Russia threat highlights NATO’s purpose on 75th anniversary

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives remarks during NATO's 75th anniversary celebration ceremony at NATO headquarters. -/NATO/dpa © DPA International

NATO marked the 75th anniversary of its founding with a ceremony in Brussels on Thursday amid a heightened Russian threat and lingering questions over the alliance’s future.

After laying a wreath in memory of military personnel of NATO countries killed in service, the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the United States and Europe need one another for their own security.

“Europe needs America for its security,” Stoltenberg said. “At the same time, North America also needs Europe. European allies provide world-class militaries, vast intelligence networks, and unique diplomatic leverage, multiplying America’s might.”

Stoltenberg’s remarks come at a time of waning US congressional support for continued military aid to Ukraine. Kiev is relying on NATO countries to provide the weapons and ammunition it needs to resist Russia’s invasion of its territory.

Acknowledging long-standing US concerns that European allies aren’t contributing enough to collective defence, Stoltenberg said: “Fair burden sharing is essential, and Europe is investing more, much more. This year, the majority of NATO allies will invest at least 2% of their GDP [Gross Domestic Product] in defence.”

“Through NATO, the United States has more friends and more allies than any other major power. I don’t believe in America alone, just as I don’t believe in Europe alone,” he added.

On Wednesday, NATO foreign ministers discussed a proposal from Stoltenberg to create a €100 billion ($109 billion) NATO fund for military aid to Ukraine, replacing a looser US-led arrangement whereby NATO members arm Ukraine without going through NATO itself.

Some diplomats describe the proposal to bring responsibility for the aid into NATO proper as “Trump-proofing,” because coordination of military support would be less dependent on American initiative.

When asked by dpa at a press conference on Thursday whether the United States would back the proposal, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed to further discussion on the matter due to be held in Prague in May and Washington in July. He said: “we look forward to a lot of work being done to design and detail exactly what the different roles are going to be.”

“We know that countries within this alliance and well beyond the alliance look to the United States for that engagement for that leadership,” Blinken added. “I think we’ve demonstrated it very clearly when it comes to Ukraine and the aggression that Russia committed starting in February of 2022, and we’re determined to continue it.”

“We tried to embrace Russia, but we knew that the potential for violence was there. Unfortunately, Russia is on the march again,” Radosław Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland – which joined the alliance in March 1999 – said in a speech at NATO headquarters, referring to the period after the Cold War ended.

Sikorski added: “But happily, we are where we belong in the company of democracies among friends at home, resisting again like a rock.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was also present on Thursday, to ask for more support – particularly Patriot surface-to-air missiles.

“I don’t want to spoil the party,” Dmytro Kuleba said after congratulating NATO members on the alliance’s 75th anniversary. “But my main message today will be Patriots.”

“Saving Ukrainian lives, saving the Ukrainian economy, saving Ukrainian cities, depends on the availability of Patriots and other air defence systems in Ukraine. We’re talking about Patriots because it’s the only system that can intercept ballistic missiles.”

After the meeting, Stoltenberg warned that Ukraine could lose more territory if it didn’t get what it needed soon. “There is a real risk that Russia will capture even more territory and that we will be in even more dangerous position,” he said.

Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter: “We are in great danger. Russia, very predictably, has been emboldened by appeasement. The survival of the rules-based system is in doubt.”

Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell and representatives from NATO’s Pacific partners Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand also joined the NATO talks on the Ukraine war and relations with Russia.

Founded by the United States and 11 other countries at the onset of the Cold War to deter the expansion of the communist Soviet Union, NATO has grown to 32 members with Sweden and Finland’s recent entry.

The alliance is a collective security pact in which, according to Article 5 of the NATO founding treaty, an attack on one member of the alliance “shall be considered an attack against them all.”

Article 5 has been invoked once, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.

While defence spending from NATO allies has risen significantly during the Ukraine war, with 18 allies including Germany set to invest 2% of GDP on defence in 2024, the US still makes up the bulk of alliance defence spending.

(L-R) Chair NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana attend a laying wreath ceremony in memory of military personnel of NATO countries killed in service. -/NATO/dpa© DPA International

(L-R) Annalena Baerbock German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Joly Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antony Blinken US Secretary of State, Xavier Bettel Luxembourgish Minister of Foreign Affairs attend NATO’s 75th anniversary celebration ceremony at NATO headquarters. -/NATO/dpa© DPA International
Source: DPA International