NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — NATO’s footprint has been felt for decades in Hampton Roads and their role on the international stage has been highlighted because of the crisis in Ukraine.

Now in its 73rd year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, primarily provides defensive support to its 30 member nations.

The scope of NATO’S involvement in Ukraine is limited, since Ukraine isn’t a member nation, but the North American commands in Norfolk provide vital support to their overall mission.

U.K. Royal Navy Vice Admiral Guy Robinson serves as the chief of staff for the NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk. He says he feels NATO’s members have never been more unified.

“I’m coming up to my 36th year of service and I don’t think the alliance has ever been so relevant than it is today,” he said.

The strength and unity couldn’t come at a better time as Russia continues its unprovoked assault on Ukraine.

The 30-member defensive, political military alliance continues to make headlines as the assault continues, but what exactly does NATO do?

“Underpinned by very strong democratic principles and the alliance exists to maintain the security and freedoms of those allied nations,” said Robinson.

Many discussions surround Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all.

It’s only been invoked once following the attacks on 9/11. 

Since Ukraine is not a member nation, NATO cannot provide them with offensive support during their conflict, but other steps have been taken.

“We’ve activated operational plans, we’ve reinforced the Eastern Front with troops, with airplanes and with ships to show our solidarity and our readiness to respond to any threat,” he said.

Two NATO commands call Norfolk home in North America.

One of them, the Allied Command Transformation, looks to the future to improve NATO.

“Many of our assumptions may have changed. It’s really important that we identify lessons both to how NATO’s responded to the conflict within Ukraine to understand how we can most effectively adapt our military going forward.”

The Joint Force Command handles the day-to-day operational arm of the Allied Command Ops in North America.

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, unity among NATO’s member nations is vital.

“When we find nations that challenge those democratic principles and values that we believe so strongly in, and showing that unity and being able to challenge Russia’s unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine is really important.”

This week, the Virginia Arts Festival will hold the annual Norfolk NATO Festival.

Learn more about the festival here.