EDITORIAL: At 70, NATO is more important than ever against Russian threat
Originally published in the Dallas Morning News
Seventy years of peace and prosperity in Europe are the result of the success of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Four years after the deadliest conflict in human history that claimed tens of millions of lives, leaders in the United States worked with our allies to invest in collective security to prevent the Cold War with Russia from becoming a third devastating world war. In 1949, these efforts resulted in NATO.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reminded us recently in an address to a joint session of Congress that President Truman saw NATO as "a shield against aggression and the fear of aggression ... which will permit us to get on with the real business of government and society, the business of achieving a fuller and happier life for all our citizens." This shield remains indispensable to the almost 1 billion people living in NATO's 29 member states, in cities from Los Angeles to London and from Tallinn, Estonia, to Thessaloniki, Greece.
On its 70th anniversary, NATO remains more important than ever to the security of the free world because Russia still poses a threat to the alliance. Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to invade sovereign democracies formerly under the heel of Soviet communism, as it did in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Additionally, Moscow has undertaken deliberate and coordinated influence campaigns to interfere with democratic institutions and elections across Europe, from Britain and France to Montenegro and Moldova, not to mention their meddling in U.S. elections in 2016. Finally, the Russian military and hacker community conduct thousands of cyberattacks each year on NATO members and have demonstrated their ability to use hybrid warfare effectively, which combines disinformation, covert operations and cyberattacks with military force.
Through military exercises and forward deployments in Eastern Europe, the United States and our NATO allies have demonstrated our shared resolve against the aggressive ambitions of Vladimir Putin. This includes a stronger commitment by our allies to provide for their own defense. As an organization, NATO has limited resources: It spends each year what the Pentagon spends in a day. But, collectively, our other Alliance partners have spent more than $2.8 trillion on defense in the last decade, with spending increasing for the fourth straight year in 2018. This is encouraging progress that increases the resources and capabilities of NATO militaries as we face shared security threats.
While NATO has been successful in bringing countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain into the alliance, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Heather Conley recently explained to the House Intelligence Committee that our work is not finished when these countries join NATO. These new partner nations still face Russian influence operations and military threats every day, and we must work closely with them to prevent setbacks in their progress toward full integration into the alliance.
NATO also cannot forget about nations that aspire to join the alliance and help protect its shared values. During trips to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, I have seen firsthand the aspirations of pro-European leaders and the threats these countries face daily from Russian interference in their media and elections. The U.S., NATO and E.U. must continue to work together to help these countries strengthen their institutions and deter further Russian aggression.
As we reflect on what NATO has accomplished, it is important to remember the foundation of our commitment to each other. The bedrock agreement of NATO is Article Five of its founding treaty, the commitment that an attack against one ally is an attack against all. In NATO's entire history, 9/11 was the first and only time the alliance invoked Article Five. In America's darkest hour, every member of NATO answered the call to fight terror at home and abroad.
As a CIA officer in Afghanistan, I served side-by-side with NATO forces in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and I saw their professionalism and dedication firsthand. These brave men and women fought to protect their nations and ways of life. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice: more than 1,000 NATO soldiers died fighting alongside American forces in Afghanistan.
In the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, some have questioned why NATO remains relevant to security and prosperity in a 21st century. Afghanistan epitomizes the commitment of NATO countries to their friends in the post-Cold War era and why the Alliance remains important today.
Congress has consistently shown its support for NATO. Just this year, multiple pieces of bipartisan legislation have reaffirmed U.S. support for NATO, including the NATO Support Act led by my friend Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-California, which passed overwhelmingly in the House. NATO is one of the few issues that unites members of Congress from every part of America, regardless of party or ideology.
We must continue this important work because peace does not just happen: it must be fought for and earned. To ensure we have 70 more years of peace and prosperity, the U.S. and our transatlantic partners must remain committed to our shared values and goals.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is a Republican representing San Antonio in the U.S. Congress. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.