As noted in Part One of this two-part series, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will open a summit this week in Wales. Among the issues at the forefront of debate, discussion, and strategizing sessions at the summit will obviously be the degeneration of security in Eastern Ukraine and, specifically, the influence of the Russian government in facilitating the unrest and fomenting insurrection. USA Today characterized the summit as, “The most important since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

As NATO has evolved from its original mission of collective defense to its post-Cold War collective security focus and back to collective defense following the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001, strategists and policymakers guiding the focus of NATO have worked diligently at alternate times to sustain the relevancy of the alliance.

This diligence has been often focused upon anticipating the next threat that NATO may be tasked with meeting and defeating while also remaining malleable enough to adjust to an unanticipated threat or attack. The issue of battling to maintain stability in Northern Iraq is best characterized as a collective security mission.

While an argument can be made that the intensifying capacity of the Islamic State (IS) to wage war in the region  threatens the security of a member-state (Turkey), the mission in Kurdish Northern Iraq is more appropriately characterized as one of ensuring lasting security in a region of vital interest to the individual member-states of the Atlantic Alliance. At the present time, Turkey is not directly threatened by the IS and so the role of NATO in the crisis is (presently) at best a collective security issue.

The ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine is an entirely different problem for the alliance. While debate on enlarging NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia has often elicited saber rattling from Moscow and apprehension from some member-state leaders, the instability festering in Eastern Ukraine continues to be a threat to spread to member-states, specifically those with significant ethnic Russian minority populations: The Atlantic Alliance member-states of Estonia,Latvia, and Lithuania as well as the threat to non-member state Moldova.

This degradation of security in Eastern Europe, highlighted by both the present conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the threat of wider insurrection and fracturing of the territorial integrity of Moldova makes the issue of enlarging the Atlantic Alliance a complex and difficult one for NATO strategists.

While many observers claim that the previous iterations of enlargement in 1999, 2004, and 2009 unnecessarily antagonized Russia and perhaps catalyzed blow back in the form of a reborn imperialist Russian foreign policy supported by an escalating Russian nationalist movement, many others claim that to maintain order in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, NATO must expand to place the former Warsaw Pact member-states firmly under the protective umbrella of NATO membership.

There are good arguments for both perspectives on NATO enlargement but the argument over the potential enlargement of the alliance has never been as hotly debated as it is at the present moment.