Reports indicate that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance that the West had mostly forgotten about. If those reports are correct, Putin’s NATO calculations appear to be as flawed as his Ukrainian war calculations. Because, if anything, Putin’s war has led to an increased international focus on NATO, the alliance’s unification against a common enemy and to its programmatic resurgence and membership growth.
This was all apparent at the NATO summit held last week in Madrid — attended by all 30 Allied leaders, and key NATO partners from Europe and Asia. There, Turkey dropped its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO — and those two countries agreed to do more about Kurdish terrorism and to drop an arms embargo against Turkey, while the United States agreed to explore selling fighter jets to Turkey — clearing the way for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance.
It will likely take several months for Sweden and Finland to officially join, but their inclusion in NATO represents a major blow to Russia. With those two new members, NATO’s border with Russia will grow by 800 miles, more than doubling the length of NATO’s current presence on the Russian frontier, along with control of some new strategic territory. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland partnered with NATO for decades but saw no threat to their security from their Russian neighbor. Putin’s war changed it all.
Member expansion was not the only significant news to come out of last week’s summit. The U.S. announced it is sending more forces to Europe, and the NATO secretary general announced a significant increase in the alliance’s rapid reaction force. NATO also released a new Strategic Concept for the first time in over a decade, clarifying the threat that Russia poses to the West. In addition, NATO is now focused on the danger of China’s growing influence. Leaders from Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia joined the summit, reflecting NATO’s increasing focus on Asia and the Pacific, and lending credence to the concern that a Russian victory in Ukraine could embolden China.
Outside of the summit, NATO is apparently also growing closer to Israel. NATO has reportedly expressed an interest in Israeli technology. Israel, which has a non-NATO alliance status, sees an expanded relationship with NATO as a possible means to help build or solidify Israel’s relationships with NATO member nations, such as its near neighbor, Turkey.
We applaud these developments. It is important that the NATO military alliance not be the “paper tiger” its critics have accused it of being. By expanding its membership, deploying additional troops and addressing the threats posed by Russia and China, NATO is demonstrating that it is able to respond to a changing world and that it is not a Cold War relic. These and other developments at the summit show the world that NATO is on the upswing.