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Reliance on Alliance: NATO and the War in Ukraine

U.S. Air Force veteran Jim Gingras PhDx’24 talks about the advantages and challenges that the NATO alliance faces as it confronts Russian aggression.

For 21 years, Jim Gingras PhDx’24 had a front-row view of American foreign policy. An officer in the United States Air Force, he took on a variety of overseas assignments, serving in several NATO-allied nations. “The first half of my air force career, I served as a civil engineer,” he says, “but the second half, I served as a foreign-area officer, focused on the European region, and I served as a military diplomat in several embassies around Europe.”

In his role, Gingras saw the ways that European countries work together — or don’t — to maintain security. He also met some of the people who are playing important roles in the current war in Ukraine. “I had the distinct honor and privilege of getting to know several of the Ukrainian military attachés in London, Ankara, and Washington, DC, quite well,” Gingras says. “I was able to understand them from really a personal perspective.”

Last fall, Gingras retired from the air force and decided to pursue a new career: to earn a PhD in international relations. He returned to Wisconsin, his home state, and enrolled in the political science program at UW–Madison. 

My Chief Area of Research Is:

The NATO alliance — for me, it’s a logical step from the military to focus on military alliances, which I think are one of our greatest national security strengths. Something that needs to be better understood is how the global governance structure is proceeding when it comes to security alliances.

Tonight on The UW Now, I’ll Discuss:

Turkey, Sweden, and Germany: I’m looking at three of our NATO partners, or two NATO allies and one potential ally. It’s important to understand NATO’s response, because this has been a NATO effort to support Ukraine and to deter Russia. It’d be useful to look at Germany and how Germany has addressed this change in a massive way that I certainly didn’t expect. And then I’d like to touch on Turkey. I served in Turkey — I’ve served in four of our NATO-allied nations — and so I can speak to that from a firsthand account. Turkey, I would argue, is our most challenging ally. They’re holding up Sweden’s application. But I don’t think a lot of the listeners understand why they’re holding up the application. Turkey, Sweden, and Germany — I could go on for hours about all this.

If There’s One Thing Viewers Should Remember, It’s:

The most important thing that most Americans don’t realize is that NATO, for as flawed and difficult as it is, it is the single best military alliance in the history of humankind. Without NATO and its deterrent shield, we would not see the same kind of fight in Ukraine. That transatlantic alliance is so important for the collective security of the entire world. Without it, I guarantee we would see President Putin going a lot further than he has.

To Get Smart Fast, Read:

Now, if I’m looking for military sources, my best go-to is Defense News. They have a daily email called The Early Bird. When I was teaching at the Air Force Academy, I recommended all my students to sign up for The Early Bird, because as military officers, it’s important for them to understand what’s going on in the world. The best way to do that is to find the news articles that are related to the military or security issues.

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