With tensions rising between east and west once more, today we’re taking a look at how new nations can join NATO, and why they might even be interested in doing so in the first place. Welcome to this episode of the infographics show, How can a nation join NATO?

First though, what is NATO exactly?

In the last months of World War II, with a German defeat looming, the United States began to consider the future of Europe. For centuries, Europe had been a hotbed of warfare, with different political alliances forming, splintering, and re-forming in war after devastating war. Wary of European aggression and being dragged into yet a third World War, the United States began to consider plans to ensure long-term stability and peace in Europe.

At war’s end, and with the near-collapse of the European economy, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan, named after Secretary of State George Marshall. The Marshall Plan would allocate $12 billion dollars- or $154 billion in today’s dollars- to the reconstruction of Europe. Yet with tensions rising between Western Europe and the Soviet Union and its communist satellite states, a great deal of reconstruction aid promised to the Soviet Union during the war was never realized, leaving Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin furious at America’s broken promises. Threatened by what he saw as closer cooperation between Western Europe and the US, Stalin implemented the Berlin Blockade in 1948, cutting off Berlin from the West. Only with a massive airlift effort coordinated by the US to deliver food and supplies to the german citizens in Berlin was war between east and west averted.

Yet the specter of war loomed large, and amidst the threat of new conflict, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg signed the Brussels Treaty in March 1948, assuring collective defense between the nations should any one of them be attacked. Not long after, President Truman began to pitch to the American congress the idea of a peacetime military alliance with Europe, which quickly gathered support. Thus, in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, committing the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom to a mutual defense treaty- an attack on one would be considered an attack on all.

Since its original signing in 1949, NATO would grow to 29 countries, including: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and of course the United States. Outside of member states, NATO also holds close partnerships with a number of different nations, from Armenia and Austria, to Kazakhstan and the Ukraine.

So, with nearly a dozen countries vying to join NATO, what then does it take to join the world’s most powerful military and political alliance?

First, nations seeking membership are voted upon by current NATO members, allowing existing members a chance to express their concerns over a new nation’s joining- such as is the case currently with Ukraine and Georgia, both NATO partners who are seeking full-fledged membership. The US, Great Britain and France have all expressed concern about admitting these two nations for fear of further inflaming tensions with Russia, who vehemently opposes the expansion of NATO- specifically to nations on its own doorstep. As the alliance’s primary purpose is to prevent war, not start one, a nation’s membership can be delayed indefinitely pending global politics.

Yet should a nation be accepted into the membership process, NATO analysts then assign each applicant nation a Membership Action Plan (or MAP)- a series of military, political, economic and legal criteria that must be met for membership. Each MAP has five chapters: political and economic issues, defense and military issues, resource issues, security issues, and legal issues, yet there is no set formula and each plan is uniquely tailored to individual nations.

The first chapter of a MAP- political and economic issues- requires candidate nations to firstly have a stable and democratic system of government and establish civilian control of the armed forces. Along with the prerequisite for democracy, a nation must show a strong commitment to the rule of law and human rights- despots need not apply. It also requires a nation have friendly relations with its neighbors and identifies any existing territorial and ethnic disputes, and demands that they be settled peacefully.

The second chapter of a Membership Action Plan- defense and military issues- requires nations to reform their armed forces to NATO standards. While it doesn’t require an exact mirroring of NATO military structure, it does mean that a nation’s armed forces must have an established chain of command free of corruption. Chapter two also calls for a nation to allocate a set minimum of its annual budget to defense spending in order to contribute to the robust defensive capabilities of the alliance.

Chapter three of a MAP- resource management- calls for a nation to ensure its own stability via resource and energy security. An aspiring nation must have a stable domestic or foreign source of the basic resources of modern civilization and the ability to reliably provide for its own long-term energy needs.

Chapters four and five- legal and security issues- requires a nation to rework its national legislation to accommodate the requirements of NATO alliance, chiefly the commitment to war on occasion of an attack against a member nation. It also requires that a nation’s government infrastructure be up to NATO standards to ensure the security of classified information shared between member states and necessary for the proper functioning of the alliance.

A Membership Action Plan thus paves the road for NATO membership, but achieving the goals set forth in a MAP can be tricky and sometimes take a decade or more to achieve, such as in the case of Montenegro. Even then, a nation on NATO’s fringes and hoping to join the alliance can find itself under indirect attack by Russian sources, who see the expansion of NATO as a direct threat to its own security and ability to exert its influence on the world stage. Once more, in the case of Montenegro, an attempted government coup on the eve of it joining the alliance was traced back to Russian intelligence operatives, and had they been successful, its planned ascension to NATO in 2017 would have been reversed by the new, pro-Kremlin government.

With such blatant manipulation of non-allied nations, those on the outside have been increasingly looking to join. Sweden, a historically neutral nation, shocked the world recently by announcing that it was strongly considering joining NATO as either a full or partial member. In response, Russia immediately began flights of nuclear bombers to Sweden’s borders, and even dispatched attack subs to inside Swedish territorial waters all in a bid to intimidate the nation. With the stage set for a new East versus West showdown, perhaps it is time to expand NATO after all- European history has shown for centuries that the only deterrent to war on the continent has always been strong political and military alliances.

So, should NATO risk raising Russia’s ire further by expanding to include more European nations? With other countries around the world like Japan, Singapore and even Columbia all expressing interest in membership, should NATO expand outside of the Atlantic? Could a global network of allied, democratic nations set the stage for a more peaceful and prosperous future for all? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! Also, check out our other video, Why Did the soviet union fail. Thanks for watching and as always, don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time!

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