The partnership behind the war in Ukraine
Today’s post highlights the partnership that is central to the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine because I think this partnership holds lessons that transcend this war. Also, because European conflict shaped my family history, as I touch on briefly at the end.
Why this war?
Vladimir Putin was not subtle about his reason for starting this war. In the days prior, Putin declared “If Ukraine was to join NATO it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia."
NATO is so key to this war that any peace deal you hear about will feature Russia insisting that Ukraine not to join NATO.
But why is NATO such a big deal? What has NATO really accomplished?
Why is NATO is such a big deal?
NATO is the longest lasting military alliance in history, formed 73 years ago with twelve original countries. Today there are 30 countries in NATO - and each country agrees that an armed attack against one member of NATO is an armed attack against them all.
But what impact has this alliance had? On Russia … on NATO members … on you?
The graph below shows global deaths from conflict since 1400. At the top-right you will see a large pink circle - that circle represents military and civilian deaths during WWII. Then you’ll see a an orange arrow pointing to the sharp decline in military and civilian deaths after 1946. NATO = fewer deaths.
NATO is a big reason for that sharp decline.
Yes, there have been other factors - like democracy, global trade and telecommunications. But NATO has certainly played a role in the global peace since 1949. Yet because it is impossible to prove a negative, we take NATO from granted.
Obstacles to alliance
Today NATO seems inevitable. But in reality, NATO is a very unlikely alliance.
In the wake of WWII, a new military alliance was hardly a popular idea. War-torn communities were rebuilding. Voters were weary.
The British didn’t trust the French.
The French didn’t trust the Germans.
The US didn’t want to commit to sending troops to Europe … again.
But despite these obstacles, there was a powerful force that pushed European and US leaders to draft and sign a treaty. Aggressive behavior by Russian Communists in Berlin and elsewhere after WWII spurred the formation of NATO.
Having barely survived Hitler, European and US leaders saw a similar kind of ambition in Russia’s leader, Joseph Stalin. They understood that joining forces through collective defense was the best way to avoid yet another world war.
What NATO teaches us about partnerships …
NATO proves that powerful organizations with competing agendas are capable of aligning around a shared objective. NATO teaches us that the greatest motivator to finding a shared objective is a collective threat. For NATO, that collective threat was (and is) Russia and another world war.
But what other collective threats do we face? How might we apply the lessons of NATO?
Fascism - imagine if social media platforms - Meta, Twitter, YouTube, Snap - worked together to combat disinformation. “If they worked together, they could help each other,” former FBI agent Clint Watts said earlier this month during an interview with Kara Swisher about disinformation on social networks.
Climate change - what if the world’s auto and airline manufacturers co-invested in research and development to accelerate alternative energy solutions?
Global health - what if the CEOs of the world’s largest drug manufacturers, hospitals and research institutes formed an alliance to protect against the next pandemic. Or if logistics companies and retailers joined to help prepare for rapid delivery of PPE and vaccines during the next pandemic?
These alliances may sound outlandish. But NATO once sounded outlandish.
These kinds of partnerships are not pipe-dreams, they already exist: FIDO Alliance is 250 technology companies working together to replace the online password; the Alliance for Automotive Innovation is an alliance of the world’s leading auto manufacturers collaborating on the next era of autonomous transportation.
The solutions to our most daunting global challenges lay in our most powerful organizations working together. But in fact organizations do not collaborate. Leaders within those organizations must find the courage, conviction and creativity to forge new alliances. Some of those leaders are you - readers of This for That.
Questions for you consider this week:
Where and how should I be thinking bigger?
How can I turn my partner’s fear into a motivator for us to work together?
What partnership(s) will make life more difficult for our competition?
“It always seems impossible until it is done.”
~ Nelson Mandela
PS - My family roots
In September 1909 my great-grandparents left their home near Lviv, Ukraine and they boarded a passenger ship bound for Ellis Island. Bundled in their arms was my grandfather, just 11 months old.
But only a few of my relatives made that voyage. Most of my family stayed behind in Ukraine. I imagine they were scared by the idea of starting a new life in a foreign country where they didn’t speak the language. My relatives who stayed behind in Ukraine could not have foreseen the consequences of that decision.
I have no living connection to Ukraine today. But the Ukranian faces on the news today look like the family members I would have there if they had survived the Holocaust.