The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance. It currently hosts 29 members in Europe and North America. It is responsible for the implementation of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty that provides for a system of collective defense in response to attacks by external parties or countries.
NATO’s headquarters are in Brussels, Belgium. There were originally 12 member states of this treaty. Montenegro became the latest to join, with its acceptance granted in June 2017. There are another 21 countries that participate in the Partnership for Peace program run through the organization, with 15 more involved with institutionalized dialogues.
The combined spending for all NATO members represents 70% of the global total, but the vast majority of that figure comes from the United States. Americans spend more on defense than then next nine top-spending nations combined.
List of the Pros of NATO
1. NATO offers a long-term collective defense of strategic developed countries.
Since 2014, NATO has been responsible for the implementation of the largest increase in collective defense since the Cold War. When one ally gets attacked, then it is treated as an attack on everyone. When terrorists hijacked the airplanes in 2001 to bring down the Twin Towers and hit the Pentagon, all parties stood with the American government because of the treaty.
There are four multinational battlegrounds deployed because of this advantage today. Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania each have one. Their presence serves as a deterrent to a possible attack from other parties.
2. NATO helps to manage crisis situations around the world.
NATO forces went into Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s to stop the conflicts that were happening in the region. It is working in Afghanistan to prevent terrorist organizations from having a safe haven to train and strategize. The group of countries is even working to combat problems with privacy that happen around the Horn of Africa.
The issues that NATO addresses aren’t always combat-related. Since 2016, the group has worked to address the refugee crisis that unfolded in Europe when 2.2 million people sought political asylum. It also works with migrants to help them with home placement, visa applications, and more.
3. NATO works to fight terrorism around the world.
Over 13,000 NATO troops have worked to train local forces in Afghanistan so that terrorism can’t gain a foothold in the region. The organization is a full member of the coalition working to defeat ISIS. Surveillance aircraft work to pinpoint the location of camps or strongholds so that military forces can eliminate the threat. It is training Iraqi forces to provide more security at home, and a new intelligence division is working to anticipate new threats so that proactive responses become possible. There is even a new hub for allies to use to stop terrorism that recently became part of the infrastructure in Naples, Italy.
4. NATO works with partner countries that are not part of the pact of mutual defense.
Modern threats include cyber warfare, piracy, and terrorism that go beyond specific borders. NATO works with global partners outside of the primary alliance to help create a more secure world for everyone. There are also partnerships with the European Union, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. By creating a network of cooperation that encompasses every permanently inhabited continent, there are fewer places for terrorists to hide.
5. NATO offers a clear command structure.
When there are so many different countries working together, it is vital to have a clear chain of command to follow. Civilian and military personnel from each member state works within the internal guidelines to make sure an adequate level of protection is available each day. This advantage includes two top-level strategic commands. One is based in Mons, Belgium, and the other is in Norfolk, VA. It is a way to ensure that modern technology and approaches receive implementation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
6. NATO provides options for cyber defense within the structure of its treaty.
Cyberattacks are becoming more common each year. The activities of hackers are becoming more sophisticated, creating damage in unique ways that were never envisioned in the 1940s. Adjusting to this new reality has become one of the first priorities for NATO as it helps the allies to keep boosting their defenses through information sharing, education investments, and ongoing training. Cyber defense experts work with the organization that can mobilize at a moment’s notice to help any country in the network to survive an attack.
The structure NATO provides allows for coordination and cost-sharing, but it also creates better logistics for Europe, Canada, and the United States. Allies can share best practices in numerous fields of protection, ranging from rapid response to counterterrorism. When everyone works together, the North Atlantic Treaty is a serious force that most governments avoid confronting because of the resources it wields.
7. NATO offers an open door policy.
The open door policy with NATO is one of its founding principles. It allows any country in the European-Atlantic region to join the group of allies if the country is prepared to meet the obligations and standards of membership. That includes contributions that lead to the security of the alliance, including values like democracy, rule of law, and reform. There have been 17 new countries that have made this commitment since 1949 when the original 12 came together to prevent future conflicts.
8. NATO provides a cost-effective way to provide for mutual defense.
Even with some member nations not coming close to the agreed-upon 2% GDP funding mandate from their 2014 Wales meeting yet, the combination of funds from the member countries does create a sharing mechanism that makes defending one another easier. NATO only has a fleet of surveillance aircraft under its control, with a squad of drones coming in the near future. That means the equipment and manpower all come from the member nations of the alliance.
The United States might pay more than its fair share for the privilege of being in this organization, but it has much to gain from the experience. If Europe is peaceful, then there are fewer issues to worry about on the continent. When saber-rattling becomes loud because the Americans aren’t involved, then that’s when the threats of the past try to start rearing their ugly heads once again.
9. NATO still serves as a deterrent to Russian aggression.
As part of the original North Atlantic Treaty, Article 5 is what binds together all of the member states that join NATO. When an attack occurs on one of them, then that is treated as an attack on everyone. This philosophy was put into the agreement as a way for there to be a deterrent against Soviet aggression. It is a benefit that still applies today if the actions of Vladimir Putin are indicative of a desire to reunite the old USSR. Lithuania, Estonia, and other previous states are now NATO allies and part of the agreement. That’s why incursions into Ukraine and Georgia occurred before there was a chance to extend full membership.
10. NATO stops other countries from developing nuclear weapons.
NATO plays a critical and underrated role in the disarmament of nuclear weapons around the world. If member nations were not under the umbrella of protection that comes from the United States, the UK, and others that hold these weapons, then individual nations would be more likely to produce them domestically as a way to stop future attacks. Europe would likely be entirely nuclearized by now if the North Atlantic Treaty hadn’t been signed.
Russia would be more willing to intervene in allied member states if the agreement weren’t in place. Their nuclear capabilities are a strong stick that they can wield to make governments surrender their freedoms. By eliminating the existing cooperation that exists between the member countries of NATO, the risk of suffering a nuclear attack during times of conflict would rise dramatically.
11. NATO provides a permanent diplomatic forum.
Diplomacy is easier to accomplish when there are platforms and forums in place that encourage those actions. NATO is one such destination. It might focus on communication to reduce the threat of potential security issues, but the relationships formed serve multiple purposes worth taking into consideration. Military and political representatives to the organized specialize in responding to the most pressing issues in the world at any time, taking into account the time-sensitive nature of many incidents.
The United Nations might be a stronger organization than NATO, but the sheer size of it also creates a slow response time. Under the security umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty, allies can divide the labor and diffuse costs when crisis situations develop. That makes it much easier to create a place where diplomacy can stop situations from escalating into a full-blown conflict.
List of the Cons of NATO
1. Only five nations fulfill their funding requirements for NATO.
The United States is the primary contributor to NATO’s $2.8 billion annual budget. During the 2014 funding round, it contributed 3.61% of its national GDP toward the organization. No one else is above 2.5% GDP for their funding, but the NATO guideline is only 2%. Besides the U.S., just Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland are meeting their funding guidelines. At the other end of the scale, Luxembourg contributes just 0.44% of its national GDP. Canada, Slovenia, Spain, and Belgium are all under 1% GDP.
2. The role of NATO has changed since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
There were no military operations conducted by NATO during the Cold War. The first operations following the end of that period in history were prompted by the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. The organization sent early warning aircraft to provide support in southeastern Turkey, and then a fast-reaction force deployed in the region afterward.
The goal of NATO is to provide security in the region against future attacks, but the role has been more of a peacekeeping force since the 1990s. NATO took wartime action in 1994 for the first time by shooting four Bosnian Serb aircraft. Bombing campaigns followed in 1995 with Operation Deliberate Force. It was also part of the effort to end the Serbian-led actions against the KLA and Albanian civilians in Kosovo.
3. The United States has paved the way for NATO over most of its life.
One of the issues with NATO’s funding structure is that the United States is a majority provider of money and equipment to the alliance. Calls from the Trump Administration are reflective of 2014 conversations from John Kerry that ask Europe to step up their funding efforts. Proposals since then have included procurement, training, and research that extends to the nuclear umbrella that France supplies to a European army. The second idea was recently endorsed by Germany and France.
4. NATO isn’t requiring current members to maintain their democratic status.
One of NATO’s members (Turkey) has already become a full-fledged autocracy instead of being a democratically-elected government. Poland and Hungary are both moving toward an authoritarian approach. This issue has happened before for the treaty, with the dictatorship in Portugal and the colonels’ regime in Greece as a testament to those actions. The issue is that the world faces more than one enemy, and there is a lack of common values developing in the alliance that makes implementing a shared strategic few almost impossible.
Hungary often criticizes Ukraine, which makes its rhetoric closer to that of Russia than NATO. Although the other members are dismayed by that conduct, it hasn’t led to a change in the alliance’s structure as of yet.
5. The expansion of NATO creates more risk for every other member.
When one member nation is attacked under the structure of NATO, then everyone responds in the same way. Since the number of countries joining the coalition continues to increase, that means there is more risk of a potential conflict starting. Although Montenegro might not be the best target of regimes that have conquering on the mind, we’ve already seen what Russia is capable of doing with their work on the Crimean Peninsula. Are the new members ready to stand up to their obligation to defend and protect when their borders aren’t on the line?
6. NATO members have an over-reliance on the United States.
The NATO alliance currently depends on the wealth of the United States for it to meets all of its obligations. That over-reliance on funds put some countries into a difficult position. What if Americans decide to proactively attack someone under the guise of it being a national security issue? Do the other members follow along to help since there is the mutual defense treaty in place, or is it possible to stand alone under the threat of the U.S. denying future funds?
The reality of NATO is that some nations might decide to take actions that the others don’t agree with from an outside perspective. Turkey went into Syria without support from the alliance. If you have an agreement for the mutual defense of one another, there may be times when your morality gets tried.
7. Article 5 has only been invoked once in the lifetime of the agreement.
The events of September 11, 2001, are the only time that the critical Article 5 has been invoked for NATO. Some might say that this is indicative of the fact that it is an effective deterrent against aggression, but the fact is that even that tragic day in American history wasn’t an attack by another country. It was from an organized group of terrorists working independently. That’s one of the reasons why there is some talk, especially in conservative circles in the United States, that it might be time to leave NATO.
NATO was a necessary alliance that came together in the aftermath of World War II. As the United Nations began to form, the history from the League of Nations showed allied forces that a backup plan was necessary for the greater good. This treaty would become the foundation of a pact of mutual defense that would become an effective deterrent over its 70 years of existence.
Although NATO has expanded by 17 member nations and counting since its original dozen, almost all of the new members started coming in during the 1990s. The modernization of the organization is only now taking place. That means many of the capabilities offered are more theoretical than practical because they’ve never been tried.
When we look at the deterrent effect on Russia, the interventions in Kosovo, and the other actions taken to protect the region, NATO has provided many benefits. It can continue to do so if it receives the funding it requires.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.