Let's Celebrate NATO. It Stands Between the Free World and Tyranny.
Representatives of all NATO member states are gathering in Washington this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the longest-lasting military alliance in modern history. Created on April 4, 1949, to counter the threat of Soviet Communism in the aftermath of World War II, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is as important today as it was in the year of its founding.
The collapse of the Soviet Union led some to dispute NATO’s relevance or question the need for continued defense spending, but the resurgence of Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions, show that the Alliance is as relevant as ever. The principles unifying NATO remain vital for the survival of Western democracies: solidarity, freedom, security, and the transatlantic ties that safeguard the values and interests that Europe and North America share.
My role as a Polish senator affords singular clarity. Poland joined NATO only 20 years ago, after it broke free of the communist yoke and rejoined the ranks of European democracies. Our position on the frontier of the former Soviet empire reminds us never to take our hard-won freedom for granted.
The Suwalki district I represent in the Polish Senate borders on the Kaliningrad enclave, home to Russia’s Baltic fleet. It is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, and a symbol of Putin’s revanchist ambitions. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 should dispel any doubt about the nature of the threat posed by Russia and the indisputable need to counter it.
No wonder the former U.S. commander in Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, warned the U.S. Senate of Moscow’s steadily growing aggression and called Russia the primary threat to stability in the Euro-Atlantic theater. Putin's declaration that Moscow is ready for “a new Cuban missile crisis” proved Scaparrotti right, as did Russian state television’s listing of U.S. military facilities that Moscow would target for nuclear strikes. This is a regime that settles scores by poisoning its political opponents. It meddles in democratic elections and supports the most reprehensible totalitarian rulers around the world. This is precisely the behavior NATO was created to counter.
But perhaps the biggest danger posed by Russia is its threat to the Alliance’s unity and resolve. Using energy as a political tool, Putin has proved especially adept at driving wedges between members of NATO. In its quest to reclaim great-power status, Russia showed it can weaponize its position as the world’s biggest exporter of oil and gas. It can reassert dominion over its former subject nations, and it can divide its adversaries. A prime example is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that would carry gas through the Baltic Sea from Russia directly to Germany, doubling shipments of Russian natural gas to Europe.
Led by Germany, the project threatens NATO’s security and its unity. Nord Stream 2 will allow Russia to pit EU members against one another, and the European Union against the United States. It will deepen the Union’s dependence on Russian gas, leaving the continent even more susceptible to Russian political pressure and blackmail.
The pipeline would bypass my home country of Poland along with other Central and Eastern European states. Deprived of its status as a transit country for Russia’s west-bound energy exports, Ukraine would be particularly vulnerable. Russia’s control over Europe’s fuel spigot would threaten NATO’s mobility and logistics.
The Russian pipeline is already disrupting the Transatlantic Alliance. The rifts it is causing among allies are manifest: There is the talk of backroom deals between France and Germany to win regulatory approval for Nord Stream 2. There are the objections to the project voiced by Poland and other Central and Eastern European nations. And there is the opposition from the United States, combined with Washington’s threat of sanctions.
NATO was created 70 years ago to counter the threat to freedom and democracy posed by Soviet Russia. Putin’s Russia today represents a similar danger, and the anniversary of NATO’s formation is a time to recommit ourselves to the principles of solidarity, freedom, and security that are the foundation of the Alliance. Spending 2 percent of each member’s GDP on defense is necessary to keep our militaries competitive and effective. Establishing a permanent U.S. presence in Poland, where the geostrategic center of gravity has shifted, is as crucial today as were the American bases in West Germany that protected the alliance during the Cold War.
In the words of the 1949 Washington Treaty, keeping NATO strong will “safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of [our] peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”
That we have succeeded for so long is reason to celebrate.