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  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons


NATO was founded in 1949 to create a defensive structure against the Soviet Union. Subsequently, one of its founders observed that its three main purposes were to: “Keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down”. The last purpose changed when West Germany joined NATO in 1955.

The Role of NATO

David Cameron (former British Prime Minister) believes that NATO is as relevant to North Americans and Europeans now as it was in 1949. He contends that Ukraine is fighting not only for its own freedom and democracy, but also for the security of all countries in NATO and that while NATO will not be drawn into a conflict with Russia, it is crucial to provide Ukraine with strong and predictable support. Cameron goes further and suggests that NATO must respond to threats “wherever they come from in the world” and he refers not only to Ukraine but also Bosnia, Herzegovina, Moldova, and Georgia (none of which is a member of NATO).

Bart Szewczyk (a former member of the US state department’s policy planning staff) argues in Foreign Policy magazine that NATO’s vision and scope needs to be broader and that “The alliance faces not only Russian aggression, but also the challenge from China and other autocratic, revisionist actors seeking to upend the global order”. His ambition is “To make NATO the premier forum not only for trans-Atlantic military cooperation, but also for better coordination among the world’s democracies”. Szewczyk also suggests the inclusion of the Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

Szewczyk complains that not all security challenges trigger Article 5 of the NATO treaty which states that an armed attack against one or more NATO members shall be considered an attack against them all and each member commits to assist the attacked party by taking “Such action as it deems necessary including the use of armed force”.  For Szewczyk, that does not go far enough and he suggests Article 5 constrains the bloc’s potential for “more nimble action”.


It is difficult to resist the view that NATO’s “ONE-IN-ALL-IN” obligation drastically increases the risk of global conflagration instead of reducing that threat and preserving world peace. With the exception of the United States, all NATO members are located in Europe which was at the heart of two devastating world wars during the 20th century. With today’s very real threat of nuclear weapons, a third world war is likely to be far more devastating for humanity and the planet.

Not so long ago, in the world of international and provincial rugby, it was commonplace to see a punch thrown leading to an all in battle with players racing in to join the fray. The administrators of the sport took the lead and introduced major changes bringing an end to the violence. Surely, it is not too much to expect of world leaders, presidents and prime ministers, with so much more at stake, to resolve their differences, no matter how grave, through civilised dialogue and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill once said, “Jaw, jaw is better than War, war”.

I have long hoped to see the abandonment of NATO. That would not prevent nations choosing to come to the aid of others. That is what happened when Nazi Germany went on its rampage in 1939. There was no NATO, but countries made their own independent choices to act - or not.


 Not Everyone Agrees About NATO

The head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg is set to retire on 1 October 2024, only one month before the US elections. However, writing in the Asia Times in February 2024, Stephen Bryen argued that Stoltenberg, who authorised Ukraine to fly its F-16 aircraft over Russian territory, “should be fired now, before it is too late”. Bryen contends that such an attack (using Western supplied aircraft) would be equivalent to NATO declaring war. According to Bryen, Stoltenberg totally misunderstands NATO’s purpose and if he remained in office, he would lead NATO into a European war which could well include nuclear weapons. Bryen makes the point that NATO is supposedly a “defensive, not an offensive, alliance” and he criticises NATO for getting involved in wars outside of its defensive domain. Bryen was not alone. In 2023, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating described Stoltenberg as the “supreme fool” on the international stage and an accident waiting to happen! One might well include Bart Szewczyk in that description.  

France and Poland talk of sending NATO troops into Ukraine. However the Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto has argued that Western nations should focus on diplomacy and that France and Poland do not speak for all NATO members. Pope Francis has called on Kiev to engage in talks with Moscow to save lives rather than allowing the bloodshed to continue, adding that Moscow has repeatedly said it was ready for talks with Ukraine. However Ukraine (encouraged by the US) withdrew from negotiations with Russia early in 2022.

Today there is speculation that if Donald Trump returns to the White House, he could dramatically weaken the alliance by withholding US funding from NATO.

Russia and Ukraine

Russian President Putin regards NATO expansion up to Russia’s border as a strategic threat to Russia although he has reiterated that Moscow does not seek confrontation with other nations in Europe and he dismissed as “nonsense” claims made by Western officials that Russia would not stop if Ukraine was defeated.

Within the US bureaucracy, David Pyne (executive vice President of the Taskforce on National and Homeland Security) is a rare critic of the Ukraine war and he has described Biden’s Ukraine policy as one of national suicide for Ukraine. Pyne estimates that the war in Ukraine has thus far cost 500,000 Ukrainian troops, either killed or wounded while 14 million Ukrainians have become refugees.

Nevertheless, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has spurred NATO allies to increase their defence spending commitments and currently more than half the NATO members are expected to meet a defence spending target of 2% of GDP.

The invasion of Ukraine has also impacted the neutrality of Russia’s Scandinavian neighbours.  In 2023, Finland became a NATO member followed by Sweden becoming a member in March 2024. For two centuries, Sweden had opted for military nonalignment but its decision to join NATO was driven by the perceived need for NATO to assist in protecting its citizens by providing a guarantee of collective security.

The trouble is that Sweden’s geography will tighten the squeeze on Russia so that St Petersburg will be within range of NATO’s missiles. On the flipside, NATO countries would be expected to defend another big Nordic state which is entirely within striking distance of Russian missiles. Bringing St Petersburg within the range of NATO missiles ignores the critical reason why Russia invaded Ukraine in the first place and Russia has already announced that it will move to reinforce its positions near Finland although Putin noted that prior to Finland’s decision to join NATO, the two countries had enjoyed a cordial relationship.




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