The NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is a mutual defense treaty established after World War II by ten European countries and the U.S. and Canada. The 1949 treaty established a military alliance in response to an attack by any external party. The headquarters of NATO are in Brussels, Belgium. Since its establishment, an additional 19 countries joined, and Sweden is likely to join shortly, bringing the total to 32. The NATO alliance is also known by its French acronym, OTAN.
During the 1990s, NATO took on a peacekeeping role. NATO forces, composed of troops volunteered by member states, operated as peacekeepers in Bosnia in the 1990s and bombed Serbia in 1999 to protect Kosovo. The NATO alliance still has troops in Kosovo.
While NATO had long held concerns about possible attacks by Russia, the actual first invocation of the common defense article was in response to the 9/11 Attack. NATO supported the immediate attack on Afghanistan, but did not endorse the Iraq War; the refusal to do so offended American neoconservatives.
In 2023, as a result of Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, Finland (with its 800-mile border with Russia) abandoned longstanding policies of neutrality and joined NATO. As a result of the same war, Sweden is also seeking membership but is currently being blocked mainly by Turkey (a unanimous vote is required to admit new member states). On July 11, it was announced as the NATO summit takes place that Turkey would allow Sweden to join NATO after all.
Since 2014, Jens Stoltenberg has been the secretary general of NATO; he is a former Norwegian prime minister and agreed in 2023 to extend his mandate until October 2024.
NATO has 31 member countries, called NATO Allies, in 2023. Each country is a sovereign state, and through NATO, they discuss political and security issues and make collective decisions by consensus. A map of NATO countries can be viewed on the New York Times website.
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1ISO 3166 ALPHA-3 code
|30||United Kingdom||GBR||1949||London, United Kingdom|
|31||United States||USA||1949||Washington, D.C.|
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After WWII, both Germanies were demilitarized. Wiederbewaffnung was the political goal of West German rearmament and integration with NATO.
At the highest level, there is a Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and four senior officers from the major military participants in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE):
- Supreme Allied Commander Europe, an American four-star officer "dual-hatted" as commander of United States European Command, currently ADM James Stavridis
- Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, a British general or admiral who is warfighting leader in Europe, General Sir John McColl
- Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, a French general or admiral based in the U.S., currently GEN Stéphane Abrial
- SHAPE Chief of Staff, a German general or admiral, General Karl-Heinz Lather
Military planning and interoperability
One of the challenges is that military decisions now need to be made by consensus of all the members; member militaries also may need to clear orders from the NATO tactical commander with their home government.
There was a substantial NATO-sanctioned military force in Afghanistan, including U.S. forces, although there were also independent U.S. forces there not under ISAF command.
- International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by GEN Stanley McChrystal, United States Army
- Kosovo Force (KFOR)
- Biden Makes What May Be a Legacy Defining Push Expanding NATO, Washington Post, 7/3/2023.
- What Is NATO, and How Has the War in Ukraine Changed It? on the New York Times website shows a map of NATO countries as of June 2023, 7/10/2023.