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The North Atlantic Treaty

The North Atlantic Treaty is the treaty that brought the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into existence. The initial treaty was signed in Washington, D.C. on April 4, 1949. The original twelve nations that signed this military alliance were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The key section of the treaty was Article V, which reads as follows:

“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…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking…such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

This clause commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one state to be an armed attack against all states in the treaty. While the treaty was initially designed with an attack by the then-Soviet Union against Europe in mind, this mutual self-defense/self-destruction clause was not invoked during the Cold War.

Secretary of State Dean Acheson signed for the United States, with President Truman standing beside him. President Truman spoke of the treaty, saying “we are not only seeking to establish freedom from aggression and from the use of force in the North Atlantic community, but we are also actively striving to promote and preserve peace throughout the world” (Truman Library).


NATO’s Purpose

NATO does not serve a singular purpose. The article Defining NATO asserts that it serves three purposes, the first two of which are military. First and most often cited, is that enshrined in Article V mentioned above, that an attack upon one country in the treaty “shall be considered an attack against them all.” The second purpose, from both parts of Article IV as well as parts of Article V, is NATO’s provision of a “standing mechanism for the rapid formation of combined military forces with prearranged mechanisms for command and control and for a habit of working together.” These aforementioned forces can be mobilized to protect common interests in all NATO member regions. The third purpose is NATO’s historic role of drawing members together, “encouraging them to resolve disputes peacefully, causing them to plan and work with rather than against one another, and fostering respect for democratic values and institutions.”


The Warsaw Pact and the Future of NATO

The Warsaw Pact was a treaty seen as a response to the signing of NATO. It bound together Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union, in a very similar mutually assured defense pact. Signed in Poland in 1955, it was officially called ‘The Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance’. Although Warsaw Treaty was based on “total equality” of all nations involved and stressed non-interference in the members’ internal affairs, the Pact quickly morphed into a tool for the Soviet Union to hold sway over its members and take advantage of the combined military forces. With the Warsaw Pact in full swing, NATO seemed like an especially good idea for Europe to protect themselves from the Soviet threat. However NATO was not utilized during the Cold War at all and when the Warsaw Pact officially dissolved in Prague in 1991, there became increased concerns over the purpose of NATO. With the Soviet Union gone, it seemed as though NATO might vanish along with it. NATO has since survived, intervening in issues across the globe, including the Bosnian War, the Kosovo War, and operations in Afghanistan. Its involvement in foreign countries is still highly debated today.


Current NATO Members and Year Joined

* = Original Twelve Members
+ = When Germany unified in 1990, the country as a whole became a member of NATO

  • *Belgium (1949)
  • *Canada (1949)
  • *Denmark (1949)
  • *France (1949)
  • *Iceland (1949)
  • *Italy (1949)
  • *Luxembourg (1949)
  • *Netherlands (1949)
  • *Norway (1949)
  • *Portugal (1949)
  • *United Kingdom (1949)
  • *United States (1949)
  • Greece (1952)
  • Turkey (1952)
  • +West Germany (1955)
  • Spain (1982)
  • Czech Republic (1999)
  • Hungary (1999)
  • Poland (1999)
  • Bulgaria (2004)
  • Estonia (2004)
  • Latvia (2004)
  • Lithuania (2004)
  • Romania (2004)
  • Slovakia (2004)
  • Slovenia (2004)
  • Albania (2009)
  • Croatia (2009)


Further Reading

Terrorism in Western Europe: An Approach to NATO’s Secret Stay-Behind Armies – This well-cited article examines the closely guarded secret that is undercover NATO armies in Western Europe during the Cold War.

Assessing NATO’s involvement in Libya – The United Nations University brings a new perspective to NATO involvement in the war-torn country of Libya and how NATO’s role could affect future involvement in African conflicts.

The NATO Capabilities Gap and the European Union – The United States’ military capabilities far outstrips that of its European allies; this article looks at the many important reasons this difference matters.

Libyan Fallout: Does NATO Divide the Atlantic Partners? – From Yale Global Online, this two part op-ed piece strives to analyze the NATO mission and members’ commitment to the alliance’s future.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons