The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed on April 4th, 1949. In some ways, it is the real beginning of the Cold War; at the time of the formation, Stalin was alive and as well as he ever was, the Berlin blockade was heating up, and the narrative had completely changed from being anti-Fascist and German to anti-Communist, and by extension anti-Russian. Twelve countries joined NATO originally; Greece and Turkey, despite ancient enmity, joined in '52, and West Germany, completing the cycle of change, joined in 1955. In response to the absorption of West Germany by NATO, and, ideologically the West, the Warsaw Pact was formed as a direct Soviet counterweight.
Certainly it aligned groups of countries in mutual defense treaties, essentially forcing countries to choose their side; S.E.A.T.O. did the same towards the east, with many countries in the Pacific allying themselves in just the same way with the United States. But the creation of these treaties did as much on the logistical level as they did on the ideological level, and maybe more so: no more did new small arms development center around whatever cartridge the country chose. Rather, to eliminate supply problems across the countries who had aligned themselves, certain calibers were designated “NATO calibers” and after a certain point – usually by the first generation of weapons developed after the war, but sometimes a bit later – more or less all of NATO used the 5.56 NATO (also called the .223 round, although there are some slight differences); the 7.62 NATO, which differs from the Warsaw Pact 7.62…the 9X19mm NATO pistol round, often and previously referred to as the 9mm Parabellum, and more: here is a list of the basic NATO calibers, including cannon and howitzer rounds:
o 25×137mm and 25×184mm, both of the 25 mm caliber
o 30×113mmB, 30×173mm (STANAG 4624), both of the 30 mm caliber
o 35x228mm, see 30 mm caliber
Tank guns and artillery
o 155 mm
The Warsaw Pact had a similar, if not quite as extensive scheme. But while the theme of NATO was military defense and mutual protection of the signatory countries, the logistical problems that standardization of allied arms solved were likely just as big a boost to the power of the treaty and the countries who were signatories. Resupplying an American infantry unit trapped with an airborne unit from the French Foreign Legion could be done without sorting, fumbling, SNAFUs of all military varieties and much, much cursing by the NCO's trying to undo what the officers did. Le Clarion – “the bugle” - is what the French soldiers call their standard rifle, a bullpup (magazine behind the grip and trigger assembly) assault rifle; it is chambered in 5.56 NATO. So are the M-4's or M-16 variants carried by the Americans (and so many others), and the British L1A1. The same is true for the larger 7.62 x 51, which our light machine guns fire; so do those of the Belgians, who make many of them, and the British, the French, the Germans…
Wars, generally, are won by less than gallant things: supply and logistics are the engines that keep armies moving, even when the individual heroic exploits of Audie Murphy make better stories than recounting the entire tale of how we kept the soldiers supplied during WW2. Goering's failed promise to resupply the Wehrmacht by air caused the loss of Stalingrad, and by extension the entire Eastern Front; our ability, just a few years later, and under admittedly less onerous conditions, to keep Berlin supplied by air - the famous Berlin airlift – was the first substantial blow we traded with the USSR in the longest war…the Cold War, fought by proxy armies, by assassin's bullets, by victories of morale, and eventually by the most potent of weapons: money, when Reagan bankrupted the “Evil Empire,” not so long before our friends, and caused them to get involved in an unsustainable arms race that caused them to build bullets and not bread, widely causing disruption of civilian life, and thus the end of the great standoff.
That is the lesson: the real hero of the war is the supply genius, making sure that proper gun lubricant reaches a SpecOps forward operating base regularly, along with the other mundane things that keep men active and alive on the battlefield.
We just sent some 800 million dollars worth of materiel to Ukraine. Much of it was small arms and small arms resupply; even 400 shotguns, useful in very particular military situations were sent, and that is the kind of thing that shows that somewhere, some smart supply gunnery sergeant or senior NCO of the other services, a guy who has been on the ground and seen the elephant, sat back and thought about what the needs of the guy on the ground. Too bad he doesn't have plenary power over it.
What Ukraine needs is the raw material of war: guns, bombs, bullets and body armor. It needs medical kits, bandoliers and light, man-portable antitank rockets. It needs a lot of everything, but because Ukraine is not a member of the NATO resupply system, where all of the rifles of the countries fire the same thing, we can't just raid our armories for bullets…or can we? Well, we can, if done in a particular way: we have incredible, massive stockpiles of things that go back as far or farther than Korea, and by choosing carefully, we can accomplish a lot. Some of the guns we use were used during ww2; our best sidearm, the 1911a1, was used in WWI. Of course, it was replaced when we went to a NATO round pistol, but that is an odd dark spot in the wisdom of standardizing supply across allied nations, and a question for firearm geeks to argue about late into the night and never resolve. So the question of Ukraine joining NATO and why Mr. Putin is so opposed, is not so simple as Article 5, which means that had Ukraine been a member, the US would already be at war; rather, NATO membership opens up an entire front that right now, had Ukraine already converted to NATO calibers, we would be fighting: the resupply battle of Kyiv, of Mariupol, of the Donbas. We would not have had to pick and choose and carefully tease out the right things, things we deem them capable of using. Rather, the first massive supply would have been accomplished by sending the simplest staple of war: the things you do, said the fighting chaplain of Manila, right after you praise God: you Pass the Ammunition. Incredibly effective resupply could have been carried out already and could be currently taking place if they all carried rifles chambered in the 5.56 or 7.62 NATO (as opposed to the 7.62 Warsaw Pact). Putin knows this, and knows that without the guns to win, all the fighting spirit in the world (and the Ukrainians don't seem short on it) won't help a bit.
One short, ironic note: our great singer, Woody Guthrie, of “This Land in Your Land” fame, whose guitar famously bore a sign that said “This Machine Kills Fascists” wrote a song about a deadly Ukrainian sniper, who fought for the USSR in WW2. Her name – yes, HER name – was Ludmilla Pavlichenko, and even though she was Ukrainian through and through, Woody sings “Russia's her Country, Fighting's her Game.” Let us remember this: that the Ukrainians and the Russians are close ethnic relatives; that Kiev was once the center of Rus culture, the progenitor of modern Russian culture; and that they fought together, like demons, against the fascist hordes in WW2. So remember when you see the Russian tanks, manned by 19-year-old commanders, that they aren't so different from the Ukrainian tank commanders, driving the same machines…or our sons and daughters, keeping us safe. Who they are different from are the oligarchs, who want this war; the 19 year old tank commander wants to see his girlfriend, play soccer on Sunday, and dream of children and a good life.
It's Putin and Co. we need gone…not the Russian conscript who wants to be nowhere near the place.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to the discussion.