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North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NATO provides unified military leadership for the common defense of 26 Western nations. It was established in 1950 by the North Atlantic Treaty, Article 5 of which provides that an armed attack against one or more member nations in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all members.
NATO has its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The official website is www.nato.int.
NATO's highest authority is the North Atlantic Council, which is composed of permanent delegates from all members. The Council is responsible for general policy, budgetary outlines, and administrative actions, and is headed by a Secretary General nominated by member nations.
Secretary Generals of NATO
Subordinate to the Council is the Secretariat, which handles all nonmilitary functions of the alliance.
Also directly responsible to the Council is the Military Committee, which establishes the military policy of NATO. The Council consists of the heads of member nations or their representatives. All decisions of the Council must be unanimous in order to be implemented.
In 1947, the United States and Great Britain signed the Dunkirk Treaty, in which each nation pledged to come to the aid of the other in case of aggression from the Soviet Union. That agreement was complemented in 1948, when Belgium, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed the Brussels Treaty, the goal of which was the collective defense of the signatory nations. Again the perceived threat was from the Soviet Union.
As the Soviet Union expanded its influence in Europe, the need for an even stronger alliance of Western nations became clear. That alliance was created by the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed by twelve nations -- Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United States -- on April 4, 1949, in Washington, D.C.
In September 1950, members of the alliance formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in response to the Communist invasion of South Korea.
General Hans Speidel (right), who had served as a General
in the German Army during World War II, became a NATO
commander in April 1957. His superior, French General
Jean-Étienne Valluy is at his right.
The permanent NATO headquarters
building at Dauphine Gate near the Bois de Boulogne in
Paris, France, neared completion in December 1959.
NATO was little more than a defensive alliance until 1997, when 30,000 NATO-led troops replaced a United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia, the first time NATO's military capabilities would be tested.
In March 1999, NATO went on the offensive, launching an aerial assault on Yugoslavia in order to weaken the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic and stop his campaign of genocide against Kosovo's Albanian population.
Another NATO-led peacekeeping force was sent into the Balkans in the summer of 2001 to enforce a peace agreement between groups representing ethnic Albanians and Slavs in Macedonia. NATO troops were replaced by European Union troops in 2003.
The Article 5 provision of the NATO treaty was invoked for the first time in history in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon -- several NATO members sent troops to fight alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which the United States believed was harboring the terrorists who had masterminded the attacks.
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This page was last updated on 10/04/2017.