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NATO: Understanding the Alliance

What purpose did NATO serve, and do we still need it?

By:  |  January 11, 2021  |    566 Words

(Getty Images)

The first half of the 1900s saw a lot of war – including both World War I and World War II. Once the Allied Expeditionary Forces defeated the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) at the end of World War II, the world’s leading superpowers – the United States and the United Kingdom – wanted to prevent a repeat of the past 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. 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.


Signing the North Atlantic Treaty (Getty Images)

Following the end of the Second World War, NATO was founded to secure peace in Europe. It had started with just 12 members. This agreement contained 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, it has 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.

In 1993, NATO had a crucial role in the Bosnian War that had begun a year earlier. NATO experienced its first significant action in Eastern Europe.

Because Article 5 of the NATO Charter says 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 create the Iraqi security forces the new government wanted at the time.


Flags are raised during a NATO defense Ministers meeting (Photo by Thierry Tronnel/Corbis via Getty Images)

In March 2011, NATO took on a big role in the coalition military intervention in 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.

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, NATO could be stretched and face tremendous pressure in the coming years.

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