As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the world is keeping a close eye on the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), raising questions about what role the alliance will play in the region. As a result, NATO consistently captures headlines – most recently regarding Finland and Sweden’s accession agreements with the military alliance. For decades, Finland and Sweden both held firmly neutral positions towards Russia, but in early July, they signed NATO accession agreements and were unanimously approved by existing allies. With these developments, it is important to trace the larger arc of the role of NATO and the centrality of bipartisan support in Congress.
NATO’s Creation and Enduring Bipartisan Support
NATO has long represented a core aspect of American international security policy, characterizing our relationships with allies and non-members. Immediately following World War II, with communists aided by the Soviet Union threatening elected governments across a devastated Europe, a true transatlantic security agreement was necessary. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in April of 1949, at which time all 12 original allied nations agreed to come to the aid of one another in the event of an invasion. Indeed, Article 5 in the treaty states that “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all.” Since then, NATO has increased to 30 member nations, and its permanent, integrated military command structure, comprised of both military personnel and civilians from all member states, oversees nearly 3.5 million personnel and is widely considered the world’s strongest and most powerful alliance.
Over the years, NATO has enjoyed bipartisan support from many top American policymakers:
Support for Expanding NATO and a More Unified Alliance
Congressional support for the alliance remains strong, and NATO’s most recent decision to begin the ratification process for Sweden’s and Finland’s accessions is receiving enthusiastic support from American legislators on both sides of the aisle. Members of Congress have highlighted that the shared recognition of a common threat has bolstered internal cohesion and preparedness of the alliance in tandem with its overall growth and expansion:
NATO’s Role in Diplomacy
The broad bipartisan support for NATO expansion sheds light on a critical and often underappreciated role of the treaty as a forum to settle diplomatic disputes. From the 1994 creation of the Partnership for Peace Program to encourage cooperation between NATO and its new democratic partners in the former Soviet bloc, to the United States working to engender Turkish support of Finnish and Swedish accession to the alliance, NATO has been used as a forum for reducing tensions, promoting peaceful cooperation between member states, and striving to prevent disputes from escalating into violent conflict. This influence of the treaty is also gaining recognition from influential American policymakers and servicemembers:
A Stronger NATO Means a Safer America
As with much that occurs outside the United States’ borders, these developments have significant, tangible impacts domestically. Especially in this time of growing anxiety prompted by a foreign invasion in Europe, the safety and prosperity of Americans at home is top of mind for citizens and policymakers alike. Fortunately, there is bipartisan consensus on the critical role NATO plays in securing the security of Americans around the world and here at home:
On August 3, 2022, the Senate voted overwhelming, 95-1, to approve NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, following a House vote of 394-18 in July on a resolution supporting the two countries joining NATO. On August 9, President Biden signed ratification documents approving the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden, completing U.S. Government approval of the countries joining. The work now turns to encouraging the 29 other NATO allies do the same and take the final steps towards a larger, more united NATO, leading to a safer world and a more secure America.