NATO marks its 75th anniversary in Brussels ceremony

From the Cold War to the war in Ukraine

NATO 75th anniversary

Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stands at the entrance to NATO headquarters in Brussels.


April 4 marked exactly 75 years since NATO was established. Then as now, it is Russia that is considered the biggest threat to the free world.

On April 4, 1949, the Atlantic Pact, NATO’s “fundamental law,” was signed by 12 countries in Washington, D.C., including Norway, to ensure a common defense against the communist Soviet Union.

The original pact agreement was flown in from Washington to Brussels to be showcased when the 75th anniversary was marked at NATO headquarters.

“NATO is founded on a simple, solemn promise: An attack on one ally is an attack on all,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “On this basis, we have built the most powerful and most successful alliance in history.”

But Russia is still the main enemy.  Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is by far the most important issue for NATO both now and probably for a long time to come.

Sense of meaning

At the same time, the war in Ukraine has led to NATO becoming bigger and stronger than ever before. After Finland and Sweden joined, the alliance now has 32 member countries. In addition, the NATO countries’ defense allocations have skyrocketed.

Almost two-thirds of countries now spend 2% or more on defense.

The war has also given the alliance a clearer focus and a sense of meaning, believes James Black from the American think tank RAND Corporation.

“NATO has gained new energy after the invasion of Ukraine,” Black said  to the AFP news agency.

“In two years, NATO has expanded, gained greater ambitions in terms of the scope of activities, and more forces in Eastern Europe,” he said.

Until now, NATO countries have sent arms and equipment worth several hundred billion kroner to Ukraine. At the same time, the alliance has pursued a delicate art of balancing to avoid being drawn directly into the conflict, for fear that Russia will resort to nuclear weapons.

However, a new plan from Stoltenberg to create a separate fund for military support for Ukraine under NATO auspices could move the alliance one step closer to war.

Increased fear

Now Russian forces are moving ever so slightly forward on the battlefield in Ukraine. A Russian victory has fueled fears that a NATO country in the east could be next on Vladimir Putin’s list.

“I don’t want to scare anyone, but war is no longer a thing of the past. The most worrying thing right now is that all scenarios are possible. We have not seen such a situation since 1945,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently.

In the background, there are also hints from, among others, French President Emmanuel Macron that it would not be unthinkable to send NATO soldiers to Ukraine.

“If the aid shrinks and Ukraine is pressured to negotiate and accept a bad peace agreement, it increases the danger of an aggressive Russia,” Black said.

Unpredictable Trump

But Putin is not the only threat hanging over NATO.

It has not been long since Donald J. Trump, who may become the next president of the United States, created a political storm with statements that the United States under his leadership will not necessarily come to the aid of a NATO ally.

“The big problem with Trump is his unpredictability,” said former NATO diplomat Camille Grand, who now works for the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations.

“It is not even necessary for the United States to withdraw from NATO. A tweet from Trump, that ‘not a single American soldier should die for an ally like Lithuania’ is all that is needed,” she said.

Stoltenberg’s last year

Although European countries have stepped up their defense budgets significantly, many believe that NATO cannot exist without the United States.

“If the United States withdraws, we will not be able to handle it,” an unnamed European diplomat told AFP.

In his anniversary speech, Stoltenberg also singled out the United States.

“The United States needs Europe. European allies multiply America’s power through military, intelligence, and diplomatic influence,” he said.

The anniversary year will also be Stoltenberg’s last as NATO chief. From October, his chair will be taken over by another.

Whether it will be the favourite, Dutch Mark Rutte, is still unclear. Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis recently threw himself into consideration for the important office.

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway