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What does NATO stand for, and which nations belong to the alliance?

Sweden has taken a significant step toward joining NATO, as the Turkish parliament has approved its membership. The military defense organization, which includes countries from Europe and North America, is expanding its membership and strengthening its defenses in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO, short for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was established in 1949 by 12 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, and France. Its primary objective was to counter the expansion of the Soviet Union, a coalition of states that included Russia. The alliance stipulates that if one member is attacked, all others should provide assistance, potentially involving the use of armed force.

While NATO does not maintain its own army, member nations can engage in collective military action during crises, coordinating military plans and conducting joint exercises. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, NATO identified it as the “most significant and direct threat to allies’ security.”

NATO currently consists of 31 members spanning Europe and North America. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, several Eastern European countries joined, including Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

In May 2022, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership, expressing security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland, with a substantial border with Russia, became a NATO member in April 2023. On January 23, the Turkish parliament approved Sweden’s membership, pending approval from Hungary’s parliament.

Notably, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Georgia, are also aspiring to join NATO. The organization has expressed that Ukraine can become a member but has not specified a timeline. Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg informed Ukrainian President Zelensky in May 2023 that Ukraine’s accession would be a long-term process.

While NATO has not collectively supplied weapons to Ukraine, individual member countries like the US, UK, Germany, and Turkey have provided anti-tank weapons, missile defense systems, artillery guns, tanks, and military drones. The organization has refrained from deploying troops to Ukraine or imposing a no-fly zone to avoid direct conflict with Russia.

To enhance its defenses against Russia, NATO commanders have devised plans to counter potential Russian attacks in various regions. The Steadfast Defender exercise, scheduled for February 2024, will be one of NATO’s largest military exercises since the Cold War’s conclusion, involving 90,000 personnel from all 31 NATO countries, including Sweden. The alliance has also increased the number of troops on high alert in Europe from 40,000 to over 300,000 and reinforced defenses on its eastern flank bordering Russia. Additionally, several NATO countries have augmented their military budgets, with some exceeding the 2% of national income threshold recommended by the alliance.

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