with the war of Russia against Ukraine in its 17th month, and with Western countries sending more and more high-tech, long-range weapons and munitions to help the president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to defend your country, it is easy to get confused about the position of the NATO.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the top civilian official of the world’s largest defense alliance, routinely praises allied countries for helping Ukrainian forces counterattack, but when he does, Stoltenberg is talking about member countries. individuals, not NATO as an organization.
As NATO begins a two-day summit in the Lithuanian capital on Tuesday, here’s a look at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and what it’s doing to help Ukraine.
NATO support, non-lethal only
The 31-nation military alliance provides only non-lethal support to Ukraine: fuel, combat rations, medical supplies, body armor, winter uniforms, and equipment to counter chemical and biological threats, as well as mines and drones.
NATO makes its decisions by consensus, and not all member countries agree to send weapons. The alliance does not impose sanctions, although some of its members do so through other organizations, such as the European Union.
A possible future membership of Ukraine
NATO is helping Ukraine’s armed forces upgrade from Soviet-era military equipment and doctrine to modern NATO equipment to allow its military to engage seamlessly with allied forces. NATO is also helping Ukraine by strengthening its defense and security institutions.
That assistance is designed to ensure Ukraine can join NATO long after the current war is over. US President Joe Biden and his counterparts meeting at a summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius have promised that Ukraine will sooner or later become a member of NATO.
NATO readiness in the region
NATO’s main objective since Russia began massing its troops around Ukraine in 2021 has been to reinforce its own territory, particularly the countries on its eastern flank — close to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — from Estonia in the north to Romania in the Black Sea.
With the war now in its 17th month, NATO wants to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from expanding the conflict into allied territory further west.
Right now, around 40,000 western alliance soldiers are on standby on their eastern flank. About 100 aircraft take to the skies every day and a total of 27 warships have been operating this month in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas. Those numbers will surely increase.
Under new defense plans being discussed in Vilnius, NATO aims to have up to 300,000 troops ready to move to its eastern flank within 30 days. The plans divide its territory into three regions: the northernmost and Atlantic area; an area north of the Alps; and another in southern Europe.
The forces and supplies that NATO mobilizes for its own defense come from member countries. NATO does not have its own weapons. Its battleships, warplanes, missiles, and more than 3 million soldiers are supplied by member countries, mostly at their own expense.
The only equipment NATO has of its own is a fleet of early warning radar planes and some surveillance drones.
NATO, with its headquarters in Brussels and a military base in Mons, Belgium, is open to any European nation that wants to join and can meet its requirements and obligations. Finland joined in April and its Nordic neighbor Sweden is about to join its ranks.
The Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and Russia have been NATO’s main concerns since the organization was founded in 1949, and in many ways Russia and its allies remain NATO’s raison d’être.
The dominant US presence
The United States is undoubtedly the largest and most influential member of the alliance. It spends more on its own military budget than all the other countries combined. It also pays for nearly a quarter of common NATO funding for collectively owned infrastructure and equipment.
Thus, Washington has a lot more say in how things are run, and smaller allies are eager to train and work with US forces because it gives them access to equipment and expertise they can’t afford on their own.
The North Atlantic Council meets at ambassadorial level most weeks in Brussels, and less frequently at ministerial and head-of-state level, and is chaired by Stoltenberg.
In essence, the former Norwegian prime minister runs NATO headquarters, located near Brussels airport, a huge, cavernous building that cost more than a billion euros to build.
Stoltenberg does not give orders to the allies. His job is to build consensus and speak publicly as one voice representing all 31 members.
common defense clause
In practice, NATO has helped keep the peace in the Balkans and fought the Taliban-led insurgency in war-torn Afghanistan before the group took control of the country, the largest operation in the history of The alliance. This operation was launched after the United States activated its common defense clause “all for one and one for all” after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
It is the only time the clause, known as Article 5, has been used. That security guarantee is why Finland and Sweden sought to join NATO and why Ukraine and other European countries want to join as well.
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