in terms of funding the organization. The United States is by far the largest funder of this organization, but many experts would argue we get a lot for our money through this partnership.

Because of these agreements to protect each other militarily and politically, it’s been quite unsettling to the rest of the world that Trump would publicly criticize German Chancellor Angela Merkel while she’s currently involved in a political campaign, as well as criticize NATO using talking points similar to those used by the Kremlin. It was concerning to hear Merkel state, “Our fate as Europeans, I’d say, lies in our own hands.”

It’s created a strange situation because Trump’s cabinet favors the NATO alliance, yet Trump attacks the institution while echoing Russia’s views on the issue. In foreign affairs words matter and, in this case, those words could do some real damage to our national security.

Other items in the news:

John Brennan: The Wall Street Journal has an interesting exit interview with outgoing CIA director John Brennan. Spoiler: He’s not happy with Trump’s criticism of his employees.

Swamp Alert: CNN broke a story showing that Health and Human Services Nominee Tom Price invested in a company just weeks before introducing a bill designed to help it. The STOCK act forbids members of Congress from investing based on information they have obtained through the legislative process. It certainly raises concerns about insider trading.

Government data: There’s a lot of concern here in D.C. about government data given the future administration’s adversity to things like climate change and employment statistics. Many are working to preserve current datasets right now. FiveThirtyEight has a story on the issue.

Running for office: I love that there are two Kansas state reps interviewed in this Slate article about running for office for the first time.

Don’s Johns: And finally—you’ve probably heard about the “Don’s Johns” for the inauguration. Turns out, there’s a method to the madness of taping over the name on the sign. The Wall Street Journal has the real reason why someone was taping over the labeling.

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