For all of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s complaints in recent years about the West’s threat to Russian security, NATO had been paying little attention to its former Cold War foe. The conflict in Ukraine has changed all that.
For years, NATO has focused on missions in distant places, such as Afghanistan and Libya, and admitted only one former Warsaw Pact member, Albania, in the last decade.
As military spending by NATO members fell 20% during the last five years, some Western leaders wondered whether the alliance had a future at all.
But as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s summit in Wales last week made clear, Western leaders see the Russian moves in Ukraine as a direct threat to NATO members individually and to the postwar order generally.
The 28 members are in the midst of an internal struggle over how strongly to push back against Russia. Some argue against what they see as overreactions that would risk military confrontation. Yet it is clear that defense against possible Russian moves is again a top priority and that NATO will carry out at least a limited buildup of forces along an East-West divide that is hundreds of miles closer to Moscow than it was in the Cold War era.
“Putin’s actions in Ukraine have reinvigorated NATO in a way that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago,” said Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and former advisor to President Obama. “The alliance was struggling to find a new role and talking about things to do beyond Europe.