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North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 4945 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (or as they say in French le Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord (OTAN)), began as a military alliance of governments due to the North Atlantic Treaty ( 4 April 1949). From its inception NATO, with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, has focused on a structure cooperative defence. It translates this structure as having the member states responding to a joint and mutual defence against attack by a non- NATO aggressor. From the original 12 member states there are now 28 participants in this organization dedicated to keeping the alliance strong and vital in a changing world order.

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Initially, NATO began as a political body, more prone to discussion rather than action. This changed when the Korean War spurred the member states into action and they set up a military command structure under the leadership of two U.S. supreme commanders to effectively deal with the situation that was brewing in Korea. As the first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated the organization’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.[4] The alliances of WWII with the Russians had taken a beating as the battles became ideological with communism on one side and democracy as represented by the west and NATO was on the other. As for the Germans, there was a basic distrust since they had been responsible for both world wars and it was only four years after their surrender that NATO was formed. Eventually Germany became and is a vital and full-fledged member of the organization.

The alliance had some initial credibility issues, since the ever changing relationships between European members and the US were in flux (as always). There was a significant feat that NATO would be unable to stand together against a Soviet invasion. As a sign of its coolness towards the alliance, and basically as a vote of no confidence, the French developed their own nuclear arsenal and withdrew from NATO’s military structure in 1966 and hasn’t rejoined that aspect of NATO since. In 1955, in retaliation to NATO, the Soviet Bloc countries started their own alliance The Warsaw Pact, and thereby created a common antipathy towards each alliance.

In 1989, precipitated by the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany, NATO focused its attention on the turmoil of the Balkan states and the troubles brewing in that region. At the same time NATO forged stronger and more durable associations with their former Warsaw Pact adversaries and succeeded so well that quite a few of these states joined the alliance between 1999 and 2004. On 1 April 2009, the NATO membership grew it its present 28 states with the entrance of Albania and Croatia into the alliance.[5] Due to the 11 September, 2001 attacks against New York and Washington, NATO has refocused its mission to fight terrorism, instead of the Eastern block and re purposed itself to meet new and more difficult confrontations in other regions of the world. The alliance has provided troops to Afghanistan as well as trainers to Iraq in order to fulfill its treaty obligations to a member state, in this case the United States, that has been attacked.

As part of its ever evolving nature, NATO and the European Union (many of whose members are also members of NATO) signed a package of agreements called “The Berlin Plus Agreement” on 16 December 2002. The crux of this agreement gives the EU the possibility to use NATO assets in case it wants to act independently in an international crisis, on the condition that NATO itself did not want to act-the so-called “right of first refusal”.[6] Thus if NATO, as the alliance refused to act in a crisis, the EU therefore has the option to respond.

NATO members provide 70-plus% of the world’s defence spending.[7] The United States contributes 43% the total military spending of the world[8] with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy spending an additional 15%.[9] The remaining alliance countries make up the remainder of the 12% that accounts for this huge outlay of funds, materials and personnel, making NATO ready to meet any crisis.


The history of NATO is a history of treaties that came in the wake of the Second World War. In 1948 he Treaty of Brussels, signed by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and the United Kingdom was the forerunner to the NATO agreement. The signing of this treaty coupled with the insidious Soviet Berlin Blockade gave rise to the Western European Union’s Defence Organization that same year. [10] There was an understanding though that in order to thwart the rising military power of the USSR, the United States had to be brought into the picture to enable the west to have a solid counterbalance of power. This strategy precipitated a need for a new military alliance.

Talks began at once and in less than a year, the North Atlantic treaty was signed between the 5 signatories of the Treaty of Brussels and the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. There was a lot of hostility regarding the treaty and it even caused some Icelanders to advocate and participate in a pro-neutrality, anti-membership riot in March 1949, just days before the final signatures on for April.

” The Parties of NATO agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence will assist the Party or Parties being attacked, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. ” (http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_17120.htm )

The phrase “Such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force does not necessarily mean that other member states will respond with military action against the aggressor(s)” has raised many questions over the years. Member states are obligated to respond to a crisis concerning the alliance or any one of its members, however these states have the freedom to choose how they will respond. (Hence France’s decision to withdraw from the military structure, as it never wants to commit it’s troops to a fight) This clause negates Article IV of the Treaty of Brussels that states that the members will aid the attacked member militarily. Further, the article limits the organization’s scope to Europe and North America, which explains why the Falklands War did not result in NATO involvement. However, there was justification for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars involvement as the organizations that attacked the Member state, the US , were not national and merely located in another location.

With NATO, some consistency of allied military terminology, procedures, and technology has been brought into existence. This has often meant that European member countries adopting U.S. practices and techniques. There are about 1300 Standardization Agreements (STANAGs) codifying these standards. For instance the 7.62Ã-51 NATO rifle cartridge of the 1950s became the standard firearm cartridge among many NATO countries while Fabrique Nationale de Herstal’s FAL was NATO rifle in Europe and used until the early 1990s. In addition to consistent firearms and rifles, signals became standardized, enabling any NATO aircraft to land at any NATO base without confusion. Even the NATO phonetic alphabet has made its beyond NATO into civilian use.

Cold War

Perhaps the defining moment in early NATO was the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. This “police action” became a critical test for the alliance as it confronted what appeared to be all Communist countries working together to destabilize the Koreas. This forced NATO into developing military plans.[11] This war was also the precipitator to the nascent cold war between the West and the East and their ideological disparity.

In 1952, NATO began to codify its requirements for a Long Term Defence Plan. The Lisbon conference first suggested that there be 96 divisions dedicated to the alliance, however in 1953, this number was devolved to 35 divisions, with an increased dependence on nuclear weaponry to make up the difference. There were 15 at the ready divisions located in Central Europe and Italy and Scandinavia hosted another ten. Another outcome of the Lisbon Conference was that the Chief Civilian post of Secretary General of NATO was created (Baron Hastings Ismay was appointed). (12, 13) By September of 52, the first NATO exercises were held and Operation Mainbrace brought 200 ships and over 50,000 troops and sailors to practice defending Norway and Denmark. It was a huge success.

By the end of that first year, Greece and Turkey joined the alliance. This forced some very contentious negotiations, with the United States and Britain disputing as to the logistics of bringing these two countries into the command structure.[14] All through the controversy that was openly under discussion, covert operations were underway to set up a solid resistance in case of a successful Soviet invasion (‘Operation Gladio’). This resistance was original to the Western European Union, however it seemed more logical and effective to transfer these plans and operations to NATO control. Despite the disputes there were signs of unity a bonds began to grow among the different between NATO’s armed forces so that the troops themselves were more cohesive. This included the NATO Tiger Association and competitions such as the Canadian Army Trophy for tank gunnery among the different units and countries.

By 1954, the Soviet Union felt that it should become a part of NATO in order to keep the peace in Europe.[15] This did not sit well with the NATO member countries, as they feared that the real motivation of the Soviet Union’s was weaken the alliance from within, sewing discord, so they rejected the proposal. However, despite earlier declarations of keeping the Germans down, the admission of West Germany into NATO on 9 May 1955 was described as “a decisive turning point in the history of our continent” by Halvard Lange, Foreign Minister of Norway at the time.[16] German military forces and manpower were a deciding factor into allowing their former enemy into the alliance. Without the extra soldiers fielding enough forces to resist a Soviet invasion[17] would have been impossible. The upshot of this admission though was the Warsaw Pact, signed on 14 May 1955 (6 days later) with the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and East Germany as members. This formal response to Germany’s admission into NATO , defined in no uncertain terms, the two sides of the Cold War.

French withdrawal

Charles de Gaulle’s presidency of France from 1958 caused a constant strain on the NATO alliance. De Gaulle ongoing objections to the United States’ role in the organization was the basis of his never ceasing disputation with NATO. He felt that the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom was undermining the alliance and he wanted France to be the predominant member state.

De Gaulle wrote to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 17 September 1958, where he basically demanded a tripartite directorate that would put France on an equal footing with the United States and the United Kingdom in NATO. He also stipulated that NATO’s coverage be expanded cover French geographical areas, most notably French Algeria, so that NATO could assist France’s counter-insurgency against Algerian rebels.

De Gaulle did not like the response Eisenhower and Macmillan gave him so he began to pull away from a unified alliance and create independent defences for his country. He wanted to play both sides of the alliance in case East Germany invaded West Germany. He was determined to have a separate peace with the Eastern bloc and had no desire to involve France in a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict.

In 1959, despite being a signatory to the alliance, De Gaulle began his severing his allegiance to the alliance. In March 1959, France withdrew its Mediterranean Fleet from NATO command. In June 1959, de Gaulle proscribed foreign nuclear weapons on French soil. By this act, the United States began transferring military aircraft out of France and returning control of all air force bases that NATO operated in France since 1950 to the French by 1967. De Gaulle wanted only his own military and nuclear arms on his own soil, despite his supposed solidarity to the alliance.

In 1962, during the Cuban Missle Crisis de Gaulle showed unity with NATO, however afterwards he sustained his unrelenting determination of creating his own independent defence through the removal of France’s Atlantic and Channel fleets from the NATO command structure. Therefore it was no surprise to anyone within the alliance that by 1966, all French armed forces were removed from NATO’s integrated military command, and all non-French NATO troops were asked to leave France. All his actions caused the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) to move from Rocquencourt, near Paris, to Casteau, Belgium, by 16 October 1967.

While France remained a member of the alliance, its removal on the surface seemed to preclude any sort of committed defence of Europe from possible Communist attack. On the other hand, France did have forces stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany throughout the Cold War. A chain of clandestine agreements between U.S. and French officials, ( Lemnitzer-Ailleret Agreements) delineated the way French forces would fit together and return to NATO’s command in case hostilities commenced during the Cold War. [18] Although on the surface France and DeGaulle had manipulated themselves into an “independent ” there was nevertheless a way for France to unite and fight with NATO in case of war. It wasn’t until 1995 that the French position on the military structure of NATO began to change.


NATO was able to keep from actual military engagements as an alliance throughout most of the Cold War. The organization was prepared in case of such a scenario. In 1968, NATO argued that since the United States controlled nuclear weapons until a decision to go to war and NATO’s own nuclear sharing arrangements with the US were no in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty that was being signed. Since few states actually knew what NATO’s nuclear position actually was, whatever the alliance declaimed was considered truth and there was no challenge to their stance as far as controlling nuclear weapons was concerned.

NATO countries officially defined two balancing aims of the Alliance on 30 May 1978. The first was to follow their initial directive and maintain security throughout the alliance. The second was to pursue détente. The purpose of these two complementary aims was to match the NATO defences to those of the Warsaw Pact’s offensive capacity without inciting an extra arms race.

In 1979, since the Warsaw Pact countries built up their nuclear capabilities in Europe, NATO approved the deployment of U.S. GLCM cruise missiles and Pershing II theatre nuclear weapons in Europe. These new warheads strengthened the western position regarding nuclear disarmament. This Dual Track policy meant that peace was pursued on one hand while meeting weapons build up on the other. Essentially it was a game of one-upmanship conducted by both sides. This occurred again in 1983-84, when NATO responded to the positioning of Warsaw Pact SS-20 medium-range missiles in Europe, by deploying modern Pershing II missiles. These missiles have the ability to hit military targets quite hard such as tank formations, should there be a war. These dual actions led to peace movement protests throughout Western Europe in light of the fact that the danger level ratcheted up in case peace talks were unsuccessful.


Most of Europe was divided between the two alliances. Members of NATO were often shown in blue, with members of the Warsaw Pact shown in red on any maps depicting their allegiances.

President Ronald Reagan of the United States was determined that the buildup of the tension between the US and USSR should be exacerbated even more by having NATO deploy those Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe, primarily West Germany. These Pershing II missiles are tactical nuclear weapons intended to strike targets on the battlefield in the event that the Soviets invaded West Germany. The Soviets fed into the Reagan paranoia and played into his deployment plans on 1 September 1983, when they shot down a South Korean passenger airliner when it crossed into Soviet airspace. Reagan characterized the shooting down of the plane a “massacre”. With world opinion on their side the U.S., galvanized support for the deployment of the missiles. This deployment stood in place until the later accords between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were reached and the hegemony of the Soviet Union began to dismantle..

Gamesmanship in the membership was still around although during the late 1970’s and early 80’s there was some stagnancy. In 1974, when the Turks invaded Cyprus, Greece withdrew its forces from NATO’s military command structure. Finally though, in 1980, they were readmitted (Turkish cooperation was necessary) Finally in May 1982, Spain was able to join the alliance as its former dictator had died and the newly democratic country was free to become part of NATO. Spain joined the alliance.

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In November 1983, NATO maneuvers simulated a nuclear launch and it caused widespread panic in the USSR. General Secretary Yuri Andropov, who was in ill health at the time, was worried that the maneuvers, were actually a genuine first strike. In response, Soviet nuclear forces were readied and air units in East Germany and Poland were placed on alert. It was a tense situation and although U.S. intelligence felt that the Soviet response was merely a propaganda effort, there are many who feel that ailing Andropov was convinced that a NATO first strike was imminent.

Post Cold War

When the Cold War ended and the Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1991, the main adversary of NATO was gone. There was a strategic reassessment of NATO’s purpose. While this reassessment and realignment of the nature and tasks of the alliance were underway, the ultimate result is that NATO has expanded into Eastern Europe and former Warsaw Pact countries are becoming part of the alliance. NATO has also extended its activities into new areas.

In 1990, NATO welcomed the German reunification. This meant that the former East Germany was part of the Federal Republic of Germany and therefore alliance. This had been agreed in the Two Plus Four Treaty earlier in the year. There was still a need for Soviet approval of a united Germany to remain in NATO so it was stipulated that foreign troops and nuclear weapons would not be stationed in the eastern part of the country (the former East Germany).

Because of this new treaty, there has been an ongoing controversy between scholars and diplomats regarding the expansion of the NATO Alliance. Once scholar, Stephen F. Cohen argued in 2005 that a commitment was given that NATO would never expand further east,[19]. On the other hand but according to Robert Zoellick,( then a State Department official involved in the Two Plus Four negotiating process,) feels that Cohen is wrong as there was no formal commitment of the sort made in the treaty regarding any other country besides Germany.[20] In May 2008, The Daily Telegraph held an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev who felt along with Cohen that there was a commitment made. Gorbachev said “the Americans promised that NATO wouldn’t move beyond the boundaries of Germany after the Cold War but now half of central and eastern Europe are members, so what happened to their promises? It shows they cannot be trusted.”[21]

NATO’s military structure was cut back and reorganized in the post Cold War era, with new forces such as the Headquarters Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps established. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe agreed between NATO and the then still existent Warsaw Pact, mandated specific reductions in personnel, weapons, and nukes.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military balance in Europe shifted and this was recognized in the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. Finally in 1995, after nearly a 30 year absence, France rejoined NATO’s Military Committee in 1995. French President Nicolas Sarkozy reformed France’s military position and enabled the country to return to full membership on 4 April 2009. This date also saw France rejoin the integrated military command of NATO, even as it still maintains its own nuclear deterrent independently of the alliance.[22]

Balkans interventions

After years of military preparedness and no fighting during the Cold War, NATO’s first military operation came during the former Yugoslavia civil war. It was called Operation Sharp Guard and ran from June 1993-October 1996. NATO provided maritime enforcement of the arms embargo, and set ic sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Six months into the embargo and blockade, (28 February 1994) NATO took its first military action, by shooting down four Bosnian Serb aircraft. These planes violated a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over central Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO’s Operation Deliberate Force, a bombing campaign started in August, 1995, against the Army of the Republika Srpska, after the Srebrenica massacre.

Operation Deny Flight, the no-fly-zone enforcement mission, started in 1993, continued the end of December 1995. The NATO air strikes forced an end to the war in Bosnia. This culminated in the the Dayton Agreement, that provided NATO with authority to deployed peacekeeping force, under Operation Joint Endeavor, first named IFOR and then SFOR. This deployment ran from December 1996 to December 2004. Following the lead of its member nations, NATO began to award a service medal, the NATO Medal, for these operations in appreciation of its troops efforts in a difficult endeavor. NATO was now a fully fledged military organization that was as capable as any single member nation on conducting a military operation to successful conclusion. What had been words on paper was now put into practice.

From 1994 to 1997, NATO and its neighbors set up several forums for dialogue in order to keep conflict at a minimum. The Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council were all results of these forums and led the way to a more inclusive membership in the alliance. On 8 July 1997, three former communist countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, were invited to join NATO and their final admission occurred in 1999. By 1998, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was established to keep communications open and free flowing between the former adversaries.

NATO saw its first broad-scale military engagement in the Kosovo War, where it waged an 11-week bombing campaign, called Operation Allied Force. This was again against what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as the Serbians massacred and cracked- down on Albanian civilians in Kosovo. While a formal declaration of war never took place the NATO action was successful. Yugoslavian leader Slobodan MiloÅ¡ević agreed to NATO’s demands and Kosovo’s native Albanians were free to stay or go.

During Kosovo, NATO deployed one of its international reaction forces, the ACE Mobile Force (Land), to deliver humanitarian aid to Kosovan refugees. [23] NATO then established the KFOR, a NATO-led force under a United Nations mandate that operated the military mission in Kosovo. In August-September 2001, the alliance also mounted Operation Essential Harvest, a mission disarming ethnic Albanian militias in the Republic of Macedonia.[24] NATO’s work in the military arena was expanding and becoming vital to international interests

This expansion and necessity led the United States, the United Kingdom, and most other NATO countries to oppose efforts that require the U.N. Security Council to approve NATO military strikes, as had happened against Serbia’s invasion into Kosovo in 1999. France and some others claimed that the alliance needed U.N. approval of course – probably more as a way to thwart the US/UK more than any ideological reasons.

The U.S./U.K. side that Russia and China would have exercised their Security Council vetoes to block the strike on Yugoslavia and thereby condemned all those ethnic Albanians to slaughter. Russia and China could in fact exercise these same vetoes whenever future conflicts arose where NATO intervention was required. This would essentially cripple and the purpose of the organization. NATO adopted the Alliance Strategic Concept during its Washington Summit in April 1999 that emphasized conflict prevention and crisis management[25] as a prelude to any sort of military intervention unless required and approved by the alliance.

After the 11 September attacks

Everything changed after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. At this time, and for the first time, NATO invoked Article 5 of the NATO Charter. The Article states:

Article 5

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security .

Essentially, an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all members.

This invocation of Article Five was ratified on 4 October 2001 when NATO determined that the attacks were indeed eligible under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty.[26] Eight official actions were taken by NATO to respond to the attacks. Among them were Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour. Operation Active Endeavour is to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction as well as to enhance the security of shipping in general in the Mediterranean .

Despite this early show of solidarity within the alliance there was another crisis barely more than a year later. France and Belgium vetoed the procedure of silent approval concerning the timing of protective measures for Turkey in case of a possible war with Iraq. Germany did not use its right to break the procedure but said it supported the veto. So that all efforts to assist that member fell into abeyance and should Turkey be attacked, there is no agenda in place to quickly form a reprisal.

On the other hand the invasion of Afghanistan provided NATO with a chance for a more public unity. On 16 April 2003, NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Germany and the Netherlands, the two nations leading ISAF at the time of the agreement requested this action and all NATO ambassadors approved it unanimously. The handover of control to NATO took place on 11 August, and marked the first time in NATO’s history that it took charge of a mission outside the north Atlantic area.

By January 2004, NATO appointed Minister Hikmet Çetin, of Turkey, as the Senior Civilian Representative (SCR) in Afghanistan to be responsible for advancing the political-military aspects of the Alliance in Afghanistan. On 31 July 2006, a NATO-led force took over military operations in the south of Afghanistan from a U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition and has been protecting the area since. Bowing to US Pressure, NATO even has set up a training program in Iraq to assist in that country’s efforts.

NATO’s involvement in both arenas has expanded its role in the war against terrorism and the alliance has been instrumental in assisting the now 8 year old conflicts in their efforts to bring the terror organizations in both countries to a halt.


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