The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, better known as NATO, is a defense organisation and security alliance between 30 independent nations in Europe and North America. NATO operates on the principle that an attack on one member state is an attack on all members, promising collective defense.
NATO was first established in 1949 to deter militarised nationalism and the expansion of the Soviet Union in the wake of World War Two. Originally comprised of 12 members, a further 18 have joined since.
The alliance has been involved in the Bosnian War, the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and various other conflicts, relief efforts and counter-piracy operations.
Here are 10 facts about NATO.
1. NATO was established on 4 April 1949
In 1948, in the wake of World War Two, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg formed an alliance called the Western European Union. But with fears of Soviet strength mounting in the burgeoning Cold War, a firmer alliance was sought.
The 5 members of the Western European Union, along with Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal and the US, signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington DC. In doing so, they formed an alliance bound by a desire for collective defense, peace and stability. NATO was born.
2. NATO is now made up of 30 member countries
Since the original 12 member states launched NATO, 18 more nations have joined: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey.
The most recent nation to join the alliance was North Macedonia in 2020.
3. NATO also has security partners in more than 40 countries
As well as having members across North America and Europe, NATO utilises a network of security partners around the world. Based in more than 40 countries, NATO’s security associates include the African Union, European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
4. NATO intervened in the Bosnian War
From 1992-1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina was embroiled in an armed conflict. In its first use of military force, NATO actively entered the conflict in 1995, launching airstrikes near Sarajevo against Bosnian Serb strongholds and deploying roughly 60,000 soldiers.
Through targetting the Army of the Republika Srpska, NATO contributed to the resolution of the conflict.
5. An attack on one NATO member is an attack on all its members
Article 5 of the NATO agreement stipulates that an attack on any NATO member constitutes an attack on all of its members. This highlights NATO’s chief aim: the defend its member states and their citizens.
6. Article 5 was invoked after 9/11
NATO’s article 5 has only ever been invoked once: in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The attacks, perpetrated by militants associated with al Qaeda, led to the actioning of article 5 the following day, on 12 September 2001.
In response, NATO launched military operations outside of the Auro-Atlantic area for the first time, heightening its investigations into terrorist activity across the globe. NATO also launched an anti-terrorism operation in the US, monitoring the skies for possible terrorist activity.
7. France left, and then rejoined, NATO’s military command
After 1958, French President Charles de Gaulle questioned the United States’ dominance over NATO’s management. As Franco-NATO relations became more strained, France withdrew from NATO’s military command in 1966. This meant NATO military personnel and headquarters were ejected from France, but that France still adhered to aspects of the treaty.
France rejoined NATO’s military command structure in 2009.
8. NATO members are supposed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense
As of 2014, NATO has asked that all member states spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. At present, only a minority of NATO members currently spend 2% or more on defense, with the US and the UK amongst those that do.
NATO projects that by 2024, 15 member states will be hitting the 2% target.
9. Only one NATO member doesn’t have an army
Iceland is the only member state which doesn’t have a standing army. This is likely because of its small population and the funds required to sustain one. Instead, Iceland maintains a militarised coast guard, peacekeeping forces and air defense systems.
10. Article 10 outlines NATO’s ‘open door policy’
NATO’s 10th article delineates that the alliance remains open to any European country, so long as it can abide by the rules of membership. The decision of whether a nation is permitted to join is made by the North Atlantic Council.
A number of countries, primarily in Eastern Europe, currently aspire to join the alliance: Bosnia–Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine.