North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated May 29 2018

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Klaus Larres

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded on 4 April 1949 in Washington, D.C. On behalf of the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by Dean Acheson, secretary of state throughout President Harry S. Truman's second term. The founding members of the Atlantic alliance consisted of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Italy. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 21 July 1949 by a vote of 82 to 13; it entered into force on 14 August 1949. By joining the North Atlantic pact, the Truman administration turned its back on the many voices in the American political establishment and the country at large that favored a return to the political isolationism of the interwar years. After all, isolationists were able to go as far back as George Washington's Farewell Address, in which he admonished his fellow Americans to beware of the Europeans and "to have with them as little political connection as possible." But U.S. membership in the United Nations in 1945 had indicated that the country intended to stay involved in international political affairs. Subsequently, the 19471948 Marshall Plan made clear that the United States felt it was in its national interest to use its massive economic and financial resources to help in the reconstruction of Europe. This, it was hoped, would stabilize the old continent, prevent it from becoming once again a hotbed of nationalist fervor and civil war and, not least, make it immune to the forces of international communism. But even after the European Recovery Program (ERP) had been announced, it was still a major step to enter into a close military association. By committing the United States to NATO and thus to a formal and long-lasting entangling military alliance in peacetime, the North Atlantic Treaty of April 1949 marked, as Lawrence Kaplan put it, a "radical transformation in American foreign policy."

It is unlikely that this almost revolutionary development in U.S. political thinking would have come about without the Cold War and the global ideological and political power struggle with the Soviet Union. With the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty the United States indicated its willingnessafter much prodding by the United Kingdom and other leading European nationsto accede to the role of protector of western Europe. The Truman administration clearly hoped that with the help of both the Marshall Plan and NATO, U.S. influence, and indeed its example, would help the countries of the old continent to integrate their political and above all economic and military systems in a peaceful and stabilizing way. It was expected that eventually a united and federally organized Europe would evolve in a manner similar to the development of the United States 150 years previously.

One should not credit the leading U.S. politicians of the day and organs like the State Department's Policy Planning Staff too much with a visionary long-term strategy: much came about by default and by means of ad hoc reactions to unexpected developments. Still, quite a few elements of a coherent and well-considered strategy can be detected in American foreign policy after World War II. Much thought was for example dedicated to the perennial German question. It was hoped that the unification of the European continent would defuse the German problem by incorporating this large and potentially still powerful and economically important country into a peaceful and fully integrated European system.

In view of the perceived military threat from the Soviet Union and the weakness of the Western world in terms of conventional warfare capabilities, America's unrivaled nuclear security umbrella was initially gladly accepted by all members. In fact, possession of the atomic bomb and Washington's apparent willingness to use this weapon if necessary in response to an attack on any NATO member was the basis for Washington's hegemonic position in the Atlantic alliance. NATO allowed the United States to carve out a clear sphere of interest for itself. Washington's overwhelming military and also economic and political strength as well as its supremacy within NATO and the Western alliance enabled the United States to form what in the 1960s came to be called bluntly "the American Empire." In the 1970s and 1980s, when Europe's important role in the early Cold War and the creation of NATO was belatedly recognized, many historians began to refer to Washington's dominance somewhat more benevolently as an "empire by invitation." Yet the existence of American hegemony was disputed by very few European observers. Americans, however, often tended to regard their country's superiority in the Western alliance as the realization of Thomas Jefferson's well-meaning "empire of liberty." While to some extent Washington's role as a benign but still vastly powerful and at times quite autocratic leader rested on its economic strength and its political influence, primarily it was American dominance of NATO that furnished it with formidable global importance.

This explains why both the Bush and the Clinton administrations strongly objected to any thoughts of abandoning NATO after the end of the Cold War in 19891991. The largely unchallenged American dominance of NATO was the most important and most powerful tool at the disposal of the United States to maintain its influence in Europe and beyond. More than a decade later this was still the case. In view of the increasingly frequent economic and trade as well as political and strategic disagreements in transatlantic relations in the early twenty-first century, Washington's efforts to bolster NATO and turn it into one of its main pillars of influence in the contemporary world was hardly surprising. NATO still provided the United States with a crucial instrument of global leadership. Moreover, in the aftermath of the entirely unexpected terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., in September 2001, NATO would also serve as the instrument that was able to provide the United States with crucial military and logistic help and indeed much needed political and moral support in the war against international terrorism.


The establishment of NATO in April 1949 rested upon a European and in particular a British initiative. As John Lewis Gaddis has written, it was "as explicit an invitation as has ever been extended from smaller powers to a great power to construct an empire and include them within it." However, in the circumstances of the times, considerations about American empire building and American dominance played a rather minor role. The Europeans were looking for military protection and economic and military aid to ensure their survival as democratic states. Some American observers have therefore concluded that the western Europeans deviously "entrapped" the United States. This is unjustified. The American political establishment of the timeboth the Democratic administration and, until the election of 1948, the Republican leadership of Congressrealized very well that putting a stop to Soviet expansionist encroachments and maintaining democratic states with a liberal economic order on the European continent were very much in the national interest of the United States.

Yet, admittedly, without strenuous European attempts to persuade the Truman administration to come to the rescue of the European nation-states, American involvement might never have come about. What proved to be decisive for American support in both the economic and military sphere was evidence of European willingness to help themselves. This was Washington's condition for providing financial aid under the Marshall Plan and joining the European nations in talks about setting up a North Atlantic defensive alliance.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, American policymakers, and in particular Secretary of State James Byrnes, were hopeful that some kind of modus vivendi could be found with Stalin's Soviet Union. Yet, this soon proved to be impossible. In March 1946, in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill spoke of the iron curtain that was descending "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic." A month before this well-publicized event, the U.S. diplomat George Kennan had already sent his influential Long Telegram from the Moscow embassy to Washington warning about Soviet expansionist intentions. As a result of these efforts, in the course of 1946 the foreign policy elite in Washington and American public opinion were becoming rather critical of Stalin's activities. It was a slow process, however, and the turning point only came in 1947. The tightening of Moscow's grip on the states of Eastern Europe, frequent difficulties with Moscow's ambitions in Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere, and increasingly tense East-West relations in occupied Germany made many contemporaries slowly aware of the apparently irreconcilable nature of Soviet and Western political aims. Of great importance was the ever more apparent economic weakness of Britain and the unsustainable nature of the country's long-standing imperial role. Crucially significant also was the state of near starvation and the considerable political and economic instability of much of western Europe. This propelled the United States into action.

In the Truman Doctrine of 12 March 1947, the United States declared that it would respond to the British request to assume responsibility for the support of the anticommunist forces in Greece and Turkey. Moreover, much less to Britain's liking, Truman also promised American support for the worldwide fight against international communism. Three months later, Secretary of State George Marshall, Acheson's predecessor, announced the European Recovery Program (ERP) in his speech at Harvard University on 5 June. The Marshall Plan was meant to provide economic assistance to the states of western Europe to enable them to withstand the onslaught of communist fifth columns. Otherwise communism's ideological temptations might well have held a tremendous attraction for the peoples of Europe who lacked food, housing, and heating fuel.

It was Washington's intention to stabilize and reconstruct the continent with the help of generous economic and financial aid. American policymakers recognized that only a united western Europe at peace with itself would be able to create a common front against the military and ideological threat from the Soviet Union. Only such a Europe would ensure the reconciliation of Germany with the countries of the Western world while avoiding tendencies toward neutralism and defeatism. Underlying America's postwar vision was the assumption that only a fully integrated, stable, and economically viable Europe would develop into a peaceful and democratic continent. The lessons from America's own past as well as the country's federalist structure were to serve as the model to achieve a single European market. This would prevent economic nationalism, lead to European prosperity, and form a truly free and multilateral transatlantic economic system.

It also was expected that in due course this strategy would have the advantage of making unnecessary the continuation of American economic aid to western Europe. Active American governmental support and interference were always regarded as temporary. It was hoped that European reconstruction would close the dollar gap, permit the convertibility of European currencies, allow the Europeans to export to the United States, and, not least, create a huge market for U.S. exporters. The latter would be important in avoiding the predicted domestic American recession. Washington therefore stipulated that most of the goods purchased with Marshall Plan aid had to be bought in the United States.

In his speech at Harvard, Marshall had spelled out that while the United States would give generous economic aid, the initiative for proposals on how best to make use of this aid for reconstruction and economic revival had to come from the Europeans themselves. British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin realized this; he regarded Marshall's offer as "a life-line to sinking men" to avert "the looming shadow of catastrophe" over western Europe. Together with his French counterpart Georges Bidault, he organized an international conference in Paris in June and July 1947. The conference led to the formation of the Committee of European Economic Cooperation and to the acceptance of decisive American economic and political involvement in the internal affairs of the countries of western Europe. Eventually, in April 1948, the European Recovery Program was set up and a new European Payments Union and the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) were established. The latter was the organ responsible for the distribution of Marshall Plan aid to sixteen European nations and the western zones of Germany. Due to European disagreements and contrary to its original intention, Washington decided to become a direct participant in the running of the OEEC.

The Soviet Union, however, declined to accept the liberal-capitalist economic conditions Washington imposed as a precondition for participation in the ERP. Moreover, Moscow prevented Eastern European states like Poland and Czechoslovakia from accepting U.S. aid. According to some historians, the Soviet Union's self-exclusion may well have been a result secretly hoped for in Washington, as the United States had no interest in using American taxpayers' money to support the economic reconstruction of the communist world. Be this as it may, the nonparticipation of Eastern Europe meant that the Marshall Plan and the OEEC contributed to the widening of the economic, ideological, and political gulf in postwar Europe.

Although Marshall's speech was received with a great deal of hope in Europe, throughout 1947 and most of 1948 fear of a military invasion from the East stalked the western part of the continent. The spirit of the times was characterized by despondency and fatalism. Not only were Greece, France, and Italy, with their large communist parties, on the brink of civil war, but East-West relations in Germany, with the eastern zone firmly controlled by Stalin's lieutenants, were becoming ever icier. Questions such as reparations, four-power control of Germany's industrial heartland (the Ruhr Valley), and the desirability of the reestablishment of a central and united state were among the most contested.

It was the collapse of the London foreign ministers conference in December 1947 over disagreements regarding the future of Germany and the February 1948 communist coup and subsequent purges in Czechoslovakia that were decisive. These moved the United States toward participation in an Atlantic defense organization. In early 1948 both Ernest Bevin and Georges Bidault impressed on American leaders the urgency of the situation. Ever since he had become British foreign secretary in July 1945, it had been Bevin's primary aim to persuade the United States to remain committed to the security and well-being of the European continent. But in the absence of a lasting U.S. commitment to Europe, Bevin, in response to a French initiative, had signed the Treaty of Dunkirk on 4 March 1947. It established an Anglo-French bilateral military alliance with an anticipated duration of fifty years; the formal aim of the treaty was the prevention of renewed German militarism. Yet for both Britain and France the Dunkirk treaty represented merely a second-best solution as it did not involve the United States.

Shortly after the collapse of the foreign ministers conference, Bevin explained his idea of a Western union to Marshall and Bidault, who both heartily endorsed a new political and defensive agreement among Britain, France, and the Benelux countries. Bevin insisted, however, on the need for American assistance and participation in a loose and flexible "spiritual federation of the West." He told Marshall that the "salvation of the West depends on the formation of some form of union, formal or informal in character, in Western Europe, backed by the United States and the [British] Dominions." During an impressive speech in the House of Commons on 22 January 1948, Bevin officially proposed the establishment of a western European union; he did not hesitate to spell out that such a treaty would be directed against the threat posed to western Europe by the Soviet Union. The impact of the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in February and increasing Soviet intransigence over Berlin, which by June had led to the Berlin blockade crisis, confirmed the importance of Bevin's pronouncements.

On 17 March 1948 a treaty for European economic, political, cultural, and military cooperation with a duration of fifty years was signed in Brussels. Participants of this multilateral treaty, the anti-German tone of which was much milder than that of the Dunkirk treaty, were Britain, France, and the three Benelux countries. Unlike the Dunkirk treaty arrangements, the Brussels Treaty Organization (BTO) could be enlarged to include other members. The values of self-help and cooperation were emphasized in the treaty to impress the United States and, indeed, President Truman warmly welcomed the new organization. Nevertheless, the United States still needed to be persuaded to accept a European security commitment. Truman's enthusiastic welcome of the BTO and his unusual decision to maintain conscription in time of peace were hopeful signs.

Almost immediately after the Brussels treaty was concluded, top-secret Pentagon talks between Britain and the United States and Canada about the setting up of a North Atlantic defense organization took place. It is unlikely that these talks would have taken place without the prior formation of the BTO. However, the establishment of transatlantic military cooperation was still viewed in terms of cooperation between the BTO and the United States; neither American membership in the BTO nor the creation of a new treaty organization was yet envisaged.

Shortly after the Pentagon talks, from July 1948 to March 1949 the BTO and the United States and Canada entered into drawn-out negotiations for the establishment of some sort of Atlantic security organization. The aim of the talks was the achievement of a unanimous decision rather than merely a majority vote. Still, the Truman administration remained cautious. As Lawrence Kaplan has explained, opposition to the establishment of a joint American-European military alliance came from three major camps in the United States.

First, there was the still formidable opposition from isolationists who suspected that America was being asked to pull the European chestnuts out of the fire. These largely emotional and psychological pressures were difficult to satisfy. The administration, and in particular Secretary Acheson, embarked on a major effort of persuasion to win over as many isolationists in Congress as possible by, for example, emphasizing the harmony of interests between the UN Charter and the NATO treaty. But due to congressional pressure, and much to the dislike of the Europeans, Article 5 of the North Atlantic charter, in which an attack on one member was regarded as an attack on all and would lead to a joint war effort, had to be expressed much more vaguely than originally anticipated. Thus, not the Soviet Union or any other potential enemy but the U.S. Congress would in fact decide whether or not the United States would become involved in a war. Essentially, this was the result of the Vandenberg Resolution passed by the Senate in early June 1948. On the whole, however, the compromise achieved by Arthur Vandenberg, the influential Republican senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, only slightly diluted the North Atlantic Treaty. However, when article 5 was invoked for the very first time after the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, it occurred in an entirely unforeseen way and for a totally unexpected reason. During the Cold War it had always been expected that the United States would have to come to the aid of European countries to defend them against a Soviet invasion. But in September 2001, article 5 was invoked by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and the North Atlantic Council on the request of the U.S. administration to obtain NATO's political and military support in the fight against international terrorism.

Secondly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. military in general were more than doubtful whether the country had the resources to build up a transatlantic military alliance. Indeed, the Joint Chiefs feared that the resources Congress would be able to make available to the American military services would be greatly reduced if Washington decided to rearm the Europeans. Whether or not European rearmament went ahead, in view of Stalin's conventional superiority, the West would be helpless if faced with a Soviet invasion of Europe. Eventually, however, the Joint Chiefs realized that the proposed Mutual Defense Assistance Program would actually enable them to enlarge and modernize the equipment available to the army, navy, and air force. Moreover, the administration's willingness to listen to the military and to agree to rule out the right of any of the future NATO members to automatic military assistance greatly pleased the Joint Chiefs. Instead, bilateral agreements with each member were made the precondition for offering U.S. military aid to western Europe.

Thirdly, supporters of the United Nations and Roosevelt's "one world" concept feared that an "entangling alliance" would revive the despised and dangerous balance-of-power concept of preWorld War II days. Although they recognized that the Soviet Union's veto in the Security Council made any use of the United Nations for Western defense purposes difficult, if not impossible, the envisaged alliance appeared to ignore the United Nations altogether. This was a poor precedent that might well threaten to undermine the United Nations fatally. The Truman administration therefore invoked the UN Charter as much as possible in the articles of the North Atlantic Treaty, although they realized, as Kaplan writes, "that there was a basic incompatibility between the treaty and the charter." During the strenuous efforts to sell the North Atlantic Treaty to the country, the administration pretended that NATO was a regional organization of the United Nations (chapter 8, article 53). Wisely, however, no reference to this effect was included in the text of the treaty. After all, regional organizations were obliged to report to the UN Security Council, which would have given Moscow an unacceptable element of influence on NATO.

During the many months of negotiations between the Brussels Treaty Organization and the United States and Canada many other issues became controversial. For example, the question of whether the new organization should be only a strategic or also a political alliance was contentious. In the end, and largely on the insistence of Canada, the envisaged organization was also given a political and ideological role rather than a mere military function. Thus, article 2 emphasized the necessity of economic and social cooperation between the member states, and article 8 stated that no member state should enter into any obligations that conflicted with NATOin other words, no member state was allowed to go communist. Also, the role of Germany, and how to restrain and integrate Germany into the Western world, was extensively and successfully discussed. At the London conference in the spring of 1948, the three Western allies were therefore able to agree on the radical step of setting up a separate West German state.

Of particular importance were questions of NATO membership, coverage, and duration. Eventually it was decided that there should be no different categories of membership; countries were either participants or not. For strategic and political reasons it was decided to interpret the term "North Atlantic" loosely. For example, the Algerian departments of France were accepted as being covered by NATO, and countries such as Italy and Portugal (and later Greece and Turkey) were of such strategic importance that they needed to become involved. This meant for example that Antonio Salazar's Portugal, which was hardly a democratic country, was allowed to join. Yet, Spain only became a member in 1982, after the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. For largely strategic reasons, Portugal (including the Portuguese Azores) and Italy as well as Norway, Denmark (including Danish Greenland), and Iceland were allowed to accede to NATO in April 1949. They had not participated in the negotiations between the BTO, the United States, and Canada.

By SeptemberOctober 1948 it had become clear that a new unified alliance would be created rather than a defensive agreement between the Brussels Treaty Organization and a North American organization, as had been envisaged in the Pentagon talks. Most importantly, at around the same time it became obvious that the United States would be a definite member of the new North Atlantic alliance. While the Europeans expected above all to benefit from NATO by means of American protection and military aid, Washington hoped that the existence of NATO would convince the Soviet Union to restrain its expansionist ambitions. Not least the United States expected that due to American participation, the North Atlantic alliance would help to overcome the outdated balance-of-power concept that had dominated European politics for centuries. NATO was therefore meant to contribute decisively to the establishment of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous continent.


After the establishment of the North Atlantic alliance in 1949, almost immediately two important organs for the running of NATO were set up under article 9 of the treaty: the North Atlantic Council and the Defense Committee. The first council meeting in September 1949 in Washington and the subsequent meetings in late 1949 and early 1950 decided that for the time being the organizational structure of the Brussels Treaty Organization was to be adopted for NATO's use. In addition, the establishment of a united command with a supreme commander and Council of Deputies was also agreed upon. The most important NATO institutions for the next few years were the five regional planning groups (including the Western European Regional Planning Group consisting of the five BTO nations); the Military Committee, consisting of the chiefs of staff of the member states with a standing group based in the Pentagon; and a general three-nation standing group of NATO's most crucial members, the United States, Britain, and France. Thus by 1950 a relatively well-integrated alliance structure was taking shape.

It was much more difficult, however, to design a strategic and military concept that would turn NATO from a paper tiger into a real collaborative transatlantic alliance. NATO's first strategic concept was adopted in January 1950, with the United States being mostly responsible for strategic bombing issues, the United Kingdom for naval warfare matters, and the continental Europeans for tactical air warfare issues and the provision of ground troops. However, differences soon surfaced regarding American ideas about the defense of Europe. During the first few years of NATO the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were so pessimistic about the availability of Western military resources that the American defense plans for Europe essentially consisted of the withdrawal of U.S. troops to the Pyrenees and Britain. It was hoped that it might be possible to reconquer the continent at a later stage. Not surprisingly, the Europeans were less than impressed; they insisted on a defense of Europe at the Rhine or ideally at the Elbe. Thus, in May 1950 the Medium Term Defense Plan (MTDP) that took European sensitivities into account was agreed upon. Still, the plan was based largely on the optimistic prognosis that more than ninety divisions and eight thousand planes would be available by 1954. This was highly unrealistic but NATO essentially believed that no Soviet invasion was to be expected in the foreseeable future (1954 was regarded as the danger year). Further, it was assumed that the American atomic monopoly would provide immunity from attack, whatever the availability and readiness of Western conventional forces on the continent. There was great fear that any strenuous rearmament effort by the Europeans would irreparably damage the economic and social reconstruction of the continent.

The explosion of an atomic bomb by the Soviet Union in August 1949 undermined this confident belief in the American atomic umbrella. After all, the Western alliance had expected that Moscow would not be able to develop atomic weapons for a considerable number of years. Yet, much to the consternation of politicians in Washington, by mid-September firm scientific evidence was available that a Soviet explosion had indeed taken place. Britain was only able to embark on its first atomic test explosion in 1952, and it took France until 1960 to develop an atomic device. Although it was considered unlikely that the Soviet Union would be able to rival Washington's growing atomic arsenal for a significant period of time, the Truman administration decided to go ahead with the building of a hydrogen bomb.

In the course of 1950 the U.S. government began to doubt whether the resources allocated to the defense of the Western world were sufficient. The result was the controversial document NSC 68, which reflected the increasing militarization of the Cold War. Subsequently, Washington's belief in the necessity of making more radical efforts to rearm the countries of western Europe (including the new West German state) and to expand and modernize America's conventional and nuclear forces was strengthened by the out-break of war in Korea, which was regarded as another Western failure in Asia after the loss of China to the communists in 1949. In June 1950 communist North Korean forces invaded South Korea, the American protectorate. Parallels were drawn with the precarious position of divided Germany in Europe. It was clear that the envisaged MTDP program was grossly inadequate. Under the impact of the Korean War the huge American and allied rearmament program called for by NSC 68 was signed into law by President Truman. In addition, and despite strong French opposition during the Western head of government conference in September 1950 in Washington, the United States firmly insisted on the rearmament of the new West German state. West German forces as well as the territory of West Germany were needed for the forward defense of the European continent.

Eventually, a compromise was achieved by means of the Pleven Plan, which was based on the recently conceived European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) for the integration of the French and German coal and steel industries. Both plans were the brainchild of the influential French businessman and civil servant Jean Monnet. Instead of an independent German army, navy, air force, and general staff, French Prime Minister René Pleven proposed the creation of a multinational European army under the umbrella of a European Defense Community (EDC), which, as Acheson expressed it, would be closely "interlocked" with (and presumably subordinate to) NATO. Approximately ten German divisions would be integrated with other countries' forces at the regimental level to form mixed European divisions that would remain under the command of non-German EDC member states. To make the difficult task of rearming the Germans more palatable to West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who would face enormous domestic opposition, he was offered sovereignty for the Federal Republic as a reward. The EDC solution also envisaged the establishment of a European minister of defense, an assembly, and a council of ministers as well as a common defense budget. The persuasive skills of NATO's first allied supreme commander and World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower helped to convince the Truman administration that the EDC project was a sensible way of obtaining West German rearmament without antagonizing the other European countries too much. Fears of the reestablishment of Hitler's Wehrmacht were still widespread. Consequently, Washington regarded the realization of the EDC as of vital importance. It was believed that the European army would cement the Western alliance and lead to the establishment of lasting Franco-German friendship, thus strengthening NATO's coherence and preventing future European civil wars.

Although the EDC treaty was signed in May 1952, ratification was a difficult affair. President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who succeeded Truman and Acheson in January 1953, were unable to pressure Paris into ratifying the treaty. Ultimately, in the absence of Britain, which was prepared to cooperate with the EDC but not to join it, fear of German dominance of the EDC led the French parliament not to go ahead with the ratification of the EDC treaty in late August 1954. With the exception of the out-break of the Korean War, this was the most severe crisis of the Atlantic alliance to date. NATO was thrown into turmoil. Washington was particularly shocked. After all, the U.S. administration had hoped that the establishment of the EDC might enable Washington to reduce both its financial and troop commitments to Europe. Instead, the rearmament and sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as the European integration process and the coherence and military buildup of NATO, had to be reconsidered from scratch.

The British managed to come to the rescue. During two rapidly convened conferences in London and Paris in September and October 1954, and by way of an earlier whirlwind journey through the European capitals, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was able to convince his partners to agree to West German membership in NATO on a nondiscriminatory basis. Eventually, French agreement was won after the negotiation of Bonn's prior admission to the Western European Union (WEU). This was the renamed Brussels Treaty Organization of 1948. By way of West German WEU membership, France and the other member states were to receive a veto over the rearmament and arms procurement activities of the Federal Republic. Eden had also announced during the London conference that despite British sovereignty concerns, his country would not withdraw its Rhine army and tactical air force based in West Germany without the agreement of its WEU partners. As long as U.S. troops remained on the continent, the British would also be prepared to make a European commitment. The "great debate" of 1951 in Washington between the administration and isolationists in Congress about further troop commitments in Europe had already resulted in the dispatch of four additional American divisions to Europe.

Thus, the WEU solution to control German rearmament and London and Washington's commitment to continue deploying troops on the European continent were decisive in persuading France to cease its opposition to West German membership in NATO. Both German rearmament and the unity of the Western alliance had been preserved. Yet the WEU never developed a life of its own. It is fair to say that the development of a European defense identity and a European pillar of NATOas had been envisaged with the explicit agreement of the United States by means of the EDCtherefore did not commence before the 1980s and 1990s. With the exception of France and despite the occasional crisis in transatlantic security relations, throughout most of the Cold War the western Europeans placidly accepted American predominance in NATO and thus the buildup of the American empire. While Britain believed it could rely on the "special relationship" with the United States to maintain its influence, the West Germans, at the front line of the Cold War, felt too dependent on the American security umbrella to oppose this strongly. Only the French were prepared to challenge American hegemony in Europe.

At the Lisbon North Atlantic Council conference in February 1952, agreement had been reached on a substantial military and political reorganization of NATO. That structure was largely still in place in the early twenty-first century. With regard to the military organization of the alliance, most of the regional planning groups were abolished. Instead, the standing group of the Military Committee would oversee SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), commanded by SACEUR (Supreme Allied Command Europe). An Atlantic command (Supreme Allied Command Atlantic, SACLANT) and an English Channel command were established on the same level of responsibility, which included planning issues. SHAPE, which was essentially modeled on the Brussels Treaty Organization headquarters near Paris and took over many of its administrative units, was clearly the most important command. It was subdivided into four geographical commands: Northern Europe, Central Europe, Southern Europe, and the Mediterranean. While the supreme commanders for Europe and the Atlantic were Americans, the Channel Command was headed by a Briton; all the command posts reported directly to the standing group in Washington. Unlike the failed European Defense Community, in NATO the vast majority of troops were national forces; NATO only mixed nationalities at the various command headquarters.

The Lisbon conference also approved a new political structure. A civilian secretary general (who would always be a European) was to be appointed. The secretary general was to be responsible to the Council of Ministers and in charge of an international secretariat that had responsibility for financial and economic planning and for military production issues. The Council of Deputies was to be replaced by permanent representatives at the ambassadorial level who assumed responsibility when the Council of Ministers was not sitting; their meetings would be chaired by the secretary general. Moreover, despite British protests it was decided to move NATO headquarters from London to outside Paris where it would be closer to SHAPE.

The conference also approved the first enlargement of NATO, which led to the admission of Greece and Turkey in 1952. Both countries were of great strategic importance to NATO's southern rim and contributed more than twenty-five valuable divisions. The western Europeans reiterated their willingness to make huge rearmament efforts in the conventional field so that ninety-six well-equipped divisions (including the West German contingents) would be available by 1954. However, economic and financial realities in western Europe would prevent the achievement of these ambitious and quite unrealistic military goals. With respect to domestic opinion and the obvious limits on the tax burden that could be imposed, no country was willing to adhere to the Lisbon goals.

Still, by 1955 NATO had already expanded its membership twice, had become a much more integrated military alliance with a clear political dimension, and had also seriously attempted to tackle its military weakness. However, it was still in no position to rival the forces at the disposal of the Soviet Union.


After the Austrian peace treaty in April and the admission of West Germany to NATO in May 1955, the Geneva Four-Power Summit in July inaugurated the first thaw in East-West relations. Although neither the summit conference nor the subsequent Geneva foreign ministers' conference managed to solve any of the many outstanding Cold War problems, the two meetings led to a more relaxed international climate. It appeared to be possible to contain the Cold War in Europe peacefully and agree to disagree, something that was soon called "peaceful coexistence."

Although East-West relations deteriorated temporarily when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary in late 1956, the almost simultaneous Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Egypt to reverse nationalization of the Suez Canal shook the Western alliance to its foundations. American anger at not having been consulted and Washington's fear that the British-French action would open the doors of the Middle East to the Soviet Union (as it did) led to the first occasion when the United States and the Soviet Union sided against two western European countries. An American-inspired run on the pound sterling and the effective imposition of an oil embargo on Britain by President Eisenhower had the desired result. Britain gave notice to the French that they would have to withdraw from Egypt, an action that caused a great deal of anti-British resentment in Paris. The Suez crisis made it clear that Britain and France, who still retained a good deal of global influence, were not able to embark on independent international action without the approval and support of the United States. Thus the crisis symbolized the decline of western Europe to the status of a mere satellite continent.

After the Suez crisis American preponderance within the Western alliance, both in its political and strategic dimension, could no longer be doubted. The Europeans increasingly became reactive members who criticized and complained while most constructive initiatives originated in Washington. This was evident during the long Berlin crisis of 19581963, which led to a quite unexpected escalation of the Cold War and to the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. The Berlin crisis and in particular the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis brought the world close to nuclear war. The August 1963 limited test ban treaty between the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and any other state that wished to join was one of the lessons drawn from the missile crisis. Another was the installation of a "hot line" between Washington and Moscow.

Despite the increasing Cold War marginalization of Europe in the second half of the 1950s and during the 1960s, European alliance members played a subordinate but still significant role with regard to the development of NATO's strategic concepts. However, most initiatives came from the United States. Shortly after taking office the Eisenhower administration realized that the conventional force goals as agreed at Lisbon would either remain unrealistic or, if implemented, would undermine American and European economic competitiveness and social well-being. Thus, Washington invented vague concepts with names such as "long haul," "massive retaliation," and "new look," which would obscure the fact that the alliance was unable to develop as quickly and as intensively as originally envisaged.

Although the European alliance members were very critical of the increased reliance on nuclear containment, there was very little they could do. While always prepared to criticize American proposals, NATO's European members were not prepared to put more of their own scarce resources into developing their conventional forces. The only concept they partially agreed with was the "long haul" idea, which essentially consisted of the insight that the frantic rearmament efforts of the Korean War and Lisbon conference era could not be sustained for financial and psychological reasons; the plan was therefore to be stretched out over a longer period of time. However, "massive retaliation" and the "new look," as first outlined in NSC document 162/2 in late 1953, were very different matters. Because the envisaged conventional rearmament goals were unrealistic and because the production of atomic weapons appeared to be a lot cheaper than conventional warfare methods, the Eisenhower administration intended to focus NATO's strategy on nuclear containment. U.S. officials argued that fear of an American atomic response would prevent any Soviet attack on the countries of the Western alliance. Moreover, getting "greater bang for the buck," as Eisenhower's secretary of defense expressed it, would ensure the maintenance of healthy Western economies and budgets.

The increasing reliance on nuclear diplomacy meant that NATO would have no choice but to respond with atomic weapons if, for example, the Soviet Union invaded West Germany. NATO was all but incapable of retaliating to a communist attack with conventional weapons. Instead it would rely on the so-called "trip-wire" idea: once the Soviet Union attacked Europe and the U.S. soldiers stationed there, Washington's Strategic Air Command would be activated. The implications of such a scenario were most disconcerting for the West Germans and their European neighbors. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William Radford's 1956 suggestion, as leaked to the New York Times, that the United States needed to reduce U.S. troops in Europe to two million by the withdrawal of 800,000 soldiers from the continent, gave rise to great concern. Moreover, the greater the arsenal of intercontinental nuclear weapons at the disposal of the Soviet Union, the larger the question mark in the minds of European leaders about whether or not Washington would be prepared to run the risk of inviting a Soviet attack on American territory by coming to the aid of Europe.

This became a realistic concern in 1957, when Moscow sent Sputnik, the first space satellite, into orbit and also managed to launch the first intercontinental ballistic missile. American cities, and not merely European ones, could now be reached by Soviet nuclear bombs. Soon politicians were talking about a "missile gap" to the detriment of the West; this dominated the U.S. election campaign of 1960, although it soon became known that Nikita Khrushchev had been vastly exaggerating the Soviet Union's nuclear capabilities. Still, Sputnik contributed to the fact that the U.S. government was more than ever in favor of "burden sharing" within the alliance. While the United States would be responsible for enhanced nuclear containment, Washington expected the western Europeans to provide for the cost-intensive conventional means of defending the European continent from any Soviet invasion. However, much to the irritation of the United States, the Europeans were both unwilling and economically unable to dedicate the expected resources to the defense of the Western alliance.

American politicians also became increasingly uneasy about the military implications of "massive retaliation." In the last few years of the Eisenhower administration and in particular with the advent of the Kennedy administration in January 1961, U.S. officials considered plans for replacing this doctrine with a new NATO strategy. Initially, they developed the concept of a shield force, which would include troops equipped with tactical nuclear weapons as well as conventional arms. The administration attempted to persuade Congress that nuclear sharing with the NATO allies, in particular with Britain, was essential for maintaining NATO's credibility. In 1958 this resulted in the repeal of the 1946 McMahon Act, which had forbidden the sharing of nuclear secrets with either friend or foe. In late 1962 it also helped British prime minister Harold Macmillan argue his case with President Kennedy that the canceled Skybolt missile be replaced with American Polaris missiles that the British could equip with their own nuclear warheads. The French were offered a similar deal but turned it down. Under President Charles de Gaulle, France would later insist on military independence.

A new strategic concept, "flexible response," was eventually adopted in 1967. It was meant to allow NATO to respond to an invasion by the Soviet Union with a range of escalating options: use of conventional weapons, use of small tactical atomic weapons, and only finally initiation of a full-scale nuclear war. But this also was a controversial concept. The European NATO allies generally feared that a Soviet and eastern European attack at multiple locations and by multiple means would still give the Western alliance no option but to embark on escalating the conflict into a nuclear counterattack. Moreover, the question remained: Who would decide the use of nuclear weapons by NATO and would the European members be able to influence Washington's decision? As Ian Thomas has recognized, the issues were "command and control" of NATO's nuclear forces. A compromise solution had already been found with the so-called dual key arrangements for the use of intercontinental ballistic missiles; the host nations had to give their agreement to the use of these weapons. However, Britain and other European nations were concerned about whether in a sudden emergency the United States would wait for the agreement of the Europeans. After all, despite the looming threat of a global nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, the Americans had not bothered to consult with the Europeans; even the British had hardly been informed. Thus, the anxieties of the Europeans that they might be dragged into a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union against their will dominated the early to mid-1960s.

American ideas about the establishment of a multilateral force (MLF), put forth in early 1963, were a reaction to this. Although originally developed during the Eisenhower years, the Kennedy administration argued that the MLF would lead to greater alliance cooperation and transatlantic military transparency. It would create an integrated nuclear force similar to the existing integrated conventional forces and thus increase NATO military efficiency. Washington also hoped to integrate British and French nuclear forces into the MLF and thereby defuse the discussion about the creation of German-owned nuclear forces and Germany's participation in nuclear decision making.

The MLF was to consist of twenty-five ships, to be jointly owned, financed, controlled, and manned by the entire alliance; each ship would be equipped with eight Polaris missiles. In military circles it was technologically and organizationally a very controversial concept, and many experts doubted its military usefulness. However, the Kennedy administration appeared to believe that the MLF could be used to overcome the deep dissatisfaction within the alliance with regard to NATO's nuclear strategy. It would continue full American control over the deployment and use of nuclear weapons while giving the Europeans the impression that they were participating in nuclear decision making. At the same time, the MLF concept had the advantage of preventing the further proliferation of nuclear weapons within the alliance. Despite strong German support for the MLF (and strong French and British opposition; London even proposed its own equally flawed Atlantic Nuclear Force concept), by 1965 the Johnson administration had withdrawn the idea. Instead, Washington was now in favor of creating a nuclear planning group within NATO.

By then France's increasing uneasiness about American dominance of and strategy for the alliance was rapidly posing a severe threat to the unity and coherence of NATO. Paris doubted the U.S. commitment to nuclear deterrence if America's own national interest (that is, U.S. territory) was not threatened. Moreover, many in France argued that multilateral nuclear deterrence would contribute to the prevention of nuclear war. Thus, for French nuclear strategy the existence of NATO was counterproductive and not necessary at all. In addition, De Gaulle viewed American predominance in NATO and talk of an Atlantic community with ever greater suspicion. Not without justification he believed that Washington intended to prevent the development of independent nuclear forces within NATO and to keep individual alliance members as subordinate as possible.

In early March 1966 President Lyndon Johnson was informed that France would leave NATO's Integrated Military Command (IMC) and that all NATO forces and NATO headquarters had to depart France by April 1967. This led to another severe crisis within NATO, yet by late 1967 the alliance had resettled in Brussels, and no lasting damage to the unity of the remaining NATO IMC members had occurred.


After the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, East-West détente was widely seen as the only option to ensure the world's long-term survival. Washington became increasingly interested in East-West détente and pushed NATO in the same direction. As early as May 1964, President Johnson had spoken of the need for "building bridges," and in October 1966 he advanced the idea of "peaceful engagement" with the countries of the Eastern bloc. The Harmel Report, approved by NATO member states in December 1967, spoke explicitly of the Western aim "to further a détente in East-West relations." However, it was made clear that any détente would have to be based on NATO's and the West's cherished policy of strength. During the NATO Council of Ministers meeting in Reykjavik in June 1968, all NATO members emphasized their willingness to embark upon East-West negotiations regarding troop reductions in Europe. In fact, Washington hoped that NATO would become one of the instruments driving détente; in an era of lessening threat perception it would help to give the Atlantic alliance a new sense of purpose. It would also discourage the European allies from pursuing bilateral policies of détente, as for example the French and especially the West Germans were doing.

Washington's readiness in the late 1960s and early 1970s to use NATO as a vehicle for embarking upon détente with the Soviet Union, thus giving in to European calls for a relaxation of the Cold War, was strongly influenced by American economic and financial problems. Some commentators began speaking of relative American decline and the end of the American century. This was symbolized by Richard Nixon's termination in 1971 of the 1944 Bretton Woods economic system by his sudden suspension of the dollar's convertibility into gold, which resulted in the free floating of international currencies and an effective devaluation of the dollar. Simultaneously, the president imposed a 10 percent protective tariff on imported goods. These measures were solely dictated by domestic economic requirements in the United States, and any negative economic consequences for its European allies were disregarded. America's problems were largely due to the costs of the Vietnam War, the lingering burden of financing the domestic Great Society programs of the 1960s, and the relative overvaluation of the dollar, which helped European and Japanese exports. The European Community's imposition of quotas, exchange controls, and import licenses on goods from outside the community as well as its protectionist common agricultural policy (CAP), inaugurated in 1966 also, contributed to America's ever-larger budget deficit. The United States had not only accumulated a considerable balance-of-payments deficit, but from 1971 it also had a considerable trade deficit as well as inflationary problems, rising unemployment, and almost stagnant wages; further, the position of the dollar, the world's leading reserve currency, was weakening. Transatlantic relations were becoming increasingly difficult, and this included relations within NATO.

America's relative economic and financial decline, in combination with global détente and the accompanying perception that the military threat from the Warsaw Pact was receding, decisively contributed to undermining the Nixon administration's commitment to the European continent and, to some extent, to NATO. Congress had also grown increasingly skeptical about the benefits of America's involvement in Europe. During the 1970s, Senator Mike Mansfield introduced eight amendments for U.S. troop reductions in Europe. Within the administration, it was the national security adviser Henry Kissinger, a keen student of nineteenth-century European power politics, who insisted on basing America's relations with its western European allies on a purely bilateral nation-state basis within the Atlantic framework. Establishing a united and federal Europe, as the creators of NATO originally had envisaged, was now seen as counterproductive for Washington's hegemony in the Western world. In Kissinger's realist worldview, it was unlikely that "Europe would unite in order to share our burdens or that it would be content with a subordinate role once it had the means to implement its own views." Kissinger even recognized that once "Europe had grown economically strong and politically united, Atlantic cooperation could not be an American enterprise in which consultations elaborated primarily American designs."

However, as far as public rhetoric was concerned, the Nixon administration continued speaking out in favor of a united federal Europe with a large single market, fully integrated into the Atlantic system. It was still assumed in Washington that a united Europe would share "the burdens and obligations of world leadership" with the United States. In particular, the Nixon White House favored the envisaged expansion of the European Community. It hoped that Britain's entry and the revival of the Anglo-American "special relationship" would lead to an improvement in transatlantic relations and within NATO. Yet on the whole Nixon and Kissinger were not prepared to accept the growing maturity of Europe and the realities of a more pluralistic and interdependent world. The Nixon administration still expected a largely docile Europe. As far as East-West relations and the NATO alliance were concerned, Washington certainly wished to be in full control. Ostpolitik, West Germany's fairly independent variant of détente, was therefore only grudgingly accepted by the U.S. administration. Nixon and Kissinger disliked the independence and confidence with which the West Germans proceeded with Ostpolitik and competed with Washington's own strategy of superpower détente.

By 1973 Kissinger realized that transatlantic relations were in urgent need of revision and repair. To the anger of the European Community countries who had not been consulted, he grandly announced the "Year of Europe." The Nixon administration had been largely occupied with the Vietnam War and the development of détente with China and the Soviet Union during its first years in office, and the "Year of Europe" was Kissinger's attempt to improve U.S.EC relations inside and outside NATO while safeguarding Washington's leadership role. Kissinger proposed a new Atlantic Charter and did not hesitate to emphasize that the United States had global responsibilities while the EC countries only had to deal with regional problems. Moreover, he insisted on a greater degree of military burden-sharing, arguing that only Europe's economic contribution would guarantee the continued functioning of America's security umbrella. The so-called Nixon Doctrine of 1970 had emphasized that America's allies ought to assume more of the burden of defending themselves.

The linkage between economic and security concerns led to severe difficulties between Washington and the western Europeans. Kissinger, however, managed to persuade the Europeans to agree to a clause in the new Atlantic Declaration, signed in June 1974, stating that Washington should be consulted before the EC countries arrived at important decisions that impacted on transatlantic issues. Thus, American ideas of the nature of the transatlantic relationship had largely won the day. In practice, however, allied relations remained tense. Severe friction occurred during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 when Washington wholeheartedly backed Israel and many European countries hesitated to do so. The European Community was much more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than the United States, and many countries (like France, the United Kingdom, and West Germany) had strong economic links with the Arab countries in the region. Thus the war and the energy question were closely connected with both security and economic prosperity.

American-European differences with respect to the Year of Europe and the Yom Kippur War pushed the European Community into developing more sophisticated processes of cooperation, not least in order to resist pressure to fall in line with American wishes. The 1973 Declaration on European Identity was influential in gradually leading to a tentative common European foreign policy. It encouraged EC members to use the instrument of European Political Cooperation (EPC), created in 1970, to ensure that foreign policy positions would be coordinated among all EC countries. In 1968 the informal Eurogroup of EC defense ministers had been founded to discuss European defense cooperation. In late 1970 this led to the launch of the European Defense Improvement Program (EDIP) to build up NATO's infrastructure and national European forces. But as some authors have argued, this may have been less a demonstration of European independence in defense matters than an attempt to impress the United States with Europeans' willingness to help themselves. Thus, most authors view the 1970s as a "dark age" for both transatlantic relations and European integration. The two oil crises and the accompanying economic recession (best characterized by the term "stagflation"), as well as the expansion of the European Community from six to nine countries with the addition of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark on 1 January 1973, caused a severe, long-lasting crisis of adaptation within Europe.

It certainly weakened the ability of the European member states of NATO to embark on any decisive initiatives to reform the problem-ridden alliance. However, "the disarray of Europe" worked to the benefit of the United States. Washington was able to insist on the importance of the Atlantic framework and regain, as Alfred Grosser says, "its position as the leading power among the partners who were unified only when under its direction." Still, under Nixon and Kissinger an important reevaluation of U.S.EC relations inside and outside NATO had taken place. Washington had begun to look after its own economic and political interests much more than before. It was no longer prepared to accept unilateral disadvantages in the hope of obtaining vaguely defined benefits in the long run. But it was still not prepared to accept western European emancipation from American tutelage.

The rising tide of Eurocommunism in southern Europe (particularly in Italy, France, and Spain) worried the United States much more than it did the Europeans. Despite the Eurocommunists' independence from Moscow and their ambition to democratize their party structures, Washington feared that NATO might not survive the international developments of the 1970s. Greece withdrew from NATO in August 1974 in view of the West's ambiguous attitude toward the Turkish invasion of Cyprus after the Greek-inspired coup. The ruling military regime in Athens had hoped to unite the island with Greece and thus improve their plummeting domestic popularity.

From the mid-to late 1970s the western and eastern Europeans cautiously began to diverge from the policies pursued by their masters in Moscow and Washington. With hindsight it seems that the European nations became gradually aware again of their common European identity and their shared interests in world affairs. In fact, the greater the respective difficulties with Washington and Moscow appeared, the more united the European countries became. Serious problems in superpower cooperation in the mid-1970sfor example, the prolonged MBFR arms control talks regarding conventional armaments in Geneva and Vienna beginning in 1972 and the SALT II negotiations during the Carter administrationas well as the strengthening of the American neoconservative movement in the 1970s appeared to foreshadow a new hostile phase in the Cold War. European public opinion and many western European politicians refused to go along with this. Yet European politicians also felt the need to ensure that the United States remained committed to Europe. They were torn between opposition to a policy of renewed East-West tension and the awareness that the American security umbrella was still vital for the protection of the European continent.


Détente climaxed in the first half of the 1970s. Nixon's visits to Moscow and Beijing, the Berlin Treaty of 19711972, the 1972 Basic Treaty between the two German states, and the Helsinki Accord of 1975 appeared to prove the vitality of East-West détente. But there was increasing domestic American opposition to détente; the growing number of neoconservatives were firmly opposed, for example, to the Helsinki conference. Many on the right of the political spectrum in the United States viewed Western acceptance of the postwar borders in Europe by means of the Helsinki Final Act as a substantial defeat of the West. Soviet ratification of the human rights accord, an element that may well have contributed to the unraveling of the Soviet empire a decade later, was seen as unimportant.

When President Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, he embarked on a human rights crusade. He viewed NATO as more than just a military and political alliance; to him NATO ought to contribute to a more humane development of international politics and create a more just world. This antagonized the Soviet Union and led to much increased tension in East-West relations. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, détente was all but over. Carter turned into a full-blown cold warrior, not least in order to increase his chances for reelection in 1980. The U.S. government boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 and the president refused to let the SALT II Treaty proceed for ratification in the Senate (where it probably would have been defeated).

However, in 1977 Carter made three important proposals that were accepted by NATO at the North Atlantic Council meeting in May 1978 and indicated the alliance's enduring mistrust of Moscow. The first proposal argued that Western policy should continue to be based on the Harmel Report: détente had to be pursued on the basis of strength. The second proposal referred to the standardization of military equipment and to the necessity of making further progress with integrating NATO at the operational level. The third proposal, which developed into the Long-Term Defense Program (LTDP), indicated that détente had not overcome the arms race. In view of continued Soviet expansion of its offensive capabilities, NATO's defenses also needed to be strengthened, particularly in the area of conventional weapons. NATO's long-term nuclear needs were to be discussed by the Nuclear Planning Group. Although most European countries whole-heartedly approved of the LTDP, the renewed out-break of Cold War tension after the Afghanistan invasion worried the Europeans. The simultaneous continuation of détente in Europe became a serious problem for the coherence of NATO and America's dominant position within the alliance.

Soon the belief, widespread in the United States, that the Soviet Union was in fact attempting to obtain military and nuclear superiority under the guise of arms control agreements also began to worry a number of European NATO countries such as West Germany and Britain. It eventually led to NATO's "dual track" rearmament decision of December 1979. The dual track strategy consisted of the attempt to negotiate with Moscow for the reduction or even elimination of the Kremlin's intermediate-range SS-20 missiles, which were targeted at western Europe, by 1983. If this should prove impossible, as was in fact the case, equivalent U.S. weapons (464 cruise missiles and 108 Pershing missiles) would be deployed in western European countries: the Pershings in West Germany and the cruise missiles in the United Kingdom, Italy, Holland, and Belgium. Among the European peoples this decision was severely criticized. In Bonn it contributed to the downfall of the Helmut Schmidt government and its replacement by the center-right government of Helmut Kohl in 1982. It also caused many domestic upheavals in France and Italy and led to the rapid development of a European-wide peace movement. The latter largely benefited the new left-leaning, pacifist, and environmental Green parties across western Europe, which were particularly strong in West Germany, France, and the Benelux countries. After all, while European countries had to agree to the deployment of the new nuclear missiles in their countries, negotiations with the Soviet Union, if they were to take place, would be a bilateral affair between Moscow and Washington. It would exclude the Europeansincluding the United Kingdom and France, whose nuclear weapons might also be affected by any negotiated solutionfrom having any input.

By the early 1980s America's political elite was increasingly dominated by anticommunist ideology, which eventually culminated in the election of President Ronald Reagan in late 1980. Reagan did not hesitate to go back to the days of intensive Cold War first experienced in the 1950s and early 1960s. However, Washington habitually failed to consult or even inform its European allies.

When Ronald Reagan entered the White House he was intent on reimposing America's leadership on transatlantic relations. The European Community's much stronger economic position and greater political confidence as well as the era of détente with the Soviet Union were simply ignored by Reagan as if these developments had never taken place. Thus, under Reagan, even more so than under Carter, economic as well as security issues and severely differing perceptions regarding the East-West conflict affected the transatlantic alliance. Reagan went on the offensive to implement NATO's "dual track" decision and undermine the European peace movements by attempting to sell the alliance as a harbinger of peace. At the same time, the reassertion of America's leadership of NATO and the concurrent attempt to increase America's global prestige were at the heart of Reagan's foreign policy. Reagan also did not hesitate to employ anticommunist rhetoric. Much to the despair of the European NATO allies, Reagan did not appear to be interested in rescuing what was left of East-West détente. Among European leaders only British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported Reagan's hard-line approach.

Reagan, like Thatcher, was not interested in supporting the creation of a supranational Europe. In fact, his new policy of strength toward Moscow precluded a reassessment of Washington's relations with its allies. With regard to Reagan's policy toward the Soviet Union, however, it is useful to differentiate between his first and second terms in office; from 1984 to 1985 the president embarked upon a less hard-line approach toward the USSR. Although this helped to improve Washington's relations with its allies to a considerable degree, Reagan still expected the Europeans to follow America's hegemonic lead without questioning any of its policies. Thus, in terms of transatlantic relations, a deliberate policy of arrogant rather than benign neglect can be observed throughout Reagan's terms in office. Early in his presidency, for example, the administration talked casually of developing capabilities for fighting nuclear war and the possibility of entering into tactical nuclear exchanges with the Soviet Union. Such exchanges would of course have taken place over European territory, destroying much of the continent in the process. The same apparent willingness to distance himself from European security concerns appeared to apply to the president's enthusiasm regarding the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). If this project ever were to come to fruition it purportedly would make the United States immune to nuclear attacks by the Soviet Union, while in all likelihood such protection would not be available to the Europeans.

Reagan's negotiations with Soviet secretary general Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik in October 1986 almost led to the elimination of all ballistic missiles in East and West and the tabling of plans for the eradication of all nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. Although such a development would have dramatically affected the future of the European continent, the president never consulted the Europeans but drew the lesson that only a united NATO front would convince the Soviets to make concessions. The same unilateral approach was applied when Gorbachev surprised Western leaders by accepting the United States' "zero-zero" INF proposal in December 1987, which foresaw the removal of all intermediate-range missiles from Europe. Reagan's 1988 proposal to modernize NATO's short-range nuclear Lance missiles in Europe to counter Moscow's still existing conventional strength in Europe also occurred without much consultation with America's NATO allies.

The Reagan administration's disinterest in consulting the Europeans can also be observed with respect to economic issues. The European Community's, and in particular West Germany and France's, increasing trade with East Germany, the Soviet Union, the developing world, and certain Arab nations was viewed with a combination of suspicion and envy in Washington. Reagan attempted to restrain the competition of the EC countries, and he did not hesitate to explain the rationale of American trade policy with the help of NATO and transatlantic security arguments, which usually resulted in the development of severe economic conflicts. Such crises emerged, for example, in connection with the proposed European gas pipeline deal with Moscow. Reagan's controversial trade sanctions on the Soviet Union in the wake of the declaration of martial law in Poland in December 1981 ensured that transatlantic relations deteriorated further.

As usual, the European Community was ready to compromise as far as security and political issues were concerned, fully realizing that reasonable transatlantic relations and a functioning NATO alliance were still the indispensable pillars of the Cold War world. From November 1983, after the negotiations with Moscow within NATO's dual track framework had failed, most EC countries went along with the deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in the face of very hostile peace movements in many countries. Indeed, the deployment of the missiles even reassured some European governments that the Reagan administration did not intend to "decouple" from the European continent. Eventually the EC countries compromised over SDI and agreed to the imposition of sanctions (though largely symbolic ones) on Moscow after the Polish crisis of late 1981.

With regard to important economic issues the European Community was much less disposed to compromise. Regarding the envisaged gas pipeline to Moscow, the EC countries were adamant in their refusal to be browbeaten by the American attempt to undermine the deal; for example, they forbade the employment of American companies and technology in the construction of the pipeline. Reagan's attempts to impose what in effect amounted to extraterritorial sanctions on European companies who were willing to participate led to an outcry. Eventually Reagan had no option but to quietly give in.

Overall, Reagan's economic and financial policies showed yet again that the European Community was helpless in the face of unilateral American policies, forced to react to decisions that had been taken in Washington. Thus, as John Peterson has argued, "the precarious dependence of European economies on decisions taken by a fundamentally unsympathetic U.S. administration pushed the EC countries towards closer co-operation." The European Community under commission president Jacques Delors began developing plans for a Single European Market (SEM) to liberate itself from overwhelming American influence on western Europe's economic and financial fate. It intended to develop a fully free and integrated internal European market by 1992 and to design a common European currency system for implementation shortly thereafter. The French-led, though rather short-lived, revival of the Western European Union (WEU) in 1984 helped to contribute to the development of new ideas for creating a genuine common European foreign and defense policy, as later articulated in the Maastricht Treaty of 1991. In 1988 a Franco-German brigade was founded. This was expanded to corps level three years later; it had the dual purpose of making sure that Germany would remain committed to European integration and of strengthening Europe's military capacities. America's economic and financial predicament, made worse by a rapid decline of the dollar's value in the second half of the 1980s, seemed to indicate the possibility of U.S. troop withdrawals from Europe for financial reasons. The unilateral actions of Gorbachev regarding the reduction of nuclear and conventional armaments and the winding down of the Cold War also appeared to make this a distinct possibility for political reasons.

The Reagan administration viewed these moves toward an economically and politically more integrated and independent Europe with great suspicion. Despite its own protectionist and discriminatory trade policies, it did not hesitate to speak of a "Fortress Europe" and was deeply disturbed by European protectionist measures. By the end of the Reagan years it appeared that not much was left of America's vision for the European continent as it had been developed in the late 1940s and 1950s. The Reagan administration certainly had not been willing to deal constructively with the attempt of its European allies to emancipate themselves a little from American preponderance.


By the late 1980s it became clear that the Cold War was about to end. In April 1988 Gorbachev announced the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan. In December, speaking before the UN General Assembly, he offered to withdraw half a million troops and thousands of tanks from eastern Europe, which subsequently he did. Gorbachev's wide-reaching proposalshis domestic reform policy, his suggestion for a strategic arms reduction treaty (START) and a ban on chemical weapons as well as his agreement to the INF treatyturned him into an immensely popular person in western Europe. NATO leaders were confused and feared for the relevance of the Western alliance. The North Atlantic Council summit in Brussels in May 1989, NATO's fortieth anniversary, therefore reiterated the common values and interests among all NATO members and announced a "Design for Cooperation."

One of the alliance's earliest tasks had been the reconciliation of France and Germany, and now NATO was meant to become the forum for overcoming the division of Europe, creating a free and united Europe, and integrating the eastern Europeans under a common European roof. Under American leadership this was NATO's counteroffensive to Gorbachev's talk about over-coming the Cold War by creating a common European house. This conception appealed to the Europeans and worried the United States. After all, it seemed to indicate that Washington's participation in a new postCold War framework for Europe was not really required. In more practical terms, the Brussels summit also envisaged the creation of a European security identity and the strengthening of transatlantic ties. Thus, NATO intended to remain relevant for the dialogue within the Western alliance. In view of Soviet disarmament moves, the modernization of the Lance missiles was postponed to 1992 and ultimately shelved. NATO also made proposals for the radical scaling down of conventional and short-range missiles on both sides of the Iron Curtain. President George H. W. Bush believed that the alliance should go "beyond containment."

Thanks in considerable part to Bush, Western triumphalism was avoided when the Berlin Wall was breached in November 1989. It was also Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, who attempted to support Gorbachev and his increasingly beleaguered position in Russian domestic politics. In close cooperation with West German Chancellor Kohl and his foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Washington skillfully used the "two-plus-four" talks in 1990 and subtle diplomacy with Gorbachev to ensure that a unified Germany would remain a member of NATO. This was also the desire, if not the condition, of Thatcher and French President François Mitterrand, who both had initially attempted to prevent unification. By the time of German unification in October 1990 the issue had been resolved. The newly united state was both a member of NATO and the European Community, and a compromise had been reached for the position of East Germany. Until the last Russian troops had left the former German Democratic Republic by the summer of 1994, no NATO troops were to be based there. Large amounts of money went to the former Soviet Union to pay for the rehousing of the soldiers as the Russian government claimed officially. The all-German army was to be reduced to 350,000 (the old West German army consisted of just under 500,000 troops).

During NATO's first two postCold War summits, in London in May 1990 and in Rome in November 1991, the alliance attempted to devise a new strategic concept and ensure that NATO would be relevant after the East-West conflict had come to an end. It was emphasized that NATO's role was based on mutual values and trust and was meant to improve peace and cooperation. During the Cold War, NATO still did not exclude a nuclear first strike if necessary. Now the importance of nuclear weapons was scaled down. The alliance announced the elimination of all short-range nuclear forces. Henceforth NATO would focus on a more flexible approach to crisis management at a much lower level; during the London summit the NATO Rapid Reaction Corps (RRC) was created. It was recognized that NATO would no longer have to concentrate on repulsing a sweeping Soviet invasion of the European mainland but would have to focus on much lower-scale emergency situations. Thus, a wider role for NATO was found that would ensure that the alliance remained relevant for the crises of the postCold War world.

This new and already fairly open-ended conception was expanded further at the Rome summit. NATO expressed the desire to be at the center of all major European institutionsthe European Community, the Western European Union, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the Council of Europeto ensure transatlantic unity as well as intra-European cooperation. The alliance also expressed the opinion that it felt responsible for the security of the eastern part of the continent, its former enemies. Thus by late 1991, NATO had turned itself into a global crisis management instrument for the postCold War era. At the same time, it continued emphasizing its key role for solving conflicts among NATO members and with regard to transatlantic relations in a wider sense.

Perhaps one of the most important decisions at the Rome summit was the establishment of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), which was a forum of consultation of the defense and foreign ministers of the eastern European states, including the Soviet successor states. It would enable them to participate in strategic planning, disarmament, and crisis management discussions with the alliance. With the help of the NACC, NATO also believed that it was called upon to contribute to the democratization processes in eastern Europe. The January 1994 "Partnership for Peace" (PfP) concept built on the NACC. While the former Warsaw Pact countries were not (yet) allowed to join NATO, the vague and wide-ranging Partnership for Peace as well as the 1997 political cooperation agreement were clearly regarded as stepping stones to NATO membership for many eastern European countries, though not for Russia. Indeed, the April 1999 admission of the former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic was greatly resented in Moscow. The intention to grant NATO membership to former parts of the Soviet Union like the Baltic states, Russia's socalled "near abroad," was perceived as even more humiliating and a severe potential threat to Russia's national security. While attempting to placate Russia as much as possible, however, NATO was unwilling to give Moscow an effective veto over its enlargement process.

The decisive event that convinced the world that NATO was still relevant to the postCold War era was the Gulf War of 1991. NATO itself was not a participant in the war, caused by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, but U.S., British, and French contingents drew on NATO operational resources. In view of the failure of western European countries to provide an effective and united response to the crisis, the successful reversal of the conquest of Kuwait appeared to justify NATO's military and political crisis management techniques. It also meant that NATO members, and the Western public, became gradually used to the out-of-area activities of the alliance.

In response to the dire European performance during the Gulf War, at the Maastricht summit in late 1991 the EC countries decided to further develop the Western European Union in order to build up a Common Foreign and Security Policy. In early 1992 the Eurocorps (initially called the Franco-German corps) was meant to be the core of a new European army. This awakened American anxieties about whether or not the European Union was in the process of building up a serious rival to NATO. It also appeared to challenge the long-term future of America's engagement on the European continent. However, it was soon revealed that this was not the case. The European role in the wars in the former Yugoslavia was frequently characterized by military incompetence and political disunity, as well as financial and political unwillingness to assume a more prominent role in the Balkans. Thus, NATO's activities in the former Yugoslavia relied on American resources. Initially, NATO's performance (in the form of the Implementation Force, IFOR) was less than impressive during the wars of succession in Yugoslavia that began in 1991. In the war in Bosnia it was characterized by much hesitation and exaggerated caution. But in 19951996 the alliance embarked on its largest military operation ever and excelled in its effective cooperation. The Dayton Peace Agreement of NovemberDecember 1995 was largely due to NATO's belated but ultimately successful bombing campaign against the Serbs. NATO, it appeared, was still greatly relevant. In the absence of any united European military effort and an effective United Nations, NATO was indeed the only organization available to achieve such a task. Moreover, it was the United States that had contributed overwhelmingly to the alliance's military effort and provided it with forceful leadership.

This was also the case in the Kosovo war of 1999. After a hesitant and often ill-conceived strategy to oppose Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of the Serbian province, only the employment of NATO's (and Washington's) over-whelming resources and a forceful American-led bombing campaign seemed to impress the Serbian leader. But it may well have been the threat to employ ground troops, which the Europeans had been pressing for against strong opposition by the Clinton administration, that convinced Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo. However, NATO's bombing campaign led to the deterioration of relations with Russia and China, and even NATO countries like Greece were less than impressed by NATO's activities in the Kosovo war, which had not been sanctioned by the United Nations.

NATO's involvement in the wars in the Balkans at the turn of the century and the alliance's careful crisis management and disarmament role in Macedonia in 2001 decisively contributed to NATO's new confidence and rediscovered sense of importance. While NATO took the credit for the defeat of Serbia in Kosovo, the poor performance of the European NATO allies catapulted France, the United Kingdom, and other countries into making renewed efforts to build up a European military force. By late 2001 these efforts, though not the intention, had largely petered out. The economic difficulties of the global recession of 2001 and a persistent high rate of unemployment in Europe were welcome excuses for not dedicating an increased share of the national budgets to build up military resources and capabilities. Washington resented this but did appreciate that a European rival to NATO was no longer on the horizon. Even the right-wing administration of George W. Bush had no intention of returning to isolationism and leaving the European continent. In fact, in 2001, as in 1949, NATO was still the most important American instrument for maintaining Washington's involvement in European affairs. This in turn contributed significantly to the ability of the United States to continue playing such a dominant global role.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there was widespread perception among both Western politicians and Western public opinion that NATO was still of great relevance. While in the years immediately after the end of the Cold War and German unification many critical voices could be heard that questioned the necessity of NATO's further existence once the Soviet threat had disappeared, in the course of the 1990s this strand of thinking lost support. NATO's on-the-whole not unsuccessful peacemaking activities in the former Yugoslavia decisively contributed to this. In view of an ineffective and divided United Nations, it was increasingly NATO that was seen as a factor of stability in the postCold War world. Although the presence of American NATO troops on the European continent was regarded as much less crucial after the disappearance of the Soviet Union than during the Cold War, on the whole, both Washington and the various European countries still viewed them as a constructive force for good. They still gave the United States an important political and military voice in intra-European squabbles and contributed an element of psychological security to latent French fears about the rise of a too powerful Germany. For the United States, its troops in Europe made global military activities in the Balkans and elsewhere logistically easier. But perhaps most important, they provided Washington with a crucial, albeit expensive, symbol of its global reach and worldwide power and influence. Perhaps surprisingly, most European countries were keen on the continuation of America's military presence in Europe. By the early years of the twenty-first century, the Western public's hostility to NATO, which could be frequently observed during the Cold War, had almost disappeared, and most eastern European nations were keen on joining NATO as soon as possible. Even Russia indicated that it would like to become a member. While this posed the question of whether NATO would make itself redundant once most of Europe had joined the alliance, this was not the way it was viewed in Brussels or indeed in Washington and most European capitals. NATO, it was argued, was the primary factor of stability in the postCold War world. The alliance appeared to be here to stay for a significant period of time.

Yet NATO was also faced with a great number of new challenges. There were increasingly heated transatlantic difficulties in political, military, and, perhaps most importantly, economic and trade areas. NATO's crisis management capability was persistently challenged by the enduring civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. The enlargement of the alliance posed further serious problems, antagonizing Russia and also the countries who would be left outside. Increasing the number of NATO members also complicated organizational, operational, and indeed financial dimensions of NATO. George W. Bush's declaration to develop a missile defense shield to protect the United States (and perhaps its allies) from nuclear attacks by so-called rogue states, a scheme similar to Reagan's ultimately unrealistic SDI program, exposed great rifts within NATO. Most European NATO members strongly opposed Bush's scheme; it was regarded as technologically untested and prohibitively expensive. The missile defense scheme also appeared to be politically destabilizing as it threatened to undermine relations with countries such as Russia and China and to lead to a new arms race. The terrorist attack on America's financial and political centers in New York and Washington, D.C., in September 2001 demonstrated however that unprecedented terrorist attacks that could not be prevented by even the most sophisticated antimissile scheme were to be feared more than attacks from foreign states. It threatened to undermine relations with countries such as Russia and China and to lead to a new arms race.

Despite these problems, it was thought that for the foreseeable future reasonable transatlantic relations would be maintained. In all likelihood European Union member states would reluctantly agree to continue accepting American predominance within NATO. Ultimately, however, the latter will be influenced by American flexibility and willingness to enter into a constructive dialogue with its allies. During the Cold War, American unilateralism always caused great resentment and proved damaging to the alliance. In the postCold War world Washington's European NATO allies were even more unlikely than before to accept this. Yet, American unilateralism may well have been profoundly undermined by the terrorist bombing of American cities in September 2001. Asking for the invocation of article 5 of the NATO treaty was an indication that the Bush administration hoped to fight the war against terrorism with the help of multilateralism and close cooperation with the NATO allies. While the United States will still, and quite justifiably in view of its powerful military and economic potential, demand a clear leadership role, it can be expected that this new kind of war can only be successfully fought with the help of a common cooperative effort.


Barnett, Richard J. The Alliance: America, Europe, Japan, Makers of the Postwar World. New York, 1983.

Baylis, John. The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 19421949. Basingstoke, U.K., 1992.

Calleo, David. The Atlantic Fantasy: The U.S., NATO, and Europe. Baltimore, 1970.

Cornish, Paul. Partnership in Crisis: The U.S., Europe, and the Fall and Rise of NATO. London, 1997.

Di Nolfo, Ennio, ed. The Atlantic Pact Forty Years Later: A Historical Appraisal. Berlin, 1991. Essays published on the occasion of NATO's fortieth anniversary in 1989.

Duffield, John S. Power Rules: The Evolution of NATO's Conventional Force Posture. Stanford, Calif., 1995. See for the development of NATO's conventional and nuclear strategies.

Gregory, Shaun. Nuclear Command and Control in NATO: Nuclear Weapons Operations and the Strategy of Flexible Response. Basingstoke, U.K., 1996.

Heller, Francis H., and John R. Gillingham, eds. NATO: The Founding of the Atlantic Alliance and the Integration of Europe. New York, 1992.

Heuser, Beatrice. NATO, Britain, France, and the FRG: Nuclear Strategies and Forces for Europe, 19492000. Basingstoke, U.K., 1997.

Ireland, Timothy P. Creating the Entangling Alliance: The Origins of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. London, 1981.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. The United States and NATO: The Formative Years. Lexington, Ky., 1984.

. NATO and the United States: The Enduring Alliance. Updated ed. New York and Toronto, 1994.

. The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years. Westport, Conn., 1999. A useful collection of the author's journal articles on NATO.

Kaplan, Lawrence S., ed. American Historians and the Atlantic Alliance. Kent, Ohio, 1991. The very different views of American historians on NATO.

Martin, Pierre, and Mark R. Brundy, eds. Alliance Politics: Kosovo and NATO's War: Allied Force or Forced Allies? Basingstoke, U.K., 2001.

Mattox, Gale A., and Arthur R. Rachwald, eds. Enlarging NATO: The National Debates. Boulder, Colo., 2001.

Menon, Anand. France, NATO, and the Limits of Independence, 19811997: The Politics of Ambivalence. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York, 2000. Covers France's ambiguous attitude toward U.S. domination of NATO.

Norton, Augustus R., comp. NATO: A Bibliography and Resource Guide. New York and London, 1985.

Osgood, Robert E. NATO: The Entangling Alliance. Chicago, 1962. One of the first and a still useful scholarly books dealing with the creation of NATO.

Sandler, Todd M., and Keith Hartely. The Political Economy of NATO: Past, Present and Into the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge and New York, 1999.

Schmidt, Gustav, ed. A History of NATO. New York, 2001. One of the best overviews of the history of NATO by a plethora of experts, based on conferences held on NATO's fiftieth anniversary in 1999.

Schwartz, David N. NATO's Nuclear Dilemmas. Washington, D.C., 1983. See for the development of NATO's conventional and nuclear strategies.

Smith, Mark. NATO Enlargement During the Cold War: Strategy and System in the Western Alliance. Basingstoke, U.K., 2000.

Thomas, Ian Q. R. The Promise of Alliance: NATO and the Political Imagination. Lanham, Md., 1997. A highly interest approach to the history of NATO with a focus on the organization's political culture and its political dimensions and goals.

Williams, Geoffrey Lee, and Barkley Jared Jones. NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance in the Twenty-First Century: The Twenty-Year Crisis. Basingstoke, U.K., 2001.

Yost, David S. NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Role in International Security. Washington, D.C., 1998.

See also Alliances, Coalitions, and Ententes; Balance of Power; Cold War Origins; Collective Security; Containment; International Organization; PostCold War Policy; Summit Conferences .

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated May 11 2018

North Atlantic Treaty Organization


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is one of the longest-running alliances in history. It has been one of the fixed points in international relations since 1949 and is the most influential of the regional security organizations sanctioned under the United Nations Charter (Article 51). While to most casual observers it is a military arrangement, its founders prime purpose was political. They intended the alliance to provide an appearance of collectivity and strength that would both deter the enemy (the Soviet Union) and strengthen the determination of individual members to resist Soviet subversive infiltration. Members retain national control of armed forces but are prepared to submit them to command by foreign supreme commanders and command organizations manned by foreigners, and cooperate closely on usually sensitive issues such as security and intelligence.

The essentially intergovernmental nature of the alliance means that such military cooperation necessitates a high level of political cooperation. The central forum for this is the North Atlantic Council (NAC). The NAC is staffed by permanent ambassadorial representatives. It is chaired by the secretary-general, who acts as the spokesman for the alliance and is effectively its chief executive. The essentially intergovernmental nature of NATO is maintained by twice-yearly meetings of foreign ministers. These meetings make the large policy decisions, which the secretary-general is then required to implement, with the NAC acting as a channel of communication. Since 1952 the NAC has developed permanent and ad hoc subcommittees dealing with a range of issues. The most important is the Military Committee, whose relation to the NAC is a little anomalous in that while it reports to the NAC, it is also directed by biennial meetings of NATO defense ministers. In addition, sitting atop the whole structure are summits of heads of government when deemed necessary.

The North Atlantic Treaty (signed in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1949) pledged that an attack on one of the twelve signatoriesthe United States, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Britain, Portugal, and Italywas an attack on all and would lead them to take whatever measures they deemed necessary, including armed action. Effectively it placed the European members under American nuclear protection. While military planners were initially skeptical of the defensive capabilities of the alliance, for the politicians the main point was to increase the Western European sense of security.

The emphasis changed during the early 1950s as a result of the Korean War. With the fear that Korea would quickly be followed by a Soviet attack in Germany, the overtly military aspect of the alliance was moved to the foreground, where it was to remain until the cold war ended. Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was established in 1951 in France. NATO has three commands, Atlantic, English Channel, and Europe, but the commander of Europe (SACEUR) is the senior. Greece and Turkey, which had been under NATO guarantees, became members in 1952. Most significantly, West Germany was admitted in 1955 and was allowed to contribute forces under the command of the West European Union.

NATOs function and structure came under scrutiny in the 1960s. Some in the United States believed that since Western Europe had recovered economically, it should shoulder a greater share of its own defense. American advocacy of flexible response also caused problems with the allies, who feared the expense of competing with the Soviets in conventional forces and who felt the American nuclear guarantee was being compromised. Moreover, French president Charles de Gaulle saw NATO as an instrument of Anglo-American hegemony, and in 1966 France left NATOs military structures. NATO headquarters had to relocate to Belgium.

Against the background of these developments, the Belgian foreign minister produced the Harmel Report, The Future Tasks of the Alliance (1967). While committing NATO to engage actively in the process of détentereducing tensions with the Warsaw Pactit also stated firmly that NATO was an organization serving the security needs of its members rather than a purely defensive military alliance whose existence was dependent on a specific threat.

Détente gave way to increased tension during the early 1980s, and NATO deployed intermediate-range nuclear weapons (INF) and cruise missiles in some European countries. Relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact warmed once Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR, and in December 1987 the United States and the USSR agreed to eliminate all land-based INF missiles.

In 1982 NATO added its sixteenth member with the accession of newly democratic Spain. In 1990 the reunification of Germany moved NATOs frontiers significantly eastward. In 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and some in the West felt that NATO should follow suit, arguing it no longer had a purpose. However, NATO supporters were able to point to the Harmel Report and depict NATO as an organization to promote general security through stability and collective action. At Rome in 1991 a new Strategic Concept declared that instability was often caused by the activities of nationalist or terrorist groups. The North Atlantic Cooperation Council was set up, with sixteen NATO countries and nine others, becoming in 1997 the European Atlantic Partnership Council with forty members (forty-six by 2001). At Brussels in 1994 the Partnership for Peace was formed to promote defense cooperation.

The first test of the reality of NATOs ability to manage instability in Europe was the long crisis as Yugoslavia disintegrated. NATO proved to be hesitant and divided. It was not until 1997 that the implications of NATOs new role were properly addressed, using the forum of the Partnership for Peace. NATO began to make significant contributions to UN peacekeeping efforts, beginning with missions to the former Yugoslav republics. The partnership also made possible the NATO-Russia Founding Act signed in Paris in 1997, establishing the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council (PJC). This reduced Russian hostility to NATO expansion, easing the accession of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999. Through the PJC, Russian troops took part in peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. Tensions remained with the Russians, especially when the crisis flared up in Kosovo in 1999 and the Russians remained cautious about NATOs role.

There was a show of solidarity by NATO members after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, but this was undermined by the unilateralism of the Bush administration. NATO did agree to operate out of areafor the first timetaking control in August 2003 of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, following American and British operations against the Taliban. Germany and France, however, disliked Bushs approach and opposed the attack on Iraq in 2003. This became a NATO issue when they vetoed American requests to strengthen Turkey in advance of the attack. Pessimists predicted NATOs immediate demise. The solidity of NATOs permanent structures, however, meant that it survived this crisis. Thus, although as an intergovernmental alliance it had become somewhat dysfunctional, ironically, its extensive multilateral structures proved a binding force, if only out of inertia and the practical difficulties of untangling integrated military structures, especially regarding intelligence. Indeed, NATO continued to expand, with seven new members joining formally in 2004Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

SEE ALSO Alliances; Coalition; Cold War; Communism; Deterrence; Genocide; Nationalism and Nationality; Taliban; Terrorism; Terrorists; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; Weaponry, Nuclear


Rupp, Richard E. 2006. NATO after 9/11: An Alliance in Continuing Decline. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schmidt, Gustav, ed. 2001. A History of NATO: The First Fifty Years. 3 vols. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith, Martin A. 2000. NATO in the First Decade after the Cold War. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Yost, David S. 1998. NATO Transformed: The Alliances New Roles in International Security. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Martin H. Folly

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated May 14 2018


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a collective defense/collective security organization based on security guarantees and mutual commitments between North America and Europe. It was created in response to the growing Soviet threat in Europe after World War II, including the communist takeovers in eastern and central Europe, pressure on Norway, Greece, and Turkey, and the 1948 blockade of Berlin. The Washington Treaty establishing NATO was signed on April 4, 1949, by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. NATO's membership was subsequently enlarged, bringing in Greece and Turkey in 1952, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1955, Spain in 1982, and Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999. In 2002 NATO invited Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to join the alliance in 2004.

At the core of NATO's mutual defense commitment is Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack on one or more members of the alliance will be considered an attack on all. Also central are Article 2, which speaks of the members' commitment to their shared values and free institutions; Article 4, which provides for consultations if a member's security is threatened; and Article 10, which gives the members the option to invite additional states to join the alliance.

Headquartered in Brussels, NATO is an inter-governmental organization. Its decisions require consensus. The permanent ambassadors of the member-states meet in the North Atlantic Council (NAC), chaired by the secretary general. The NAC and other senior policy committees, such as the Defense Planning Committee (DPC) and the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), meet at regular intervals. At least twice per year NATO holds foreign ministers' meetings. Meetings also occur at the level of defense ministers, and when key decisions are to be taken NATO holds summits of the heads of state.

The military structures of NATO are headed by the Military Committee, which meets regularly at the level of the chiefs of defense of the member-states. The committee's daily work is conducted by their permanent military representatives. NATO's two principal strategic commands are the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) with headquarters (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, and the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. These key commands are supported by a number of regional commands. Allies who are members of the military structures contribute forces to NATO's integrated military structures, but some of the members do not participate in them. France withdrew from NATO's military structures in 1966 (it remains a full member of its political structures); Spain joined NATO in 1982 but remained outside its military component until 1997; Iceland has no armed forces and is represented at the military level by a civilian.

When NATO was established, the first secretary general, Lord Ismay, allegedly quipped that its mission in Europe was "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." During the Cold War, the principal function of NATO was to provide common defense against the Soviet bloc. NATO also ensured that American and European security remained interconnected, and provided a formula for the reintegration of postwar Germany into the Western security system. Finally, NATO provided a platform for consultations on issues outside the alliance, both formal and informal.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some argued that NATO had completed its mission and ought to be dissolved. However, the alliance has endured and undergone considerable transformation. It assumed "out-of-area" responsibilities by intervening in the Balkans, providing stabilization forces in Bosnia (IFOR/SFOR), and intervening and providing stabilization forces there (KFOR) in Kosovo. It also offered assistance to the United States during the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan and contributed to peacekeeping afterwards.

The new 1999 Strategic Concept, which outlines NATO's broad goals and means, has made conflict prevention and crisis management the fundamental security tasks of the alliance. Another NATO task since 1990 has been to stabilize post-communist central and eastern Europe. Through the Partnership for Peace program (PfP), which allows NATO to cooperate with nonmembers; the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which assisted applicants preparing for the 2002 round of enlargement; and greater cooperation with Russia in the new institutional setting of the NATO-Russia Council, the alliance has contributed to the post-communist transition. The landmark in this process was the 1999 enlargement that brought Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance. Three years later, at a summit in Prague, NATO invited an additional seven members to join in 2004.

The future of NATO is unclear. Critics argue that NATO has outlived its usefulness as a defense organization and has become merely a political forum with residual military structures. They point to the fact that in the fifty-plus years of NATO's history, the core Article 5 has been invoked only once, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States; yet U.S. military operations against Islamic terrorists have not been conducted as NATO operations. A contributing factor in the progressive downgrading of NATO's military value has been the widening capability gap between the United States and its European allies. In addition, the allies have found it difficult at times to reach consensus on the area of operations, with the Americans arguing for a global role, while the Europeans take a more traditional regional view. Fissures within NATO surfaced publicly during the 2003 war with Iraq, with France and Germany openly opposing the U.S. position. The American decision to rely on the "coalition of the willing" raised questions about the long-term viability of the alliance.

The proponents of NATO argue that it is too early to proclaim its end as the premier Euro-Atlantic security organization. They point out that NATO has responded to change by undertaking fundamental reforms, seeking to adjust its structures and its military capabilities. At the Prague summit on November 21 and 22, 2002, the alliance established the NATO Response Force (NRF) of twenty thousand for deployment into crisis areas, becoming fully operational in 2006. The nations at the summit set goals for reorganizing their armed forces in order to increase their mobility and allow sustained operations outside their territory. The next important step in reforming NATO was taken at the defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on June 12 and 13, 2003: NATO approved a new military command structure to reflect its new missions and its transition to smaller forces. The new command structure envisions the creation of a new Allied Command Operations, based at SHAPE in Mons. SACLANT will cease to exist, replaced by the Allied Command Transformation to oversee the restructuring of NATO's military. The number of commands will be reduced from twenty to eleven, and their responsibilities redefined.

These structural changes, combined with the development of "niche capabilities" by the member-states, suggest that, given political consensus, NATO may yet reinvent itself with a new division of tasks and specializations in place. The long-term viability of the alliance will also be affected by whether the emerging defense capabilities of the European Union complement or duplicate NATO's. Most important, the future of NATO will be determined by the future state of transatlantic relations.

See also: cold war; warsaw treaty organization


Goldgeier, James M. (1999). Not Whether But When: The U.S. Decision to Enlarge NATO. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. (1999). The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Kay, Sean. (1998). NATO and the Future of European Security. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Michta, Andrew A., ed. (1999). America's New Allies: Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in NATO. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

NATO Handbook. (2001). Brussels: NATO Office of Information and Press.

North Atlantic Organization. Available from <>.

Osgood, Robert E. (1962). NATO: The Entangling Alliance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Szayna, Thomas S. (2001). NATO Enlargement, 20002015: Determinants and Implications for Defense Planning and Shaping. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp.

Andrew A. Michta

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated May 21 2018


NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION. The signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949 marked the end of an American tradition of non-tangling alliances from the years of the early Republic. The treaty reflected Cold War fears of Soviet aggression and linked the United States and Canada on one side of the Atlantic with Iceland, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, and Italy on the other side. (Subsequently, Greece and Turkey in 1952, West Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982, and the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in 1999 would join the alliance.) Western-oriented European governments wanted assurances beyond those implied by the Truman Doctrine (1947) and the Marshall Plan (1948–1951) that the United States would defend them against a Soviet attack. Thus, attention has always been directed at Article 5, in which the signatory members agreed that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all." If such attack occurred, all would respond as if they were each individually attacked.

But NATO was supposed to be more than merely military and anti-Soviet. Canadian diplomats, led by Escott Reid, argued for positive benefits: for the shared cultural tradition reflected in the waves of emigration from Europe to North America (and elsewhere), and the shared values reaching back to ancient Greece and Rome. As NATO expands into Eastern Europe, this emphasis on cultural tradition and economic exchange is helping the alliance adjust to conditions for which it could not have planned—the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of its former Eastern European empire in the 1990s.

The years in between the formation of NATO and the collapse of the Soviet Union demonstrated the tensions and stresses one would expect in a relationship among various countries with differing interests, needs, and views, but the alliance met its objective of preventing a Soviet attack, and the rebuilding underpinned by the Marshall Plan revived the economy and society of Western Europe.

There are several periods in the history of NATO. After the outbreak of fighting on the Korean peninsula, NATO became more of a military organization, and a series of American senior officials took command as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR); the first SACEUR was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. To compensate for this American military leadership, the secretary-general of NATO, who chairs the North Atlantic Council, has always been a European. While each of the NATO countries remains responsible for its own defense procurement, NATO has invested more than $3 billion in infrastructure for bases, airfields, pipelines, communications, and depots.

Challenges from Within

The role of West Germany in NATO was one of the early stressors for the alliance. Not unnaturally, the idea of a rearmed Germany caused some concern among Western European nations (and probably for the Soviet Union as well). But by 1954, negotiations had worked out the details of West Germany's participation. When the military occupation of West Germany ended in October 1954, it joined NATO seven months later, which resulted in the Soviet Union forming the Warsaw Pact with Central and Eastern Europe. West Germany became a focal point of NATO defense against possible, highly mechanized attacks through the Fulda Gap and other traditional east-west invasion routes.

After Charles de Gaulle was reelected as president in 1966, France voiced its criticism of the U.S. domination of NATO and of European defense, and sought to follow another path. De Gaulle felt that NATO could subject France to a war based on decisions by non-Frenchmen, which, indeed, was the basis of the theory of collective defense. From 1958 to 1966, France indicated its displeasure and thereafter it withdrew from NATO's military command structure and required NATO forces to leave French soil, but claimed that it remained committed to the North Atlantic Treaty in case of "unprovoked aggression." France continued to meet with NATO staff and kept its forces in West Germany through bilateral agreements with the Bonn government rather than through the Treaty.

Another challenge was the storage and possible use of nuclear weapons, which was considered a necessary evil to deter overwhelming Soviet ground strength in terms of tanks and other mechanized and motorized forces. An initial commitment to massive retaliation matured into a strategy of flexible response, thus retaining choice about the decision to "go nuclear." Typically, nuclear weapons were deployed with a so-called dual-key system, which permitted the United States and the host country to retain veto over their use.

NATO's European members always wanted U.S. armed forces stationed on the continent. At the very least, they would serve as a "trip wire, " causing a strong U.S. response in the face of a Soviet attack and presumably high U.S. casualties among this forward-stationed defense force. Similarly, European members wanted U.S. nuclear-armed missiles to counter Soviet advantages in ground forces. The alternative in the case of a Soviet invasion of western Europe, European leaders feared, would be a quick march by Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces to the Rhine and beyond before the United States could send the men and materiel from North America needed for defense.

Outside Challenges

There were outside sources of stress for the alliance as well. The construction of the Berlin Wall was a sober reminder of Soviet power in central Europe. Détente during the Nixon administration challenged the alliance to retain its original purpose. The resurgence of Cold War tensions after the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, and the military rearmament in the early 1980s were other challenges. But the greatest challenges were Mikhail Gorbachev and his July 1989 announcement that the Soviet Union would no longer prop up communist governments in Europe, and the collapse of the communist regimes in Poland, East Germany, and throughout Eastern Europe. Indeed, what was the ongoing role of NATO if the major threat, an aggressive and expansive Soviet Union, no longer existed?

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has changed. It has a new purpose to work with the new regimes in Eastern Europe and seeks to ease tensions and conflicts on its periphery, such as in the Balkans. Thus, NATO is reaching out to its former adversaries, including Russia, and has intervened in the former Yugoslavia to contain the fighting. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, it invoked Article 5 for the first time and indicated that this attack on America was an attack on all of NATO.


Baylis, John. The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 1942–1949. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1993.

Brogi, Alessandro. A Question of Self-Esteem: The United States and the Cold War Choices in France and Italy, 1944–1958. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002.

Giauque, Jeffrey G. Grand Designs and Visions of Unity: The Atlantic Powers and the Reorganization of Western Europe, 1955–1963. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. The United States and NATO: The Formative Years. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.

Papacosma, S. Victor, Sean Kay, and Mark Rubin, eds. NATO after Fifty Years. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2001.

Park, William H. Defending the West: A History of NATO. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1986.

Reid, Escott. Time of Fear and Hope: The Making of the North Atlantic Treaty, 1947–1949. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

Charles M.Dobbs

See alsoCold War ; Foreign Policy .

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated May 17 2018


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a collective security group that was established by the North Atlantic Treaty (34 U.N.T.S. 243) in 1949 to block the threat of military aggression in Europe by the Soviet Union. NATO united Western Europe and North America in a commitment of mutual security and collective self-defense. Its 19 members (as of early 2004)—Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have used NATO as a framework for cooperation in military, political, economic, and social matters.

NATO's military forces are organized into three main commands: the Atlantic Command, the Channel Command, and the Allied Command Europe. During peacetime, the three commands plan the defense of their areas and oversee and exercise the forces of member nations. The supreme Allied commander in Europe directs these units. Every supreme Allied commander through 1997 has been a U.S. general.

NATO established the North Atlantic Council, a nonmilitary policy group, in the 1950s. It is composed of permanent delegates from all member nations and is headed by a secretary-general. It is responsible for general policy, budget issues, and administrative actions. The Military Committee, consisting of the chiefs of staff of the member nations' armed forces, meets twice a year to define military policies and offer advice to the council.

The North Atlantic Treaty calls for the peaceful resolution of disputes, but article 5 pledges the use of the member nations' forces for collective self-defense. During the 1950s Western Europe was concerned about Soviet aggression. Though U.S. troops had been stationed in Europe since the end of world war ii,

the United States and European nations did not have the resources to match the Soviet Army soldier for soldier. Instead the United States stated that it would use nuclear weapons against Soviet aggression in Europe.

In the 1960s the alliance was tested. President Charles de Gaulle of France complained about U.S. domination and control of NATO. In 1966 France expelled NATO troops from its soil and removed its troops from NATO command, but it remained a member of the organization. This action led to the relocation of NATO headquarters from Paris to Brussels.

With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union and with the reunification of Germany, NATO underwent a reassessment period. As of 2003, 100,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in Europe, with another 10,000 troops stationed in Bosnia and Kosovo. In fact, the U.S. maintains the most powerful military force in Europe. Despite this situation, questions persist about the need for NATO in a post-Cold-War world, with critics calling for Europe to shoulder more of its own defense burden.

Despite the criticism, few U.S. leaders have expressed the desire to dismantle NATO. Instead, leaders appear to be seeking a new mission for the organization. Some have suggested that the United States retain a foothold in Europe to insure political stability. Others urge using NATO as a tool to defend western interests outside Europe. Then, too, since September 11, 2001, NATO has taken on an additional role in the "War on Terrorism." As part of the expanded membership and roles envisioned for NATO, the group has opened its membership to former Communist bloc countries of Eastern Europe. Russian leaders have objected to this idea, seeing it as an attempt to end a Russian sphere of influence that has existed for 50 years. In addition, nearly a year after U.S. coalition troops ousted the Taliban, 5,500 NATO troops were sent to Afghanistan to take over peace-keeping duties. This was the first time that NATO has mobilized a military force outside Europe.

This proposed expansion was met with hostility by Russia. In 1997, Russia entered into an agreement with NATO in which Russia itself accepted a small role in the alliance. This arrangement was an attempt to further thaw relations between Russia and the West. It also helped facilitate former Soviet bloc nations in joining the Western alliance. NATO formally expanded in 1999, when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined. That expansion was approved only after long, contentious debate in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere.

In 2002, NATO entered into another new security agreement with Russia that further eased the entry of additional former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO. Under the new arrangement, Russia was given more authority in the new body than in the 1997 informal arrangement set up to nudge Moscow closer to the West. Even so, Russia's future involvement was expected to remain limited to certain areas, including crisis management, peacekeeping, and such military areas as air defense, search-and-rescue operations, and joint exercises.

On March 26, 2003, at NATO Headquarters, a special meeting of the North Atlantic Council was held for the signing of the Protocols of Accession. This ceremony marked the official invitation for joining NATO that was extended to seven countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The seven countries were invited to join the Alliance at the NATO Summit in Prague in November 2002. The Protocols of Accession are amendments to the North Atlantic Treaty. When signed and ratified by the 19 NATO member countries, the new agreement will permit the invited countries to become parties to the treaty and members of NATO. From December 2002 to March 2003, a series of meetings were held between NATO and the individual invitees to discuss and formally confirm their interest, willingness, and ability to meet the political, legal, and military commitments of NATO membership.

further readings

Assenova, Margarita. 2003. The Debate on NATO's Evolution. Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press.

Duignan, Peter. 2000. NATO: Its Past, Present, and Future. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Available online at <> (accessed August 1, 2003).

Schmidt, Gustav, ed. 2001. A History of NATO: The First Fifty Years. New York: Palgrave.


Cold War; Communism.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato)

views updated May 17 2018


In 1949, in the aftermath of World War II (19391945), sixteen nations in Europe and North America developed the North Atlantic Treaty. It was a measure designed to block the threat of military aggression in Europe by the Soviet Union. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) united Western Europe and North America in a mutual security and self-defense agreement. If one of the sixteen members was attacked, they would all fight in defense.

The agreement, at first intended solely to discourage the Soviet Union, created a framework for further cooperation between the members on military, political, economic, and social matters. The members of NATO at the time of its inception were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

While the North Atlantic treaty calls for the peaceful resolution of disputes, the organization is prepared for self-defense. NATO's military forces are comprised of units volunteered from each of its members. The forces are based under three main commands: the Atlantic Command, the Channel Command, and the Allied Command Europe. The supreme Allied commander heads the three commands and directs units in exercising NATO military forces. In times of peace, the three commands plan the defense of their regions.

NATO also has a policy wing, called the North Atlantic Council, a nonmilitary policy group comprised of permanent delegates from all NATO members. The North Atlantic Council is led by a secretary-general and is responsible for general policy, budget issues, and administrative actions. A Military Committee, comprised of the chiefs of staff of member nations' armed forces, meets twice a year to advise the Council.

NATO headquarters was initially established in Paris, France, but in the 1960s French President Charles DeGaulle (18901970) complained the United States had too much control over NATO and, in fact, dominated the organization. In 1966, France expelled NATO troops from the country. As a result NATO headquarters moved from Paris to Brussels, Belgium, where it remains today.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO expanded its membership to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. This raised concerns from Russia about NATO intentions. Russia sees NATO expansion as a threat to its sphere of influence in eastern Europe. Since the 1991 collapse of NATO's main foe, questions have also been raised regarding the continued need for the organization.

In the late 1990s, those questions were quieted by NATO involvement in Yugoslavia. In 1999, NATO launched a military campaign against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in response to his brutal repression of ethnic Albanians in the region of Kosovo. This marked the first time in NATO's history that it became the aggressor in a regional matter outside the boundaries of its member states.

See also: World War II

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

views updated May 11 2018


postworld war ii alliance for the defense of its members against the soviet union.

On 4 April 1949 twelve countriesincluding the United States, France, Great Britain, and Canadasigned the North Atlantic Treaty, establishing the basis for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO was designed to defend Western Europe in the face of a perceived threat from the Soviet Union and its Communist satellite states, which formed the Warsaw Treaty Organization in 1955.

Turkey applied for NATO membership in 1950, occupying a key strategic position between Europe and the Middle East. Admitted on 18 February 1952, Turkey agreed to provide NATO with secure access to the Straits at Istanbul and to the Black Sea.

With the end of the Cold War, NATO membership was expanded to include the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland (1999), and seven more states are due to accede in 2004. In September 2001 NATO invoked Article 5 of the treaty for the first time, declaring the terrorist attacks against the United States an attack against all members. NATO played no formal role in the American war in Iraq in 2003, though it agreed to assure Turkey's security under Article 4 of the treaty.


Lenczowski, George. The Middle East in World Affairs, 4th edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Official homepage. <>.

zachary karabell
updated by andrew flibbert

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated Jun 08 2018

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Intergovernmental organization, military alliance of the USA, Canada, and 17 European countries. The original treaty was signed (1949) in Washington, D.C., by Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Netherlands, and the USA. Greece, Turkey, Spain, and Germany joined later. In 1999, despite Russian opposition, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined. NATO's headquarters is in Brussels. During the Cold War, it was the focus of the West's defence against the Soviet Union. In 1995, NATO led the International Implementation Force to enforce the Dayton Peace Accord in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1999, NATO launched its first military operation – to prevent the genocide in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

views updated May 17 2018

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. See NATO.

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North Atlantic Treaty Organization