NATO’s Chamberlain Moment

With the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine, the necessity of NATO for the security of Europe is clear. However, the invasion of Ukraine has also proven (again) that Russia has little regard for geopolitical norms and that our liberal order of sovereign nations is not as secure as originally believed. 

History has shown that authoritarian leaders with imperialist tendencies and delusions of lost national grandeur, such as Vladimir Putin, are unlikely to stop at one territory or country. Indeed, the Ukrainian people are not the first to be victims of Russian aggression, nor will they be the last. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania may follow soon

As the United Kingdom and the United States affirmed in the Atlantic Charter, “Freedom and independence are today in jeopardy the world over. If the forces of conquest are not successfully resisted and defeated there will be no freedom, no independence, and no opportunity for freedom for any nation.” Given the clear and present danger that Russia presents to the freedom of sovereign people in Europe, the need for a strong NATO alliance is necessary now more than ever. There are several ways in which the position of NATO can be bolstered against further Russian belligerence. 

First, NATO must do everything within its power to punish Russia for its invasion, short of direct military involvement against Russia. Every sanction must be levied against Russia. Not a single Russian export should be allowed into NATO, and allied countries outside of the alliance must be pressured to follow suit. This includes Russian fuel. Europe made a grave mistake depending on Russia for energy, and the time for European energy independence was yesterday. Not a single cent should be allowed in or out of the country. Additionally, kick Russia out of every international organization that NATO can pull weight in. They must be made a pariah on the world stage. Finally, support Ukraine in its struggle for freedom with humanitarian aid and supplying lethal weapons. 

By following these steps, NATO can send a powerful message that they will not tolerate direct or indirect threats to member states. An attack on a sovereign European nation is an unprecedented threat to the security of NATO, even if that country is outside of the alliance. 

Second, the principle of collective security must be reinforced by increased NATO members’ military spending across the board, except the United States, which already spends far more than its fair share. According to NATO’s annual report, “In 2020, the United States accounted for 53% of the Allies’ combined Gross Domestic Product and 71% of combined defense expenditure.” While American military spending should not decrease, other members should increase their spending to achieve a more proportionate share of total combined spending to total combined GDP. 

This military spending increase by other countries would serve two main goals. First, it would increase the material ability of NATO as a whole to respond to active threats if Article 5 is invoked by a member state. Additionally, if each state spends the NATO-recommended amount of 2% of GDP on defense, individual states can more effectively respond to immediate threats prior to the invocation of Article 5. Second, it would send a message to NATO’s potential enemies, namely Russia, that each and every member is dedicated to the mission of NATO and the principle of collective defense. Essentially, increased spending leads to increased deterrence of messaging and the threat of retaliation against conventional invasion. 

Third, Article 5 is NATO’s most powerful deterrent against an attack on a member of the alliance. However, warfare in modern times has become increasingly unconventional with the advent of cyberwarfare. In particular, Russia has shown a strong propensity to use cyber attacks as a means to augment its conventional tactics. With an extreme reliance on computer systems for a functioning society and government, these kinds of cyberattacks are a serious potential threat to NATO states. Many of these states have already suffered from breaches of security as a result of attempted cyber hacks and election influence campaigns, suspected to originate from Russia.

To prevent this threat, I believe expanding Article 5 to include cyber attacks serves to further reinforce the security of democracy and prevent crippling attacks from taking place. A policy of tit-for-tat cyber retaliation would go a long way in shoring up NATO’s deterrence factor for the modern era. Additionally, to ensure there is a unified front against cyber threats, member-states should contribute more to NATO’s direct fund. This additional money could go directly to NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence to increase its ability to respond to state-sponsored and rogue cyber operations, in addition to training member-states. This, combined with the expansion of Article 5, would serve to dramatically increase NATO’s ability to deter, detect, and respond to increasing levels of cyber threats.

Finally, NATO’s main nuclear deterrence ability comes from America’s nuclear arsenal. Our country needs to prioritize the modernization of our nuclear triad for the benefit of both our and Europe’s security. First, the United States must pursue expansion of its nuclear arsenal to continue to be able to deter both Russia and China. Russia currently has more nuclear warheads than the United States and China’s arsenal grows ever-closer to having first-strike capability. The United States must be an equivalent power against both Russia and China. This expansion, coupled with the needed modernization of aging ICBMS, planned procurement of Columbia-class nuclear submarines, and current development of the B-21 stealth bomber, will contribute to a more credible deterrent. ICBMs are a valuable part of the nuclear triad, and we need to make sure that they continue to be a deterrent as they age against newer Russian and Chinese weapons. 

In addition to strategic capability, the United States must develop more advanced tactical nuclear weapons. Especially in the recent invasion of Ukraine, the threat of Russian deployment of tactical nuclear weapons looms large. If America were to develop similar weapons, the US could respond to Russian deployment in a targeted and proportionate manner which would prevent further escalation. More tactical nuclear weapons should be stationed in European countries where they will send a message about our willingness to maintain response capability. 

While it is unlikely that NATO will engage in a Chamberlain-esque appeasement of Russia, the invasion of Ukraine still represents a watershed moment for the alliance. Failing to both take decisive action against Russian aggression and bolster NATO’s conventional and nuclear arsenal would follow the same vein as Chamberlain’s infamous Munich Agreement and “Peace for our time” speech. Like the courageous Ukrainians fighting Russian forces, NATO must now stand stronger than ever before for the security and future of a free Europe. 

Trevor MacKay is Publication Director of the Beacon and a freshman in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History. Contact him at