soldiers in line to get in a plane

Earlier this month, Finland became the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, better known as NATO. Today, I want to explain the origins of NATO, its purpose, and discuss why Finland joining is a significant move!

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  • Accession (n) – the time when a country officially joins a group of countries or signs an agreement.
    • Sweden’s accession to NATO is still being considered.
  • Alliance (n) – a group of countries, political parties, or people who have agreed to work together because of shared interests or aims.
    • NATO is sometimes called the Atlantic Alliance.
  • To reel (v) – If you reel, or your mind or brain reels, you feel very confused or shocked and unable to act.
    • We were reeling from the news that we had won all that money.
  • Meaningful (adj) – useful, serious, or important.
    • She seems to find it difficult to form meaningful relationships.
  • Collective (adj) – done or shared by every member of a group.
    • It will require a collective effort from government, providers, and the media to meet our goals.
  • To deter (v) – to prevent someone from doing something or to make someone less enthusiastic about doing something by making it difficult for that person to do it or by threatening bad results if they do it.
    • These measures are designed to deter an enemy attack.
  • To constitute (v) – to form or make something.
    • The under-18s constitute nearly 25 percent of the town’s population.
  • Non-alignment (adj) – If a country is non-aligned, it does not support or depend on any powerful country or group of countries.
    • Non-alignment was previously Finland’s main policy

Finland Joins NATO

Finland has officially become the 31st member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The Finnish flag was raised over the organisations headquarters on Tuesday April 4th after the Finnish foreign minister handed over the accession documents.

After decades of a policy called non-alignment, Finland finally made a decision to apply for NATO membership last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO is a military alliance of countries from Europe and North America, originally founded to counter the power of the Soviet Union and its allies.

The invasion of Ukraine caused a big change in political and public opinion in Finland, with up to 80% of Finnish people supporting the country’s application to NATO. Both Sweden and Finland applied to join at the same time, although Sweden’s application is currently delayed after objections by the Turkish government.

While Finland’s entry into NATO has been positively received in many western countries, the choice will anger Russia. In the years leading up to Russia’s attack on its neighbour, the government and President Vladimir Putin had been vocal in their anger at NATO’s expansion in the east of Europe.

While many scholars suggested that the attack on Ukraine was an attempt to weaken NATO forever, it appears Russia has failed in its aims. NATO’s border with Russia has now doubled with the addition of Finland’s 1340km border. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken even went as far to say “this is maybe the one thing we can thank Mr Putin for… Because he once again here has precipitated something he claims to want to prevent by Russia’s aggression.”

Today, I want to look at NATO in more detail. What is NATO? Why was it formed? Who are its members and what is its purpose? Let’s try to answer these questions!

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Background of NATO

NATO’s Origin

In 1945, the Second World War ended in Europe. Rather than being a unified and strong Europe, there was a major ideological division in the continent. The communist Soviet Union had marched through Eastern Europe on their way to taking over Berlin, and they continued to occupy much of the continent.

The world was still reeling from the devastation of the war, and tensions were high between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. The capitalist countries of Western Europe feared both the growing power and influence of the Soviet Union and the chance of more aggression from Germany. They decided that they needed a permanent military alliance to allow them to better defend against their enemies.

In 1948, the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the Brussels pact and formed a military alliance called the Western European Union. However, these western European countries were badly damaged by the costs of war, and understood that any meaningful military alliance would require the support of the North American powers Canada and the United States.

The US also feared the influence of communism. Socialist and communist parties were becoming increasingly popular in places like France, and it seemed that Soviet armies may be seeking to expand into other parts of Europe. The Soviet Union had already established communist regimes in several Eastern European countries, and there was concern that they would continue to push westward. The Berlin blockade in the late 1940s signalled that there would be difficulties and conflict between the two ideological sides.

On April 5th 1949, 12 western countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty, creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, a military and defensive alliance designed to combat the Soviet Union.


Purpose of NATO

NATO’s core purpose is to deter aggression against its member states and to respond collectively to any attacks. This is enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack on one member state will be considered an attack on all member states, and that each member state will take action to assist the attacked state, including the use of armed force if necessary.

This was very important at the time NATO was founded. Europe was struggling to rebuild destroyed infrastructure and the legacies of war. If a country like France or the UK was attacked, it was not certain whether they would have the strength to defend themselves. Collective security, however, guaranteed that if one member was attacked, all members (including the USA) would provide military support.

In addition to collective defence, NATO has a broader set of objectives and purposes. These include promoting stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area by supporting democratic institutions, strengthening the rule of law, and promoting economic prosperity; supporting crisis management and peacekeeping operations; countering terrorism; and strengthening international security.


Evolution of NATO

The Cold War, which lasted from the late 1940s to the early 1990s, was a period of intense geopolitical competition and ideological conflict between the United States and its Western allies, and the Soviet Union and its communist allies. NATO played a critical role in balancing Soviet aggression and maintaining peace and stability in Europe during this time.

One of the main ways that NATO worked to contain the Soviet Union was through deterrence. NATO developed a strategy of “massive retaliation,” which involved the threat of a nuclear response to any Soviet attack. This strategy was intended to deter the Soviet Union from initiating an attack in the first place and involved placing nuclear weapons in Europe.

In addition to deterrence, NATO also worked to strengthen its military capabilities and preparedness. The organization established a military command structure and developed strategies for defence and deterrence, including the deployment of troops and military exercises.

While the Cold War was a time of great tension and uncertainty, NATO’s role in containing Soviet aggression helped to prevent a global conflict and maintain peace and stability in Europe. With the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, NATO expanded and changed its approach to defence.

The organization initially consisted of 12 member states, but it has since grown to include 30 member countries (31 with Finland). One of the key moments in NATO’s expansion was the inclusion of new member states from Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s. These countries had previously been part of the Soviet sphere of influence, and their inclusion in NATO was seen as a significant step towards the integration of Europe.

NATO’s mission and activities have also evolved over time. In the post-Cold War era, the organization began to engage in a wider range of security activities, including peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Examples of NATO Actions

Kosovo War

The Kosovo War occurred in 1998-1999 in the Serbian province of Kosovo, which was experiencing tensions between the majority Albanian population and the Serbian government. The Yugoslav government, led by President Slobodan Milosevic, launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Albanian population, which involved forced expulsions, killings, and other atrocities.

In response to these developments, NATO launched a military operation against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999, called Operation Allied Force. The objective was to halt the violence and protect the Albanian population in Kosovo. The operation involved a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslav military and strategic targets, such as government buildings, communication networks, and military installations.

The bombing campaign was controversial, with some critics arguing that it violated international law and constituted an act of aggression against a sovereign state. However, supporters of the operation argued that it was necessary to prevent further human rights abuses and destabilization in the region.

The bombing campaign ultimately achieved its objectives, as Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo in June 1999, paving the way for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force led by the United Nations. The Kosovo War marked a significant turning point in NATO’s history, as it was the first time the organization had launched a military operation against a sovereign state without the approval of the United Nations Security Council.


Afghanistan War

The Afghanistan War began in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The attacks were carried out by the al-Qaeda terrorist group, which was based in Afghanistan and supported by the Taliban regime that controlled the country.

In response to the attacks, NATO invoked Article 5 of its founding treaty for the first time, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all. This led to the deployment of NATO troops to Afghanistan, with the aim of overthrowing the Taliban regime and dismantling al-Qaeda’s infrastructure in the country.

The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), was the largest military operation in the organization’s history. It involved troops from over 50 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada, among others.

The war was initially successful in removing the Taliban regime from power and disrupting al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. However, the conflict soon turned into a prolonged insurgency, with the Taliban and other militant groups launching a guerrilla war against NATO and Afghan government forces.

The war was also controversial, with some critics arguing that it was an unwinnable conflict that had cost too many lives and resources. The conflict was marked by frequent reports of civilian casualties and human rights abuses, as well as allegations of corruption and incompetence on the part of the Afghan government.

NATO formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but continued to provide training and support to Afghan security forces. However, the security situation in the country remained unstable, with the Taliban regaining control of much of the country in recent years. In 2021, NATO announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, marking the end of its two-decade involvement in the conflict.

Why is Finland Joining NATO so Significant?

Finland becoming the 31st member of NATO is a significant development in the security landscape of Northern Europe. Finland, which shares a border with Russia, has traditionally pursued a policy of military non-alignment and has maintained friendly relations with both NATO and Russia.

However, in recent years, Finland has expressed concerns about Russia’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region, including its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

And with Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, the government and population of Finland were finally convinced to apply for full membership of the security alliance. Along with Sweden (who have not yet been allowed to join), they decided the benefits of NATO membership outweighed the negatives.

Joining NATO will provide Finland with a formal security guarantee from the world’s most powerful military alliance, which could act as a deterrent against any potential aggression from Russia. It will also allow Finland to participate more fully in NATO-led military operations and exercises, as well as benefit from enhanced intelligence-sharing and cooperation on cybersecurity and other security-related issues.

However, joining NATO may also have potential drawbacks for Finland, including the risk of heightened tensions with Russia and the possibility of a military confrontation. It could also strain Finland’s historically neutral stance and potentially affect its economic ties with Russia.

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Final Thought

Since the 1940s, NATO has played an important role in maintaining European security and peace. The expansion of the organisation in the 1990s and 2000s angered Russia, and perhaps was one of the motivations for the invasion of Ukraine.

Finland joining NATO is a significant development – both providing Finland with an extra layer of security and doubling NATO’s border with Russia. In the next few months and years NATO could grow even more, with the possible admission of Sweden and Ukraine.

What do you think? Is NATO still an important organisation today? Has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine given NATO renewed motivation?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

3 thoughts on “225. What is NATO? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. Hi Tom, very compliments for your usual balance talking about any topic, as well a delicate topic as the today Nato’s role, during the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
    To adding something to your article, I might tell that Nato has played not only a role against the Urss, but even a role against the communism for democracy. As you said, many countries were threatened by an ideology that was able to make turn out democratic countries into brutal dictatorships; in Italy, for instance, where we had the most powerful communist party in the western world until the fall of the Berlin wall. Since the end of the WWII Cia and Nato had settled a secret organisation, called “Stay – behind” or “Gladio” (Gladius), which if the Italian communist party took the power, it would have blew up guerrilla all around Italy. Gladio was composed by former members of the Mussolini’s army at the end of the WWII, who had lost the war but were still available to fight against communism.
    This can seem controversial, but as a great Italian man, Niccolò Macchiavelli, used to say: the aim justifies the mean. Eventually I am happy to have not lived in a communist country.

    1. I am glad to see you are living in a country that makes you happy. Although I am agreeing your narration whereas I am confused with your conclusion…I am from China, and in my opinion, both a communist country and a capitalist country could have the chance to make their people live happily. The ideology is just from human ideas, it aims for political division or alliance, and the ruling of people…For us ordinary civilians, the only measure is how the government manages our country, whatever the ideology they are believing in…Anyway, welcome to China to feel a communist country in person…

      1. Hello Leo, nice to meet you on this blog. I think that whatever we think, for us, English learners, it is a good exercise discussing about interesting topics like this. So, we have not to getting upset if we disagree each others’ ideas because we should take it only as a training.
        Firstly let me say that you are right, I do not thoroughly know Chinese reality and how communism is going on there. I would like to visit China a lot and I am pleased by your invitation. China and Italy have ancient relations. In the 13th century, the Italian (Venetian) merchant Marco Polo made an extraordinary trip to China where he became an advisor of the emperor Kublai Kan. He married one of the several emperor’s daughter who he brought in Italy when he came back. He left us a book of memories, named “il milione” (the million), as the million of amazing stuff he had seen along his trip throughout China.
        Coming back to our topic, if it is true which I do not know Chinese reality, I know how communism went on in European countries, after the WWII until 1989, where it has only created poverty and lack of civil rights, with violence, deportation and oppression for millions of people. Romania, Poland, Albany, Hungary or Eastern Germany, for instance, until the start of 90s of the last century have been very poor countries with strict police regimes, whereas the western European’s countries have been wealth and free.
        In any case your thought has a bottom of truth, each contry has its own peculiarity and it does not exist a politic system which can be suitable to any country. This was the Montesquieu’s idea, the great French philosopher, who quoted just China and Russia as instances of countries where democracy would not be able to work due to their particular history end huge dimension.
        Bye Leo, I hope to read you soon.

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