You might have heard that President Trump is attending a neato summit in Brussels this week. And you probably thought to yourself, “I’m relieved he’s thousands of miles away. But how come he gets to attend a neato summit?” Well, the answer is that it’s actually a NATO summit. And, if you have a very specific set of questions about NATO, we have answers.
What is a NATO?
NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is a military alliance composed of 28 countries in North America and Europe.
When was NATO created? Or has it just always been there, like my shadow?
The United States and its allies created NATO in 1949 to keep Moscow from conquering the parts of Europe they hadn’t already conquered by the end of WWII. Anyone who has ever played the popular board game Risk knows that you don’t want a hostile adversary to control all of Europe.
Oh. So that’s why I’m always losing at Risk.
It’s one of the reasons.
We were so nice to do that for Europe after we had just gotten finished saving them from fascism!
Well, yes. But mainly we did it for ourselves. All things considered, if we had to fight a war with the Soviet Union, we would rather do it in Germany than, say, Virginia. (Sorry, Germany!)
Boy, I bet the Soviet Union was mad. If I were them, I would have created my own NATO. And I would have called it NEATO, which is an infinitely better name.
That’s basically what they did, except they called it the Warsaw Pact. It disbanded after the Soviet Union collapsed.
That is also a good name. Does anyone own the rights to the name “Warsaw Pact” these days? Could I trademark it and launch it as a chain of lingerie boutiques?
For what it’s worth, you have our permission.
So why didn’t NATO disband when the Soviet Union collapsed?
Some people thought it should. Instead, it ended up absorbing most of the former members of the Warsaw Pact, and even some countries that had been part of the Soviet Union. That’s partly because a military alliance of Western democracies made sense with or without a threat from Moscow, and partly because some people thought the threat from Moscow might return.
If NATO is so important for defending ourselves and our allies against Russia, why is President Trump trying to undermine it?
What are the rules of NATO? And please don’t make a Fight Club joke about how the first rule of NATO is “Don’t talk about NATO.”
The most important NATO rule is Article 5, which says that an attack on any member is an attack on all of them. In other words, if someone attacks the United States, or Germany, or Latvia, then all of NATO will respond. Another rule is that if this is your first time in NATO, you have to fight!
Ugh. Has Article 5 ever been invoked?
Only once. After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, thirteen NATO countries mobilized to join the United States in deposing the Taliban. More than a thousand troops from these NATO allies lost their lives in Afghanistan while responding to the al Qaeda attacks on the U.S.
Ok, but that was like 15 years ago. What have the other NATO members done for us lately?
Lots. For instance, our NATO allies have provided us with a lot of intelligence about Russian efforts to tilt the 2016 U.S. elections.
I was much happier not knowing about that. I would prefer allies who tell us that, according to their intelligence-gathering, everything is fine.
I guess there are a lot of things in this life I would prefer.
NATO has a rule that members have to pay the United States for protection, right?
No. NATO has a non-binding guideline that by the year 2024, member states should be spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. The United States already far exceeds this goal, but most NATO members don’t. This has been a sore spot for a while, during both Democratic and Republican administrations.
But then why does Trump accuse NATO countries of being “delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made”? What payments is he talking about?
The short answer is that he has no idea how NATO works and wrongly assumes that it is some sort of protection racket. If you’ve read this far, you know more about NATO than the president of the United States. How about that!
Wouldn’t we save a lot of money if we withdrew from NATO and pulled our troops out of Europe?
Probably so! We could save even more money by disbanding the U.S. military entirely. And you, personally, could save money by becoming a full-time nudist. There are all kinds of ways to save money!
I saw that at the opening meeting at the NATO summit, Trump accused Germany of being controlled by Russia. I know this sounds weird, but does Trump ever accuse other people of things that are actually true of him, as a bizarre projection impulse?
I do seem to recall that happening once or twice.
I’ll be honest: It’s a little disappointing that I finally get a chance to personally resist Russian aggression, but it’s nothing like the movie Red Dawn. In fact, it’s basically just remembering to vote against the pro-Russia party.
Well, you can still roar “Avenge me!” at your fellow voters.
Trump wouldn’t ever actually withdraw from NATO, would he? He would never do something that crazy.
Ha ha, ok.