NATO March 2004

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March 2004

Official Name:
North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Editor's Note: The information in this article was compiled and edited from 1997, 2002, 2003, and 2004 Fact Sheets made available through the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.



NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is an international security alliance designed to ensure the peace and security of the North Atlantic region. It was created on April 4, 1949, with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO's founding document. NATO currently has 19 members in Europe and North America, including the United States.

NATO was founded in order to provide a security structure against the threat of the Soviet Union for its 12 founding members; Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, NATO's European members wanted to ensure that the United States remained involved in European security. Over the past 53 years, NATO has enlarged four times. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952; the Federal Republic of Germany joined in 1955; Spain joined in 1982; and Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined in 1999. Seven nations were invited to join NATO at the Prague Summit in November, 2002, and their formal accession is pending ratification by the 19 current NATO members.

NATO is based on the principle of "collective defense," which means that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members. The North Atlantic Treaty also provides for formal consultations among all members if any one feels that its "territorial integrity, political independence or security" is threatened.

Decisions in NATO are made by consensus, meaning that every decision is mutually agreed among all of its members and represents the expression of their collective will. Consensus is reached through regular consultations and coordination of Alliance members. Since every member preserves its full independence and sovereignty, no decision may be made by NATO against the will of one of its members. However, NATO cannot prevent one of its members from taking individual action.

The main decision-making body in NATO is the North Atlantic Council (NAC), which meets at least once a week and is comprised of the permanent representatives (Ambassadors) from each of its members. The current U.S. Ambassador to NATO is R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service.

In addition, the NAC also meets at different levels - with Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, or Defense Ministers. The NAC establishes subsidiary groups and committees that provide advice on military policy and strategy to NATO's political leaders.

NATO's first major peacekeeping activity began in late 1995 when it led the Implementation Force (IFOR) to secure the Dayton Peace Agreement, thereby ending five years of civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The current Stabilization Force (SFOR) succeeded IFOR on December 20, 1996.

NATO's most significant military operation to date took place in Kosovo. On March 24, 1999, NATO began a 78-day air campaign against the military forces of former Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic. Following the campaign, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international peace-enforcement force, entered Kosovo. KFOR's objectives are to maintain security in Kosovo, monitor and enforce compliance with the agreements that ended the conflict, and support the UN Mission in Kosovo.


On September 12, 2001, NATO took the historic action of invoking - for the first time - Article 5 of the NATO treaty. This Article embodies the principle of collective defense - that an attack on one member is an attack on all. The Alliance backed up this action by sending five AWACs aircraft and a detachment of 200 personnel to the United States in October 2001. These aircraft logged 3,000 hours patrolling American skies and protecting North American airspace. In addition, NATO ships patrolled the Eastern Mediterranean to keep terrorists from in filtrating into Europe. All NATO Allies have participated in either Operation Enduring Freedom, the military campaign against al Qaeda and the former Taliban regime, or in the current International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

U.S. security today requires us to look closely at NATO, which is already the strongest security Alliance in history, and find ways to make it even stronger. To confront and eliminate such global threats as terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we must ally with countries that share our values and act effectively with us. Since the end of the Cold War, Europe's newest democracies have proven themselves as able partners, whether securing stability in the Balkans or fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. The enlargement of NATO will cement these benefits for the United States and its Allies, making the whole of NATO much stronger than the sum of the capabilities of individual members. NATO enlargement will help to enhance the political and economic stability for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area. By helping Europe's newer democracies as they strengthen good governance, rule of law, and human rights, NATO will also facilitate a better long-term environment for American trade and investment.


North Atlantic Council

The NAC is the principal forum for consultation and cooperation between NATO member governments on all issues affecting their common security. Its decisions are based on consensus, with each member having an equal right to express its views. The NATO Secretary General is chair. The NAC meets at least twice a year in ministerial session. It also meets weekly at the level of Permanent Representatives, who hold ambassadorial rank.

North Atlantic Council/Defense Ministers (NAC/D)

The NAC/D deals with overall issues of defense and meets twice yearly when member countries are represented by their Defense Ministers.

Defense Planning Committee (DPC)

The DPC deals with defense planning and other issues related to NATO's integrated military structure. It is composed of all countries except France (which withdrew from NATO's integrated military structure in 1966). Like the NAC, it meets regularly at ambassadorial level and twice yearly with Defense Ministers, normally in conjunction with the NAC/D.

Nuclear Planning Group

This group has authority for nuclear matters. All countries except France participate. Iceland participates as an observer.

Military Committee

The highest military authority in the alliance; is composed of the chiefs of staff of each country. Iceland, which has no military forces, is represented by a civilian member. The Military Committee advises the NAC and the DPC on military measures necessary for the common defense and provides guidance to the NATO commanders.

Regional Commands

The strategic area covered by the North Atlantic Treaty is divided into two regional commands: Allied Command Europe and Allied Command Atlantic, with a regional planning group for North America. With the exception of France and Iceland, all countries assign forces to the integrated military command structure. The NATO Defense area covers the territories of member nations in North America, in the Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer, and in Europe, including Turkey. However, events occurring outside the area which affect the preservation of peace and security in the treaty area also may be considered by the NAC.


The North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) was established in November 1991 to conduct NATO's outreach program to the former Warsaw Pact states.

The North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and the newly free and independent states of Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the former Soviet Union in a program of political security dialogue, partnership, and cooperation. Subjects discussed in regular meetings between allies and partner states include defense planning and budgeting, democratic concepts of civil-military relations, defense conversion, and scientific and environmental topics. Members also discuss current political issues of common concern. In this way, the NACC complements the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), NATO, the European Union, and the Council of Europe in building a Euro-Atlantic community of stable, democratic, and market-oriented societies from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

As the advent of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union and the crumbling of communist control in Eastern Europe changed the nature of the European security challenge, NATO turned from a posture of confrontation with the East to one of dialogue and cooperation. The June 1990 Turnberry North Atlantic Council ministerial and July 1990 London NATO summit extended the hand of friendship to NATO's former adversaries and called for the alliance to institute a liaison program with the Warsaw Pact states. The June 1991 Copenhagen North Atlantic Council ministerial developed this theme in its statement on "Partnership with the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe."

In their October 3,1991, joint statement, Secretary of State Baker and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher proposed the institutionalization of the NATO liaison program in a North Atlantic Cooperation Council. The following month, the Rome NATO summit formally established the NACC as a forum in which allies could offer their experience and expertise to partner countries on security and related issues.

In its first year, NACC developed a solid basis of cooperation and dialogue. The first NACC ministerial, held on December 20,1991, in Brussels, brought together representatives of the 16 NATO allies, the Baltic states, the U.S.S.R., Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. Participants pledged to uphold CSCE principles, support arms control efforts, and work together in building a Europe whole and free.

The second NACC ministerial held on March 10,1992, in Brussels, admitted all the states of the former Soviet Union except Georgia (which joined the following month). Ministers adopted the first NACC work plan, which spelled out a program of intensified consultations and cooperative activities focused on security and related issues, including political, military, economic, scientific, and environmental subjects. Specific topics for cooperation included defense planning, conceptual approaches to arms control, democratic concepts of civilian-military relations, civil-military coordination of airtraffic management, defense conversion, and enhanced participation in NATO's "Third Dimension" scientific and environmental programs. Ministers also pledged to cooperate in disseminating information about NATO in the partner countries and gave their support to the NACC's ad hoc High Level Group charged with facilitating entry-into-force of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

With the admission of Albania in June 1992 and the Czech-Slovak split in January 1993, membership in the NACC now stands at 38. Finland, Slovenia, and Sweden have attended recent ministerial meetings as observers.

A major step forward in NACC cooperation came at the December 1992 ministerial in Brussels. Ministers adopted a work plan for 1993 that included for the first time a provision for joint planning and training for peacekeeping Subsequently, the NACC established an Ad Hoc Group on Cooperation in Peacekeeping to coordinate activities in this area The NACC has welcomed the participation in Ad Hoc Group deliberations of three non-NACC states with extensive peacekeeping experience-Finland, Sweden, and Austria A representative from the OSCE also attends.

Building on the momentum of cooperation created by the NACC, NATO established in January 1994 a program within the framework of NACC called the Partnership for Peace (PFP). PFP activities complement other activities undertaken in the framework of the NACC and are designed to intensify political and military cooperation between the Alliance and members of the Partnership. The PFP is open to states participating in NACC and other OSCE states able and willing to contribute to the Partnership.

At their meeting in Brussels in December 1994, ministers reviewed progress on implementing PFP and held extensive consultations on regional issues. At the Noordwijk NAC in May 1995, the Secretary of State presented U.S. initiatives to "intensify the relationship between NATO and its partners," including on ensuring democratic and civilian control of the military, widening the Partnership's focus, and working more closely together on exercise planning.

The 1996 work plan, adopted by ministers at the December 6,1995, NACC Ministerial in Brussels, continues and expands NACC/PFP work on peacekeeping and other topics.

In its fifth year, NACC already has established itself as an important element in post-Cold War Europe's security architecture. It will continue to develop as a complement to other European and trans-Atlantic organizations forging the links of a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Euro-Atlantic community of nations.


NATO Allies decided at their November 21-22, 2002 Summit in Prague to invite seven countries to join: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Assuming these seven countries and the 19 current members of NATO approve, all seven countries should be fully participating in NATO by May 2004. The membership process requires each invitee country to confirm their willingness and ability to respect the political and military obligations of NATO membership and to contribute to the Alliance's commonfunded budgets and programs. Additionally, the U.S. and the 18 other current Allies must ratify the membership of each invitee.

The U.S. and its NATO Allies decided at the Prague Summit that the invitees were ready to join based on their individual accomplishments under NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) and their contributions to the Global War on Terrorism. The MAP was created in April 1999 to help candidate countries to prepare themselves for membership in the Alliance. Under MAP, aspirants adopt an Annual National Program (ANP) that sets objectives and specific benchmarks for reform that will strengthen their country's candidacy. The ANP reforms encompass a broad range of issues, including anti-corruption measures, protections for classified information, and establishment of coherent National Military Strategies. Aspirants receive practical and technical support from NATO, which regularly assesses their progress.

The total cost for the last enlargement is estimated at $1.5 billion over ten years; of this, the U.S. share is $400 million. The present round of enlargement is expected to carry similar costs, with greater benefits, as the previous round in 1999. That round of enlargement reduced the U.S. share of NATO's budget and the costs of its Balkan operations.

Through their strong and unwavering support for the anti-terrorism coalition and assistance in bringing stability to Bosnia and Kosovo, current aspirants have already shown that they can make positive contributions to NATO operations. They have clearly demonstrated their willingness and ability to participate in the work of the Alliance. The three newest allies have sent troops to the Balkans, Afghanistan, and other peacekeeping operations. They have also made excellent progress in building their capabilities and thus their contribution to common defense.

NATO is committed to an open door policy: any European democracy that is willing and able to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area can become a member of the Alliance. Enlargement is not a new phenomenon but an ongoing process, as illustrated by previous successful rounds of enlargement: Turkey and Greece in 1952, Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982, and the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in 1999. Those countries not selected will continue to participate in MAP and work towards future membership.


A U.S. initiative, Partnership for Peace (PFP) was launched by the January 1994 NATO summit to establish strong links between NATO, its new democratic partners in the former Soviet bloc, and some of Europe's traditionally neutral countries to enhance European security.

It provides a framework for enhanced political and military cooperation for joint multilateral activities, such as humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and crisis management and enables Partners to improve their interoperability with NATO.

It enables PFP members to consult with NATO when faced with a direct threat to its security but does not extend NATO security guarantees. Participation in PFP does not guarantee entry into NATO, but it is the best preparation for states interested in becoming NATO members.

PFP's utility has been demonstrated by the success of the NATO peacekeeping operations in Bosnia (IFOR and SFOR), in which 13 PFP Partners have worked side by side with NATO Allies.

Twenty-seven countries: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Once a country has joined the PFP, it submits a Presentation Document to NATO explaining what resources it will contribute to PFP activities and the steps that it will take to meet PFP political goals, such as democratic control of the military. To date, all PFP countries except Switzerland have submitted Presentation Documents.

A unique Individual Partnership Program (IPP), is then agreed to with the alliance. IPPs set forth shared objectives, (for instance, establishing democratic control over military forces; developing transparency in defense planning and budgetary processes; developing interoperability with NATO forces) and list activities planned to meet those objectives.

NATO has reached agreement on IPPs with all PFP Partners except Switzerland and Uzbekistan. Many Partners have submitted revised IPPs.

Partners can assign personnel on a full-time basis to NATO Headquarters in Brussels and to the Partnership Coordination Cell (PCC) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. Legislation which would enable Partners to accredit ambassadors to NATO is pending in Brussels.

Partners may participate in an optional Defense Planning and Review Process (PARP) designed to evaluate and enhance a partner nation's interoperability with NATO. Participating states work with NATO to develop interoperability objectives, which can be used to help refine IPPs. As of February 1997, 15 partners—Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Ukraine—are participating in PARP.

PFP Joint Military Exercises

1994. Three joint military exercises were held, including "Cooperative Bridge" in Poland marking the first time NATO forces had joined with former adversaries on the territory of a former Warsaw Pact state.

1995. Ten major field, maritime, search and rescue, and command post exercises were held.

1996. More than 14 major PFP exercises in the areas of search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, and peacekeeping were held. Numerous seminars, workshops, and bilateral "in the spirit of PFP" exercises also were held.

1997. More than 25 major and "in the spirit of PFP" exercises are planned. NATO is considering expanding the scope of PFP activities to include peace enforcement and Partner participation in the new Combined Joint Task Force concept.


The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (or CFE Treaty), signed in Paris on November 19, 1990, by the 22 members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, is a landmark arms control agreement that established parity in major conventional forces/armaments between East and West from the Atlantic to the Urals. It provides an unprecedented basis for lasting European security and stability. The original CFE Treaty (which is of unlimited duration) entered into force in 1992. Following the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the enlargement of NATO in the 1990s, the then 30 CFE States Parties signed the Adaptation Agreement at the Istanbul OSCE Summit on 19 November 1999, to amend the CFE Treaty to take account of the evolving European geo-strategic environment.

The CFE Treaty covers the entire land territory of the States Parties in Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains (ATTU). It thus excludes much of the territory of Russia and all the territory of the U.S. and Canada - all signatories of the original and Adapted Treaty. The conventional forces of all three countries that are stationed in Europe are subject to CFE limits. The 30 CFE States Parties are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States.

The original CFE Treaty set equal limits for East and West in the ATTU on key conventional armaments essential for conducting surprise attacks or initiating large-scale offensive operations. Those armaments/equipment include: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, and artillery pieces, as well as combat aircraft (except for naval air) and attack helicopters. In addition to limitations on the number of armaments in each category, the Treaty also provides for central zonal limits to prevent destabilizing force concentrations in Europe and for regional ("flank") limits, which were modified by the Flank Agreement of May 1996. Whereas the original CFE Treaty established an East-West group structure for limiting NATO and Warsaw Pact conventional armaments, the Adapted Treaty provides for a system of national and territorial ceilings (the former limits the number of armaments each state may possess, while the latter limits the total number of Treaty-limited equipment present within a State Party 's borders); an accession mechanism for new States Parties; enhanced verification and transparency regimes; and honoring current Treaty commitments pending entry into force of the Adapted Treaty. The Adapted Treaty will facilitate NATO enlargement and reinforce the territorial sovereignty of individual States Parties.

The principal accomplishment of the CFE Treaty has been the large-scale reduction or destruction of conventional military equipment in the ATTU during the first 5 years the Treaty was in effect. By the end of the Treaty's reduction period in 1995, when equipment limits took effect, the 30 States Parties completed and verified by inspection the destruction or conversion of over 52,000 battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery pieces, combat aircraft and attack helicopters. In addition, they have conducted/accepted over 4000 intrusive on-site inspections of military units/installations, and of specified areas.

Ratification by NATO Allies of the Adapted Treaty is awaiting Russia's compliance with adapted CFE flank provisions and continued fulfillment of its Istanbul summit commitments regarding withdrawals of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova. The Adapted Treaty will enter into force 10 days after instruments of ratification have been deposited by all States Parties.

Editor's Update
April 2004

On March 29, 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia formally became members of NATO. It was the fifth and largest round of NATO enlargement in the organization's history. NATO now has 26 member countries. Earlier that month, NATO announced it would provide support for Polish troops in Iraq and for the Iraqi army under Polish command. NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced NATO could take part in the maintaining of stability in Iraq, but only under the Iraqi sovereign government and the authorization of the UN Security Council. Hoop Scheffer also announced in March 2004 that the European Union must develop its own security and defense policy, but that it must never compete with NATO or against the United States.


The Adriatic Charter, an initiative in the spirit of the 1998 U.S.-Baltic Charter, was proposed jointly by the Presidents of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia to President Bush at the NATO Prague Summit in November 2002. President Bush welcomed the Adriatic initiative as a strong contribution toward his vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia jointly drafted the Charter. Secretary of State Colin Powell will sign the Charter together with his colleagues, Foreign Ministers Meta, Mitreva, and Picula, in Tirana, Albania, May 2, 2003.

The Charter

  • Builds on the achievements of the NATO Prague Summit by reinforcing continued U.S. support for the Alliance's "Open Door," underscoring the goal of Albania's, Croatia's, and Macedonia's eventual full integration into NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions.
  • Underlines Albania's, Croatia's, and Macedonia's dedication to strengthening their individual and cooperative efforts to intensify and hasten domestic reforms, which enhance the security, prosperity, and stability of the region.
  • Notes the tremendous accomplishments already achieved by Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration, outlines areas of continuing focus, and reiterates the intention of the United States to continue assisting the countries in implementing necessary reforms. Notes also that each aspirant country will be judged individually on its progress toward meeting standards for membership in Euro-Atlantic bodies.
  • Reaffirms the parties' shared political commitment to strengthen democratic institutions, civil society, rule of law, market economies, and NATO-compatible militaries; to fight corruption and crime; and to protect human rights and civil liberties for all individuals in Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and the other countries of southeast Europe.
  • Emphasizes close bilateral, regional and multilateral political, defense, and economic cooperation between the partners, and with their neighbors, as benefiting all the countries of southeast Europe by enhancing stability and accelerating the region's integration into European and transatlantic institutions.
  • Foresees the establishment of Partnership Commission, at an appropriately high level of representation, that would meet twice a year or more often as necessary to review progress achieved toward meeting the objectives of the Charter. (The first meeting of the Partnership Commission has not been scheduled.)



In August 2003, NATO took over command of ISAF, the international force responsible for providing security in and around the Afghan capital, Kabul. In January 2004, the Alliance expanded its role by taking on security tasks also beyond the capital, in the area of Kunduz. This is the first stage of the planned expansion of the mission to other parts of the country.

Acting UN Special Representative in Afghanistan, Jean-François Arnault, described the recent positive developments, particularly the adoption of the constitution by the loya jirga, as having created "a new momentum" for peace in the country. He called for the further expansion of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, saying that this was one of the best ways of bolstering the authority of the government. Security would be a particularly crucial factor as preparations for the upcoming elections begin, he added. Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Afghanistan remains "the no. 1 priority for the All iance", and that the plan for the expansion of the mission is now being finalized.


NATO-Russia relations opened a new chapter with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council at the NATO-Russia Summit on May 28, 2002 in Rome. This ground-breaking new body brings together the 19 Allies and Russia to identify and pursue opportunities for joint action "at 20." Building on enhanced NATO-Russia cooperation following the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and the start of the War on Terrorism, the Council has successfully provided a venue for Russia and the Allies to work together as equal partners in areas of mutual interest, and to stand together against common threats and risks to security.


The development of a strong, enduring relationship between NATO and Ukraine is an important aspect of the emerging European security architecture. The maintenance of Ukraine's independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions is a crucial factor for stability and security in Central Europe and the continent as a whole. The signing of a NATO-Ukraine Charter represented an important step towards the goal of an undivided Europe.

The Charter provides a framework for an open-ended NATO-Ukraine relationship through consultation and cooperation on issues of common interest. Ukraine has been an active participant in NATO's Partnership for Peace, as reflected in its willingness to host and participate in a range of PFP exercises and activities. The Charter seeks to build on the achievements, strength and breadth of NATO-Ukraine cooperation, supporting important initiatives such as the Poland-Ukraine Battalion, the creation of a crisis consultation mechanism and ensuring the full development of the EAPC and enhanced PFP.