War and Conflict

Cold War

What is NATO?

NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance formed on April 4, 1949, when 12 countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C. The original 12 NATO countries were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Each member nation agreed to treat attacks on any other member nation as if it were an attack on itself. In other words, any aggressor would have to face the entire alliance. This was NATO’s policy of deterrence, a way of discouraging any attacks by the Soviet Union or other Eastern bloc countries. The organization had the further benefit of discouraging fighting among the member countries.

Three years after it was formed, the alliance was joined by Greece and Turkey (in 1952). West Germany followed three years after that, in 1955, and Spain joined in 1982. After the fall of communism and the reunification of East and West Germany (c. 1990), all of Germany joined the alliance. At this point, with the Cold War (1947–89) over, many wondered what purpose the organization could serve. After all, the Soviet threat was no longer existent. However, other conflicts loomed on the horizon, including those in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Albanian republic of Kosovo. Fearing the civil war in the former Yugoslav republic would spread, NATO sent in troops on the side of the Bosnian government. NATO also formed the Partnership for Peace in 1994: This program was joined by more than 20 countries, including former Eastern bloc nations, including Russia. Though these nations are not full members in the NATO alliance, the Partnership for Peace provides for joint military planning among signing nations. On March 12, 1999, three former Eastern bloc nations were given full membership in NATO: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Observers hailed the additions as evidence that Europe is becoming more unified. On April 23, 1999, the 50th anniversary of the alliance’s founding, the 19 NATO member nations gathered in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the event, just after NATO had begun air-bombing Yugoslavia to pressure the government there to accept international terms aimed at bringing peace to the nation’s Kosovo province, where ethnic conflicts between Serbs and Albanians had turned deadly.

NATO is governed by the North Atlantic Council, which is made up of the heads of government of member nations or their representatives. It was headquartered in Paris until 1967, at which time the offices were moved to Brussels, Belgium.


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