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One of Vladimir Putin's attempted justifications for Russia's outrageous war is that if Ukraine became a member of NATO it would be an existential threat to neighboring Russia.

This argument may well ignore the fact that Ukraine was highly unlikely to become a NATO member. Unanimous consent of all current NATO members would be required and it's very hard to get their unanimous consent to anything. It also ignores the fact that NATO was designed as a defensive alliance and is very poorly organized to engage in military aggression.

One wonders what pretexts Putin could have used to invade Ukraine if it were not for NATO. Or, was his argument just a pretext?Could he actually be paranoid enough to think Ukraine, with its tiny population and military force compared with Russia, could be a real threat?

It's not impossible. American fears of atomic weapons in Iran or North Korea are equally exaggerated, but few leaders in Washington would dare to point this out.

Actually, the continuing existence of NATO since the crackup of the USSR could conceivably give Putin something to worry about.

NATO was designed to deter the USSR from attacking Western Europe.

The disappearance of the USSR might have been a good time for NATO to declare victory, wind up its affairs, and abolish itself. But it didn't.

Putin might be placing the worst possible interpretation on this fact because he is leader of a country which may suffer from a serious form of collective PTSD thanks to its continual catastrophes since the Communists took power in 1917.

Actually, though, there is a much more likely explanation for the continuation of NATO, one that poses no threat to Russia. To understand this, we need to look at the history, of all things, of the March of Dimes!

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The March of Dimes was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to combat polio. Roosevelt himself suffered from the aftereffects of polio and was very interested in wiping out that horrible disease.

After the polio vaccines were developed in the 1950s the disease was indeed wiped out in the United States.

Mission accomplished.

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However, did the March of Dimes accept this victory and proceed to liquidate itself?

It did not.

The people who worked for the March of Dimes were not interested in losing their positions and instead sought to make that organization immortal.

Thus, they chose an ambitious new goal — wiping out birth defects.

This was a far more complicated goal since birth defects result from many different causes.

There was little danger of another total victory!

This quest for organizational immortality was successful.

The March of Dimes is still with us today.

The bureaucrats at NATO headquarters were, no doubt, equally uninterested in destroying the organization that gave them status and income. The sudden disappearance of the country their organization was created to defend its members from was an awkwardness, but not an overwhelming one.

It's well known that it is hard to stop a train. Likewise, massive ocean liners cannot turn on a dime. Organizations, by analogy, can have immense institutional inertia, a tendency to remain the same.

Institutional inertia combined with the self-interest of NATO bureaucrats is probably enough to explain the continuing existence of NATO. And the United States, which like Russia probably suffers from national PTSD, could have backed expansion of NATO to former parts of the Soviet Empire because of its own paranoia.

Heaven help us if the mutual psychological problems of our two great countries trap us into policies which are harmful to the legitimate interests of the people in both countries.

The situation calls for forbearance and a bit of mutual sympathy all around rather than an escalation of rhetoric and hostility.