As Russia’s invasion in Ukraine enters its second month, the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has come into focus.
Earlier Thursday, NATO’s leaders met for an emergency summit in Brussels and are expected to announce new sanctions against Russia as well as other measures to help bolster Ukraine’s defences. What they won’t do, however, is what Ukraine’s president has repeatedly asked: Enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. US and NATO officials have repeatedly said that such a move would risk provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin and sparking a wider war with Russia.
A discussion of NATO’s force posture along its eastern edge was also part of the last-minute diplomatic burst. And leaders conferred on what to do if Russia deploys a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon, a prospect causing increasing concern as the war reaches a stalemate. In a statement afterwards, US President Joe Biden said NATO was “as strong and united as it has ever been.”
But what is NATO and who is in it? NATO is a European and North American defense alliance set up to promote peace and stability and to safeguard the security of its members. It was created as the Cold War escalated and is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
The aim of the United States-led alliance was to protect Western European countries from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of Communism after World War II.
Twelve founding countries — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and eight other European nations — signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, pledging to protect each other by political and military means.
Over the decades since, the alliance has grown to include a total of 30 members.
In alphabetical order, they are:
- Czech Republic
- The Netherlands
- North Macedonia
- United Kingdom
- United States
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but has long hoped to join the alliance. This is a sore point for Russia, which sees NATO as a threat and vehemently opposes the move.
NATO is currently led by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, whose term was extended by another year on Thursday. Stoltenberg reinforced NATO’s position in a response to the decision, saying, “As we face the biggest security crisis in a generation, we stand united to keep our Alliance strong and our people safe.”
According to a western official who was present for Biden’s remarks to leaders during the NATO summit, he made a reference to his US presidential predecessor when making the case for allies to increase their defense spending. While it’s not clear if Biden mentioned former President Donald Trump by name, Biden did implore the leaders to add to their defense budgets during this moment of crisis, but asked that they “don’t mistake” him for his predecessor, who Biden said didn ‘t treat the NATO allies very well, the official said. The White House declined to comment.
Read more about NATO here.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.