What Is NATO?:
NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is an alliance of 28 member countries roughly bordering the North Atlantic Ocean: Canada, U.S., Turkey and most members of the European Union. NATO's purpose is to protect the freedom of its members. As famously defined in Article 5, "...an armed attack upon one...shall be considered an attack upon them all."
In recent years, NATO's purpose has expanded to include defense against weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and cyber attacks. Since its inception following World War II, NATO has had to continually redefine its focus as a military and political alliance to keep up with the changing face of war.
What Is the Purpose of NATO Today?:
NATO protects the security of its members. At the end of August 2013, NATO announced its support for Turkey and other member nations' borders in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria.
NATO expanded its role after the 9/11 attacks to include the war on terrorism. NATO is winding down its mission in Afghanistan, which deployed 84,000 troops at its peak from both NATO-member countries and at least a dozen non-members. By 2014, NATO expects to transition all security to the Afghan military.
NATO itself admits that "Peacekeeping has become at least as difficult as peacemaking." As a result, NATO is strengthening alliances throughout the world. In the age of globalization, transatlantic peace has become a worldwide effort that extends beyond military might alone. (Source: NATO History)
What Is the History of NATO?:
NATO was established after World War II as part of the United Nations. Its primary purpose was to defend member nations against the large number of troops in pro-communist countries. The U.S. also wanted to maintain a presence in Europe, to prevent a resurgence of military nationalism and foster political union. In this way, NATO made the European Union possible.
NATO and the Cold War:
During the Cold War, NATO's mission expanded to prevent nuclear war. After West Germany joined NATO, the communist countries formed the Warsaw Pact alliance, including the USSR, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. In response, NATO adopted the "Massive Retaliation" policy, which promised to use nuclear weapons if the Pact attacked. This deterrence policy allowed Europe to focus on economic development instead of building large conventional armies.
The Soviet Union, on the other hand, continued to build its military presence. By the end of the Cold War, it was spending three times what the U.S. was with only one-third the economic power. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it was due to economic as well as ideological reasons.After the USSR dissolved in the late 1980s, NATO's relationship with Russia thawed. In 1997, the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed to build bilateral cooperation. In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council was formed to allow NATO members and Russia to partner on common security issues.
The collapse of the USSR led to unrest in its former satellite states. NATO expanded its focus to address this instability when a civil war in the former Yugoslavia turned into ethnic cleansing and genocide. NATO's initial support of a United Nations naval embargo led to the enforcement of a no-fly zone. Violations then led to a few airstrikes until September 1999, when NATO conducted a heavy nine-day air campaign that ended the war. By December of that year, NATO deployed a peace-keeping force of 60,000 soldiers that ended in 2004, when NATO transferred this function to the European Union.
NATO Member Countries:
NATO's 28 members include: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portual, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. Each member is represented by an ambassador, who is supported by officials that serve on the different NATO committees. From time to time, the President/Prime Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister or head of Defense will meet to discuss NATO business.
NATO is involved with three alliances that expand its influence beyond its 28 member countries.
- The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council - Created in 1991, it includes 23 countries that support NATO's purpose. Participation in the Partnership allows partners a vehicle to become NATO members.
- The Mediterranean Dialogue - Begun in 1994, its goal is to bring a stabilizing influence to the Middle East region. Members of the dialogue include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
- The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative - Launched in 2004, it includes these four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. Its goal is to foster peace throughout the larger Middle East region.