What Is NATO?
The initial stand for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The alliance is based on the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949 with its headquarters in Paris. (The current NATO headquarters are in Haren, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium).
The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated in 1949 that the organization’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”. Popular support for the Treaty was not unanimous, and some Icelanders participated in a pro-neutrality, anti-membership riot in March 1949. The creation of NATO can be seen as the primary institutional consequence of a school of thought called Atlanticism which stressed the importance of trans-Atlantic cooperation.
The members agreed that an armed attack against any one of them in Europe or North America would be considered an attack against them all. Consequently, they agreed that, if an armed attack occurred, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence, would assist the member being attacked, taking such action as it deemed necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
The treaty does not require members to respond with military action against an aggressor. Although obliged to respond, they maintain the freedom to choose the method by which they do so. This differs from Article IV of the Treaty of Brussels, which clearly states that the response will be military in nature. It is nonetheless assumed that NATO members will aid the attacked member militarily. The treaty was later clarified to include both the member’s territory and their “vessels, forces or aircraft” above the Tropic of Cancer, including some overseas departments of France.
NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO was formed because the western powers felt that the United Nations Security Council was not sufficiently powerful to keep the peace.
Immediately after the Second World War, the Allies (who included the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries) felt the biggest danger to peace was that Germany and Japan might develop again as great military powers, with aggressive policies to secure world markets for their industrial production. Soon, it was seen by both East and West that, because of political differences, the dangers to peace came from inside the alliance, not from the defeated enemies. The socialist countries therefore united to form the Warsaw Pact, which guaranteed action by every country if any member was attacked by the West.
The western camp was similarly formed by a treaty in 1949 signed by the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Italy and Portugal, Greece and Turkey joined the Treaty countries in 1951 and the Federal German Republic in 1954. NATO is run by a council of the foreign or defense ministers of their respective countries, who also have permanent representatives. There is a communal defense force with a Supreme Allied Commander. Member countries hold joint military, naval and air exercises in various parts of Europe.
Since its founding, the admission of new member states has increased the alliance from the original 12 countries to 29. The most recent member state to be added to NATO is Montenegro on 5 June 2017. NATO currently recognizes Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine as aspiring members. An additional 21 countries participate in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, with 15 other countries involved in institutionalized dialogue programs. The combined military spending of all NATO members constitutes over 70% of the global total. Members’ defense spending is supposed to amount to at least 2% of GDP by 2024.