By Alex Bregman
President Trump had his first meeting with the secretary-general of NATO, during which he voiced an apparent change of heart on the historic alliance from his days of bashing it on the campaign trail. He said at his joint press conference on Wednesday, “I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.”
So what is NATO, anyway?
It stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, founded as part of an alliance created in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II.
Twelve nations signed the original treaty, whose goal was to deter the Soviet Union from attacking Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union, former republics such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have joined NATO.
Today the number of nations has grown to 28, comprising a total population of more than 900 million people.
President Trump recently approved a 29th country, Montenegro, to join NATO, something that has to be approved by every other member as well.
Needless to say, Russia views NATO as a direct threat, and many believe the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO to be the reason behind Vladimir Putin’s aggressive action there.
So what does being member of NATO get you?
The most significant part of the alliance can be found in Article V, which states that an attack against one member is an attack on all members.
Headquartered in Brussels, NATO also has its own active armed forces.
The only time that collective defense has been invoked was after the September 11 attacks, when NATO forces were deployed in Afghanistan.
How does this all get paid for?
Well members are supposed to contribute at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
However, only 5 of the 28 nations live up to their part of the bargain, a fact that President Trump has repeatedly criticized both on the campaign trail and while in office. He reiterated his concerns at a press conference on Wednesday: “If other countries make their fair share, instead of relying on the United States to make up the difference, we will all be much more secure, and our partnership will be made that much stronger.”
For now, President Trump says he’s standing by the historic alliance. When it comes to what that alliance is and how it was formed, at least you can say, now I get it.