Nato turns 70: the biggest threats facing the alliance

Boris Johnson will call for Nato unity today as international leaders gather in London for a summit marking the 70th birthday of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

Under the Nato system of collective defence, the 29 member states pledge to come to the aid of one another in the event of attacks, yet tensions have been growing between a number of these supposed allies. 

In a bid to ease the discord, the British prime minister will remind his foreign counterparts that Nato helps “keep a billion people safe” – but from what exactly?


One of the key threats facing Nato is a resurgent and expansionist Russia. Following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Moscow has consistently accused Nato of hostile action.

The military alliance has deployed an “enhanced forward presence” of more than 4,500 troops to Baltic states at the request of the home nations. The Brussels-based organisation also has a missile defence system to defend allies against ballistic missiles that might be fired by Russia or other aggressors.

But Nato is still vulnerable. A recent study by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) found that Nato forces would be “comprehensively outgunned” in any conflict with Russia in Eastern Europe, with a “critical shortage” of artillery and ammunition.

Indeed, some commentators say the involvement of the US in Nato may be the only thing stopping Russia from attempting to push out further into the Baltic states.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is blocking a Nato military plan for the Baltics and Poland unless his country receives support in its ongoing battle to repel Syrian Kurdish forces from Turkey’s borders, says The Guardian.

However, he has rejected claims that Turkey is “blackmailing” Nato.

“Nato is an institution where Turkey has full veto rights, politically and militarily, and there are procedures here,” government officials said this week. “There is no such thing as Turkey blackmailing – a statement like that is unacceptable.”

All the same, Erdogan is demanding that Europe endorse his plan for an expanded “safe zone” in northern Syria that could be home to as many as three million people, and will seek EU funding for the construction of the area.

Britain, Germany and France are critical of Turkey’s actions in Syria, but “believe it would be a major strategic blunder if the criticism caused Turkey to desert Nato”, says The Guardian.


The deteriorating security situation in the Middle East and Africa has led to an increase in migration to Nato countries in Europe.

The UN puts the number of displaced people worldwide at 70.8 million, 57% of whom come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

Nato has a role in many countries where people are fleeing conflict, war and unrest, and its presence is “crucial to restoring stability to these regions and strengthening governance”, says the Atlantic Council security think-tank.

In February 2016, at the request of Germany, Greece and Turkey, Nato joined international efforts to deal with the refugee and migrant crisis, which the alliance has described as “the worst humanitarian crisis Europe has witnessed since 1945”.


The Nato alliance is facing increasingly sophisticated and damaging cyberattacks by hostile states.

The organisation has acknowledged that “cyberattacks could be as harmful to our societies as a conventional attack” and in 2016 declared cyberspace a “domain of operations – just like air, land and sea”.

Although each member state is responsible for its own cybersecurity, Nato’s collective defence sees members sharing information and intelligence through a dedicated platform, exchanging best practice, maintaining rapid-reaction cyber-defence teams, and investing in cybersecurity education, training and exercises.


The US president has threatened to pull the US out of Nato unless the other members commit to the organisation’s  aim for each country to spend a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence.

However, Trump’s tone seemed to have softened ahead of this week’s two-day Nato summit in London. Yesterday, the president tweeted that since he took office almost three years ago, the number of Nato allies “fulfilling their obligations” has “more than DOUBLED, and NATO spending increased by $130B!”.


French President Emmanuel Macron last month claimed that Nato was suffering “brain death” and was no longer cooperating on key issues.

Macron said that the alliance must start thinking of itself strategically as a geopolitical power, or would “no longer be in control of our destiny”, The Economist reports.

But those claims have been shot down by Trump. Addressing reporters in the English capital today, the US leader said: “I heard that President Macron said that Nato was brain dead. I think that is very insulting to a lot of different forces. It has a great purpose.” 

Trump added: “It is a very, very nasty statement.” 


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