NATO: A Remarkable Difference in Just 15 Years

  • National Newswatch

One of the remarkable political and military transformations of the last few years has been the solidification of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  The military alliance seemed stronger than ever when the NATO expansion agreements were concluded last week in Vilnius, Lithuania.It wasn't always that way.  I was in Vilnius for the NATO meetings in February 2008, accompanying Canada's Defence Minister Peter Mackay.  The conflict in Afghanistan had continued for seven years and certain NATO members were already voicing the desire to bring their soldiers home.  It would eventually become Canada's longest military engagement.  But at that pivotal time there were discussions among our officials about whether Canada should renew its commitment to the conflict for an extended two years.  We weren't alone.The Vilnius meetings permitted one extra addition.  Ukraine's Defense Minister was at the sessions, pressing for entry into NATO as a full member.  The discussions were wide-ranging, but it remained difficult to commit to Ukrainian membership when some of the traditional partners were considering exiting from the Afghan conflict.  The dialogue wasn't heated, but there was an overall sense of uncertainty hanging over the talks.The dynamics were complicated by the George W. Bush administration's ongoing hesitancy to permit entry to Ukraine.  Canada was in support, but American officials eventually succeeded in postponing any decisions on Ukrainian membership.Adding to the overall uncertainty was the inability to discern the intent of Vladimir Putin, Russia's president.  The previous decade had witnessed the crumbling of the Soviet Empire and the introduction of more progressive leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.  There was talk of a new democratic era that eventually sparked discussion about whether the need for NATO was as important as it once was.  Overtures were being made to Putin in hopes of drawing him into the Western alignment.  It was believed that permitting Ukrainian membership to NATO would antagonize the fairly new Russian leader.MacKay and I flew home from Lithuania with the shared sense that Canada would agree to extend its Afghan commitment for another two years, but other than that, NATO's future appeared uncertain.  We talked about it at length but could never be sure.Fifteen years later, again in Vilnius, the Western military alliance now seems more secure than ever.  While President Joe Biden held back on a quick acceptance of Ukraine into NATO, he was quick to inform Ukrainian President Zelenskyy that the approval would soon be given.The makeup and outlook of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 15 years ago couldn't be more different.  Putin's diabolic intentions are now obvious and unlikely to change.  The carnage of his illegal invasion of Ukraine has cemented Western resolve, and with the addition of Sweden and Finland into NATO membership, the face of the alliance is strengthened even further.  The two nations had gone from neutral to NATO, likely because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.Putin's aggression has reminded us that the global future is not war free, and it has inclined Western nations to reinvest in NATO's capacity to contain and protect.  When NATO's founding members signed the treaty on April 4, 1949, they declared themselves "resolved to unite our efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security."  That resolve is now renewed for another generation embroiled in uncertainty.  Canada's role in the organization also remains secure, though the level of that commitment remains uncertain.We are again reminded that the world is still dangerous and that the tools of military options range from cyberwarfare to nuclear options.  When you add to that challenge the economic turbulence, Chinese economic independence, and the ongoing climate struggles, the future of the human race is not without its pitfalls.  Yet Western resolve, showing signs of weakness only 15 years ago in Lithuania, is now strengthened by the Vilnius agreements of last week.  It has been a positive development.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.