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NATO is marking 75 years since its founding after the end of World War II

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NATO is marking 75 years since its founding. It started as a U.S.-led alliance to protect European allies against the Soviet Union, and today it remains an alliance that worries about Russia.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The alliance has grown from just a dozen members in 1949 to 32 today, including Sweden, which is attending its first meeting as a full member this morning.

INSKEEP: Teri Schultz is covering this moment from Brussels. Hi there, Teri.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How is NATO marking 75?

SCHULTZ: Well, there've been some commemorative events at NATO headquarters. For example, here's what "The NATO Hymn" sounds like, which was played this morning to kick off the ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF ANDRE REICHLING'S "THE NATO HYMN")

SCHULTZ: But given the state of global affairs, I wouldn't say there's a very celebratory air. It's pretty solemn. Center stage was given to countries which joined in the last couple of decades, some of which were forcibly occupied by the Soviet Union for more than half of NATO's 75 years of existence...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

SCHULTZ: ...As they dreamed of being part of the West. And you can hear that in the words of Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RADEK SIKORSKI: When NATO was founded, my country, Poland, was trapped on the wrong side. Communist Soviet domination meant that if it came to war, Polish soldiers would have had to obey the orders of our enemies in order to fight our friends.

SCHULTZ: And the ministers of other countries that felt trapped behind the Iron Curtain expressed similar feelings and gratitude at being protected by the military alliance now.

INSKEEP: In those years, it was obvious what the purpose of NATO was. Then, the Soviet Union fell - you know this history - and Russia seemed less of a threat, even seemed like it was joining the democratic order, and people wondered if there was any point in NATO. I assume that recent events have shown the relevance again.

SCHULTZ: Sure. We heard a lot of those comments in years past. And I don't think this is the way anyone would have wanted it to happen, but it's certainly the case that NATO has become more important again. And you don't need to look any further than the latest two countries which joined NATO - Finland last year and Sweden just last month. They would have remained neutral or militarily nonaligned had Russia not launched this full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. I lived many years in Finland in the '90s, and you couldn't even bring up membership in NATO...

INSKEEP: Wow.

SCHULTZ: ...Much less hear Finnish diplomats criticize the Kremlin. But now listen to Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen arriving for today's ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELINA VALTONEN: NATO represents the freedom to choose, and I think that is very well manifested in the fact how Sweden and Finland, the most recent members, joined NATO just recently. Democratic nations, free people chose to join, unlike how Russia expands by aggression or by illegal annexation.

INSKEEP: Well, when you say aggression or illegal annexation, that takes you right to Ukraine. Any chance, any way that Ukraine could join NATO?

SCHULTZ: Yes, there is a chance. And Ukraine has been promised it will join NATO, Steve. But what it would really like is to be offered that opportunity at NATO's summit in Washington coming up in July, and that's not going to happen. What ministers will discuss today is a new five-year plan and a 100 billion euro fund to try to reassure Ukraine while it waits for that offer.

INSKEEP: Teri Schultz, thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

SCHULTZ: A pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: Teri Schultz is in Brussels for the 75th anniversary of NATO. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Teri Schultz