by David J. Bercuson
February 21, 2019
United States President Donald Trump may be doing his best to render NATO irrelevant and certainly to undermine traditional American alliances with European allies, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be doing his best to save it.
Putin believes that NATO is a great threat to Russia and its ambitions and has publicly mourned the downfall of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. No one knows better than he does the military and diplomatic solidarity that bound NATO together from its founding in 1949 to the end of the Cold War, during which it achieved its objective of containing Soviet Russia. During that period of 40-plus years, no European territory fell under Soviet influence because the United States’ nuclear umbrella and Article V of the NATO treaty (an attack against one is an attack against all) simply posed unacceptable risks to any Soviet leader who may have been tempted to slice off Western Europe a piece at a time.
When the Cold War ended in 1989/90, NATO’s chief reason for existence disappeared almost overnight. The United States and its allies were torn about NATO’s future even as old Soviet Bloc allies such as Poland, Hungary and Romania broke away from the now defunct U.S.S.R. and sought membership in NATO, usually as a half-way measure to joining the European Union.