NATO Collective Defense: The Human Aspect

By THO Program Associate, Emily Benson

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in catastrophic humanitarian and refugee crises. While NATO member states have contributed military aid (no boots on the ground) to Ukraine, Article 5 (Collective Defense) has not been enacted. Extensive care and attention has been given to Ukrainian citizens impacted by the invasion by states neighboring Ukraine, from vast humanitarian relief to opening borders for refugees. This piece will detail how NATO member states have collectively placed emphasis on the individuals affected by the crisis, while still supporting Ukraine militarily. It will also discuss the human aspect of the crisis, and what NATO is and should be doing to protect and empower Ukrainian citizens.

NATO members and partners have been diligently donating aid, creating Russian sanctions and showing solidarity to Ukraine since the outbreak of the war. These actions are of paramount importance to creating stability in Ukraine, and allowing Ukrainians the opportunity to rebuild. According to OCHA, over 12 million Ukrainians have been displaced either within Ukraine or across international borders. I will detail various NATO member states and what they are doing to distribute aid to Ukrainian citizens. The recent NATO Summit in Brussels detailed the ways in which Allies are contributing to general relief efforts, as well as future plans for political and military endeavors.

The United States is contributing financial, military and humanitarian aid towards Ukraine. President Biden stated that the US will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees who have been displaced due to the conflict. President Biden spoke directly with President Zelenskyy in March to discuss how the United States will continue to deliver the necessary military aid and support that Ukraine needs, as well as an additional aid package of $500 million. Canada is sending “lethal military weaponry” and giving Ukraine a loan of $394 million for defense expenditure. The Canadian government has also contributed $145 million to be allocated to the humanitarian crisis.

The neighboring states of Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania have immediately stood in solidarity with Ukraine. All have welcomed large waves of those fleeing the conflict, with Poland opening its borders to 2,336,799 Ukrainian refugees as of March 29. Romania is accepting wounded Ukrainians across 11 military hospitals, as well as contributing $3.3 million worth of military equipment sent to Ukraine. The aid given by Ukraine’s neighbors is directly related to the individuals affected by the crisis, while aid given by other countries has been on a larger scale with military or financial means.

The European Union has allocated $502 million (450 million euros) worth of military weapons to Ukraine. The EU holds various NATO member states, and for the sake of this piece I will refer to the EU as a whole instead of each individual nation. This is a monumental decision, as this is the first time the EU has contributed aid at this level to another nation. The EU has also granted Ukrainian refugees the ability to live and work for up to three years within any of its member states. The United Kingdom is utilizing the World Bank to contribute $100 million to Ukraine, with the aim to keep the state operational during the crisis. This contribution is significant, as those who have been unable to relocate to safety need support to maintain a semblance of normalcy.

While these are only a few of the nations that have contributed to Ukrainian relief, it is important to highlight the collective spirit that is present in the individual endeavors to help mitigate and support the Ukrainian people during this crisis. The aid that has been distributed in the form of military weaponry could be viewed as a defensive measure, by doing so arming the Ukrainian military to best meet Russian aggression.

NATO Collective Defense exists to support Allies in times of crises, and by the responses of Allies and partner nations, goes far beyond military capabilities. The humanitarian aid that has been given by NATO Allies to the Ukrainian people is of paramount significance, as well as the financial contributions being allocated to Ukraine in its rebuild.The Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in a staggering humanitarian and refugee crisis, with millions of Ukrainians being displaced and fleeing to safety. Though there has not been direct military intervention by NATO in the form of boots on the ground, NATO Allies have shown their solidarity with Ukraine by contributing different forms of aid such as financial, military weaponry and refuge for those displaced. Though Article 5 has not been formally enacted, it is evident by the immediate and ongoing response by the international community that NATO Allies are acting with a “spirit of solidarity” and a commitment to bring about peace in Europe.

This “spirit of solidarity” is evident in how NATO members and partners have dedicated time and attention to victims of war crimes in Ukraine, as well as the millions that have been displaced due to the conflict. NATO’s policy of protecting human security during times of conflict comes into play here, as the disruption of Ukrainian human security is at the core of this crisis. The reality of this crisis is that millions of Ukrainian citizens have been deeply affected by Russia’s invasion; according to OCHA, over 12 million Ukrainians have been displaced either within Ukraine or across international borders. A large percentage of aid that is being provided by NATO members and partners needs to be allocated to Ukrainians in order to rebuild.

At the NATO Summit in Brussels in March 2022, NATO leaders released a statement where they expressed concern and alarm for instances of sexual violence and human trafficking against Ukrainian citizens. Human Rights Watch has confirmed that concern, reporting cases of “...unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians.” Leaders ardently condemned and assigned full blame to Russia in their press release. The international community needs to be aware that those concerns of sexual violence are a reality for Ukrainian citizens who were unable to flee the conflict.

The upcoming Madrid Summit will broach the next NATO Strategic Concept that the Alliance will implement and strive toward. In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO’s priorities and ambitions need to include the protection and mitigation of individuals who are unwilling participants of a large-scale violent conflict. The current NATO 2030 Strategic Concept is dedicated toward creating a stronger and more cohesive Alliance that is able to confidently face future threats and challenges. This is the “spirit of solidarity” that needs to continue on into the next Strategic Concept, with an emphasis on how mass military and political violence affects communities of people on the individual level. While NATO is not a humanitarian organization, it would benefit from emphasizing the human aspect of the political and military policies that are implemented during times of crisis. While the military and political policies that are being endorsed by NATO and the international community are necessary on a macro-level to mitigate future threats, there needs to be diplomatic and humanitarian policies to address the millions of civilians who have been subjected to mass displacement, violence and life in a war-zone.

NATO involvement cannot be strictly on a military and political level, but needs to be on an individual human level. The military and financial aid previously mentioned is but one way in which NATO members and partners need to act collectively to help Ukraine rebuild in the wake of the devastation they have endured. NATO’s emphasis on human security is vital in mitigating further Ukrainian pain and suffering; a policy focusing on individuals and how to support them in times of conflict needs to be enacted. The Ukrainian crisis could be seen as beyond the scope of a traditional NATO understanding of human security, though these extreme circumstances warrant the same NATO involvement and attention dedicated to Ukrainian citizens. It is indicative by NATO’s solidarity with Ukraine that citizenship within a NATO nation is not a prerequisite for the international community to protect those affected by egregious violent conflict.