NATO Research Paper

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After World War II, relations were strained among Allied powers, and the Soviet Union’s encroachment in Europe signaled the coming Cold War. Twelve countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to restore and maintain the security of democracies on both sides of the Atlantic. As of 2010 NATO has twenty-eight member countries.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created as result of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949 “to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area” (defined as territories, islands, vessels, and aircraft of the signatories “north of the Tropic of Cancer”). Its creation has to be considered in the context of the incipient Cold War that developed due to deteriorating relations among the victors of World War II, with the former Soviet ally perceived as an increasing threat to the safety of democracies on both sides of the Atlantic. The explosion of the first Soviet atom bomb on 29 August 1949 confirmed that perception. The treaty was also drawn up to avoid repeating the mistakes that followed World War I, when the four major Western victors (France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States) each went their own way without a mutual guarantee of their future safety.

Winston Churchill was probably the first statesman to fully understand the implications of the Red Army’s advance into the heartland of Europe agreed upon at Yalta. The combination of a residual U.S. army and air force occupying southern Germany, nonexistent French and Italian armored and air forces, and a limited British land army on the Rhine (Britain being traditionally strong on the seas and now in the air) could under no circumstances resist a Soviet attack beyond what Churchill had then called the Iron Curtain. The British policy of trying to persuade the United States to abandon its prewar isolationism met at first with little success. Down from over 3 million men stationed in Europe in May 1945, the United States presence was less than four hundred thousand strong—smaller than the British contingent—in the spring of 1946, when Churchill raised the alarm again in a speech on “The Sinews of Peace” given before President Truman at Fulton, Missouri. The speech got a very cold reception in the American press.

The deciding factor was probably the British inability to continue to support the Greek government’s struggle against Communist guerillas in March 1947, which made it clear that only the United States had the resources in men, equipment, and money to contain Communist expansion—in Europe as in the rest of the world. The approval by Congress in that month of the “Truman Doctrine,” whereby the United States undertook “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities, or by outside pressure,” was a major reversal of policy, and was soon extended from Greece to most of western Europe. The Marshall Plan, announced in June 1947, was in the same vein, postulating that European economic recovery with American aid was the best bulwark against Soviet and other Communist expansion. These American initiatives accorded with the ideas publicly expressed by Belgian, British, and French statesmen, that only a common system of defense could guarantee the safety of Western Europe. The plea became increasingly urgent with the Prague coup of 22 February 1948, after which events moved very fast.

A treaty of mutual assistance between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom was signed in Brussels on 17 March 1948, with the Canadian prime minister expressing interest in joining them on 28 April, and Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of the United States initiating talks in the Senate that resulted in the almost unanimous adoption on 11 June of a resolution calling for “the association of the United States, by constitutional process, with such regional and other collective arrangements as are based on continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, and as affect its national security.” The road was clear for formal negotiations and the drafting of a treaty, which took place in Washington from 6 July 1948 to 18 March 1949, when the terms were made public, with the Brussels Treaty signatories, Canada, and the United States announcing that they had also asked Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Portugal to join the proposed alliance and that they had accepted. (Spain only joined in 1982, after the death of Francisco Franco.)

These nations constituted the twelve founding members, with Greece and Turkey joining in 1952. The controversial accession of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955 led to the creation of the Warsaw Pact—the Soviet Bloc’s version of the Atlantic alliance—and extreme tension with Communist parties in Western Europe, which denounced the rearmament of “revanchist” (i.e., intent on starting another war avenging the defeat of 1945) crypto-Fascists, as they saw the West German governing elite. The 1960s saw another period of difficulty for NATO, over the question of the “American nuclear umbrella” and who would decide on nuclear war. Only two other members, the United Kingdom (1952) and France (1960), had a nuclear retaliation capacity—though it was in no way comparable to that of the two superpowers— and each chose a different course, with the British government opting for total integration of its nuclear deterrent (1962) while France, under General de Gaulle and his successors, decided that continued membership in NATO did not preclude independent nuclear strikes (1966). After the period of detente in the 1970s, the installation of American cruise missiles on European soil in the 1980s led to many anti- NATO demonstrations, notably in England.

Many predicted that the fall of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989) and the consequent removal of the Communist menace would lead to the dissolution of NATO, which had been negotiated and established against the backdrop of the Berlin blockade and airlift (24 June 1948–4 May 1949), but the organization seems to have found a new lease on life, with action in Serbia in 1994 and the Middle East in 2004, and the accession in 1999 of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, followed in 2004 by that of the Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, and in 2008 by Albania and Croatia. The former anti-Communist, anti-Soviet alliance may still be said to justify its mission “to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area” in the face of new threats against the twenty-eight sovereign states that are members as of 2010.


  1. Duignan, P. (2000). NATO: Its past, present, and future. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.
  2. Heller, F. H., & Gillingham, J. R. (Vol.Eds.). (1992). NATO: The founding of the Atlantic alliance and the integration of Europe. The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute series on diplomatic and economic history: Vol. 2. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  3. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, official website. (2016). Retrieved June 16, 2016, from
  4. Park, W. (1986). Defending the West: A history of NATO. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  5. Schmidt, G. (Ed.). (2001). A history of NATO: The first fifty years. London: Palgrave.

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