The first half of the 20th century in Europe saw revolutions, civil wars, two world wars, and hundreds of military conflicts. From 1900 to 1949, it was almost nothing but bloodshed and death. Once the Allied Expeditionary Forces defeated the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan), the world’s leading superpowers – the United States and the United Kingdom – wanted to prevent a repeat of the first 50 years. Thus the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was born. Has peace been brought to Europe? Is NATO still an effective institution? What has its role been over 70 years? It is time to look back at the history of the North Atlantic Alliance.
NATO: A Primer
NATO is a military alliance of 30 European and North American countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, and Italy. After being founded in April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty allows nations between the two continents to consult, cooperate, and conduct operations in defense and security. It is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
Following the end of the Second World War, NATO was founded to secure peace in Europe. It had started with just 12 members, choosing to utilize this critical apparatus for cooperation and dialogue in the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s growing threat. This inseparable link also contains a collective defense, in which a single attack against one member is considered an attack against all allies.
The primary purpose of NATO was to ensure the peace, security, and freedom of Europe. By the 21st century, its purpose and parameters have evolved to include non-European combat operations.
NATO’s Most Significant Events
Despite being a powerful institution, NATO did not engage in a single military operation in the first 40 years of its existence. NATO forces were sent to southeastern Turkey following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, employing early warning aircraft in the area.
In 1993, NATO had a crucial role in the Bosnian War that had begun a year earlier. No-fly zone orders, economic sanctions, embargoes, airstrikes, and peacekeeping troops – NATO experienced its first significant action in Eastern Europe.
Because Article 5 of the NATO Charter dictates that an attack on any member constitutes an attack on all allies, the Organization participated in the War in Afghanistan in October 2001.
Three years later, NATO created the NATO Training Mission for the War in Iraq. It was formed as part of a broader training mission in Baghdad to help facilitate the creation of Iraqi security forces at the Iraqi Interim Government’s request at the time.
In March 2011, NATO became an integral player in the coalition military intervention in Libya, which had involved the U.S. In addition to enforcing an arms embargo against Libya, NATO also took control of the no-fly zone. NATO’s participation led to heavy criticism from both U.S. and European officials, leading to analysis questioning the group’s future role in the international community.
NATO has now turned its attention to Russia, deterring Moscow out of concern that it will be an aggressor and initiate conflict on the continent.
In June 2018, NATO announced that members would raise their defense/military spending to at least 2% of gross domestic product by 2024. Although combined military spending accounts for about two-thirds of global totals, President Donald Trump has complained about the U.S. carrying the load, pushing members to contribute more to the Organization.
What is the Future of NATO?
It has been more than 70 years since NATO was formed. Will it be around for another seven decades? Over the years, as NATO’s mandate has expanded beyond the confines of Europe, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the future of NATO, as well as its relevancy on the world stage. Although more nations are requesting to join or are being lobbied to sign up, NATO could be stretched and face tremendous pressure in the coming years, whether financial constraints or more dragons to slay.