How NATO’s Operations Mirror the Cold War’s Return: Insights from an Esteemed Professor at the Army War College

**Ukraine Makes Progress at NATO Summit**
The recently held NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania provided an opportunity for the alliance to reassess its purpose and structure in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. While the headlines primarily focused on Ukraine’s desire for a clear timeline for membership, there were significant achievements for the country at the summit. Germany, France, and Norway pledged increased aid to Ukraine, including tanks and missiles, which will support Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive against Russia. The summit also saw progress in Ukraine’s path to membership, with the alliance confirming its commitment and waiving the requirement for a membership action plan. Additionally, Ukraine secured commitments for nonlethal assistance and training from NATO members. Overall, Ukraine was embraced by NATO and received clear support and assistance from key alliance members.

**Sweden’s NATO Membership**
One of the significant achievements of the summit was Turkey’s decision to allow Sweden to become NATO’s 32nd member. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had initially expressed concerns about Sweden’s alleged support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group. However, Erdoğan’s opposition to Sweden’s membership was likely driven by domestic politics, specifically his bid for reelection. Once he won the election, there was no real need for him to oppose NATO membership for Sweden. This episode raises concerns about nationalist self-interest influencing NATO’s decisions in the future. However, it is important to note that NATO allies typically do not want to be isolated on key issues, and other countries, such as Hungary, swiftly signaled their support for Sweden’s membership following Erdoğan’s announcement.

**A Shift in NATO’s Defense Planning**
The NATO summit also marked a significant shift in the alliance’s defense planning approach. For the past 30 years, NATO planning focused on general threats rather than specific adversaries. However, this approach has now changed. The summit approved new defense plans that prioritize addressing clear adversaries for the protection and defense of alliance members’ security. While this shift has been underway for some time, the summit provided formal approval from heads of states. This change means that NATO is conducting its business more like it did during the Cold War. The summit communiqué identified Russia as the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and emphasized the ongoing threat of terrorism. While the growing military threat from China is a concern, it is not identified as a primary military threat to NATO nations. Rather, NATO views China’s threat primarily in cyberspace and space-based operations. However, NATO remains open to engagement with China.

In conclusion, the NATO summit in Vilnius saw progress for Ukraine, with commitments for increased aid and support from key alliance members. Sweden also achieved membership after Turkey’s opposition was overturned, highlighting the potential influence of nationalist self-interest in NATO’s decisions. The summit also marked a shift in NATO’s defense planning, with a renewed focus on clear adversaries for the protection and defense of alliance members.

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