With the demise of the Soviet Union and dissolution of the Berlin wall, Europe has once again confronted a revitalized Moscow. This time, the stakes are much higher and there is more at stake than ever before. As the United States and her allies work to contain and defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country’s ambitions, European unity will be threatened if it is unable to unite itself with the United States and other great powers. When asked what they stand to gain from a new round of European integration, many answer that they stand to lose everything – including their way of life, their independence, and their historic pride.

NATO was created after the World War II to serve as an alliance of nations in Europe that were determined to remain free and democratic. It remains the cornerstone of the transatlantic community and symbol of the values so common among its countries. It is the first line of defense against Russian aggression and serves as a reminder of peace through strength. The United States and her allies provide constant and substantial military aid to NATO, and the thousands of US soldiers who spend their days training, fighting, and practicing alongside the members of the alliance are living proof that it is working.

The European Union and United States, along with their Western and Central European allies, are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. Membership in the alliance does not come without responsibilities. After joining, each nation is required to spend a specific amount of money per month on its security infrastructure, which is known as its defense budget. In addition, each country is committed to station four armies, four air force wings, and dozens of ships, submarines, and tankers in various parts of Europe, including the countries mentioned above. Each member is responsible for its own defense budget and is subject to review and approval by the North Atlantic Council, the supreme military command and power in Europe.

At the recent Wales summit, US President George W. Bush and his European counterparts discussed strategy toward a stronger Europe, with an eye to containing Russian interests in Eastern Europe, and Russia’s increasingly assertive stance in the region. While alliance with Europe is important, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Bush pursued a more aggressive approach to the alliance, arguing that the alliance was an important part of American national security. While other European leaders, led by Russia, joined the fray, President Bush opted for a more conciliatory line, calling for greater cooperation but not membership.

The European Union was quick to point out that its own development requires a large amount of US funding, especially now that it has opted to leave the euro, and that its military is less advanced than that of the United States. Russia also made harsh comments about the United States’ decision to station troops in Europe, reiterating its own ambitions to dominate the world. The United States, meanwhile, dismissed Russia’s objections as mere public rhetoric, insisting that the alliance is indeed an effective way to guarantee peace in the region. “Nato is important, but the European Union is also important,” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on a visit to Portugal. “We are not trying to rush into a commitment to every member, but we want to see what they can do for themselves.”

While some believe that the United States is too dependent upon European Union members to uphold its security obligations, other nations are fearful of Russian expansionism. In response to this problem, the alliance has put forward measures to ensure that member states remain accountable to each other. “We are pleased to see that the members of the alliance are taking the initiative and working closely together to enhance our security in Europe and around the world,” said secretary of state Hilary Clinton. “NATO is an important force to work with, but it is not optional.”