In the past two months, much of the world has been turned on its heels and our normal way of living was disrupted. While nations have been throwing their full weight behind responding to COVID-19, Russia continues to devote its time and resources to spreading disinformation.
During this time, Putin continues to leverage social media and his personally created media outlet, Russia Today, now known as RT, to spread disinformation. His goal is to confuse the public by spreading multiple, provocative stories that create disharmony and delegitimize organizations that Putin considers a threat. Putin’s targets consist of any group that threatens him, which include: The United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union and the World Health Organization.
NATO specifically has always been a favorite target of Russia since NATO was created to counter communism. Today, Putin is leveraging the COVID-19 crisis to make NATO look weak, corrupt and unable to respond to the pandemic. Russia Today has fabricated stories and rumors that imply NATO cannot survive this pandemic, sowing doubt in the citizens and elected officials of Europe and North America. As a result, questions in America have been raised that ask, where is NATO during this pandemic?
As a member of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, I have the honor of working alongside members of parliament from partner nations to provide oversight of NATO’s continuous operations. The simple answer is NATO has been actively engaged, supporting the medical response for its partner nations collectively.
Like the US military, NATO has significant resources it can leverage to respond to logistical and manpower shortfalls -- capabilities that many partner nations could not manage alone. During the past month, NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) and Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) initiatives are a few examples that demonstrate how NATO can expeditiously acquire and distribute medical supplies around the world to where they are needed most.
Since the pandemic started, NATO has transported hundreds of tons of medical supplies that were donated and delivered between nations, like Turkey providing excess equipment to Italy, Spain and the Balkans. NATO also picked up medical supplies from as far as China and distributed them to nine different member nations. NATO ground forces have been augmenting hospital staffs, providing ambulatory services and disinfecting public areas throughout Europe.
Even in the beginning of the pandemic millions of COVID-19 test swabs were flown from Italy to the United States to help expand medical testing. However, that ceased as the Trump administration chose to take an “America Alone” approach to foreign policy and COVID-19. The Administration’s missteps stem in its flawed assessment that the costs of working in the NATO alliance exceed the benefits America will receive.
The administration’s flawed assessment stems from their ignorance of the NATO Alliance’s 70-year history and the enormous value it has provided the United States.
After NATO’s inception in 1949 and as Europe recovered from World War II, partner NATO nations sent more than 35,000 troops to Korea to support its American partner in combating communist aggression from North Korea, Russia and China. Nearly 50 years later, in 2001, NATO stood arm-in-arm with America after 9/11, invoking Article 5 for the first time, which says an attack against one is an attack against all.
In direct support of America, NATO allies sent 40,000 troops to Afghanistan to help defeat Al-Qaeda, and later 60,000 troops to Iraq. These are contributions that America could not have summoned alone as demonstrated by the heavy strain both wars placed on our military. Without NATO, progress bringing security and democracy to both nations would have been further delayed.
Today, NATO remains actively engaged around the world. It has led actions in Kosovo and Libya that prevented genocides and other human atrocities. Nineteen years after 9/11, NATO partners make up half the allied forces in Afghanistan, along with 5,000 troops training the Iraq military and repressing ISIS. They have quickly adapted their focus, helping the Iraqi and Afghani armies protect themselves from COVID-19.
NATO’s resources and continued efforts will be critical in helping North America and Europe recover from COVID-19 and begin to restore normalcy to our daily lives. Once that happens, our economies can continue to thrive in the interconnected economy that has enabled the world to collectively expand for the past 11 years.
As we have seen time and again, as a community, as a country and as a civilization, we are better together than divided.