NATO’s New Momentum

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In the fall of 2021, NATO was trying to find its way. The Biden administration was trying to reestablish U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance after President Donald Trump had left it on shaky ground. The chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan didn’t help. U.S. allies felt left in the dark, their concerns barely listened to. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin was busy amassing troops on Ukraine’s border, causing neighboring countries—and NATO members—to begin to panic.

It was against this backdrop that Ambassador Julianne Smith started her new job as the top U.S. diplomat to NATO in November 2021. She worked quickly to rebuild morale and to engage with her European counterparts to plan for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. She brought years of experience in Washington to the position: during the Obama administration, she served as the acting national security adviser and the deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. Before her post at the White House, she served for three years as the principal director for European and NATO policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon.

We discuss how the U.S. government worked to build unity among its European allies in the face of Russian aggression, what it’s been like to be in NATO headquarters in Brussels during this pivotal moment in transatlantic history, and how the war in Ukraine is giving NATO a renewed sense of purpose.

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