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.
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.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), established under the North Atlantic Treaty (Apr. 4, 1949) by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United States. Greece and Turkey entered the alliance in 1952, West Germany (now Germany) entered in 1955, and Spain joined in 1982. In 1999 the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined five years later, and Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, bringing the membership to 28. NATO maintains headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
The treaty, one of the major Western countermeasures against the threat of aggression by the Soviet Union during the , was aimed at safeguarding the freedom of the North Atlantic community. Considering an armed attack on any member an attack against all, the treaty provided for collective self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The treaty was also designed to encourage political, economic, and social cooperation. The organization was reorganized and centralized in 1952, and has undergone subsequent reorganizations.
NATO's highest organ, the North Atlantic Council, may meet on several levels—heads of government, ministers, or permanent representatives. The council determines policy and supervises the civilian and military agencies; NATO's secretary-general chairs the council. Under the council is the Military Committee, which may meet at the chiefs of staff or permanent representative level. Its headquarters in Washington, D.C., has representatives of the chiefs of staff of all member countries. France withdrew from the Military Committee from 1966 to 1995 while remaining a member of the council, and did not return to NATO's military command until 2009.
NATO is now divided into two commands. Allied Command Operations is headed by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). SACEUR directs NATO forces and, in time of war, controls all land, sea, and air operations. Allied Command Transformation, with headquarters at Norfolk, Va., is responsible for making recommendations on the strategic transformation of NATO forces in the post-cold-war era.
In the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the , NATO's role in world affairs changed, and U.S. forces in Europe were gradually reduced. Many East European nations sought NATO membership as a counterbalance to Russian power, but they, along with other European and Asian nations (including Russia), initially were offered only membership in the more limited Partnership for Peace, formed in 1994, which subsequently evolved into the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. More than 20 countries now belong to the partnership, which engages in joint military exercises with NATO. In 2002, NATO and Russia established the NATO-Russia Council, through which Russia participates in NATO discussions on many nondefense issues, but following Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea, NATO suspended most of its cooperation with Russia. Other NATO partners include those in the Mediterranean Dialogue and the İstanbul Cooperation Initiative and a number of other individual national partners. NATO is not required to defend partnership nations from attack.
NATO has increasingly concentrated on extending security and stability throughout Europe, and on peacekeeping efforts in Europe and elsewhere. NATO air forces were used under UN auspices in punitive attacks on Serb forces in Bosnia in 1994 and 1995, and the alliance's forces were subsequently used for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia. NATO again launched air attacks in Mar.–June, 1999, this time on the former Yugoslavia following following the breakdown of negotiations over . In June, 1999, NATO was authorized by the United Nations to begin trying to restore order in the province, and NATO peacekeeping forces entered Kosovo. In Aug., 2003, NATO assumed command of the international security force in the Kabul area in Afghanistan, which by 2010 had expanded to include some 120,000 troops (including more than 78,000 Americans) deployed throughout Afghanistan; NATO's combat mission there ended in Dec., 2014. A NATO rapid-response force was established in Oct., 2003. NATO forces also were largely responsible for enforcing the UN-authorized seven-month no-fly zone over Libya during the Arab Spring revolution there in 2011.
The membership of many NATO nations in the increasingly integrated (EU) has led to tensions within NATO between the United States and those EU nations, particularly France and Germany, who want to develop an EU defense force, which necessarily would not include non-EU members of NATO. In 2008 disagreements between Greece and Macedonia over the latter's name led Greece to veto an invitation to Macedonia to join. The same year, Georgia and Ukraine were promised eventual membership but not given any timetable; Russia had objected strongly to their becoming NATO members.
See P. H. Spaak, (1959); R. Osgood, (1964); A. Beaufre, (1966); J. Huntley, (1969); J. A. Huston, (1984); L. P. Brady and J. P. Kaufman, ed., (1985); W. H. Park, (1986); J. R. Golden et al., ed., (1989).
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.
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.
In 1982 NATO added its sixteenth member with the accession of newly democratic . 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 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 in 1994 the Partnership for Peace was formed to promote defense cooperation.
The North Atlantic Treaty (signed in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1949) pledged that an attack on one of the twelve signatoriesthe , , , , , , , Luxembourg, , , , 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 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 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 , 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.
Against the background of these developments, the Belgian foreign minister produced the Harmel Report, (1967). While committing NATO to engage actively in the process of dtentereducing 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.
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 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 , NATO invited an additional seven members to join in 2004.