Post war era | Members | Treaty | Germany | Greece & Turkey | France | Spain | Poland | Cold War | Soviet Union | Achievements | Chronology

The Post-War Era

After the Second World War there was economic exhaustion and political weakness and the armies of the wartime allies were rapidly reduced in strength. The states of central and eastern Europe were dominated by the armies of the Soviet Union which - unlike the other countries - did not suffer military weakness. In the period 1946-1948 the influence of Moscow became stronger, banishing all non-communist influences.

Cooperation between the Soviet Union and the other WW2 allies had broken down. The United States started the Marshall Plan in 1948 to offer economic aid to western and southern Europe, on condition that the countries cooperated with each other and worked on their mutual recovery in a joint effort. It was recognized that without the aid of the United States there could not be established a sufficient military counterweight to the communist countries behind the Iron Curtain. In 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington D.C. by the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In the original negotiations, decisions were made for an alliance between the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and the Benelux countries (Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). The US insisted to include Norway, Portugal, Denmark, and Italy because they shared common values and Iceland for its strategic position.

Since the founding, more than US$3 billion worth of infrastructure for NATO (air bases, airfields, communications, pipelines and depots) was financed jointly during the first 20 years. During that period the US contributed about one third.

Member Nations

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meant to implement the North Atlantic Treaty, signed on April 4, 1949. The treaty became effective on August 24, 1949.

The purpose of this treaty was to establish a military counterweight to the communist forces in eastern Europe. The following nineteen countries are members of NATO:

Belgium Founding member

Bulgaria Joined April 2, 2004

Canada Founding member


Czech Republic Joined March 12, 1999

Denmark Founding member

Estonia Joined April 2, 2004

France Founding member

Germany [1] Joined in May 1955

Greece Joined in February 1952

Hungary Joined March 12, 1999

Iceland [2] Founding member

Italy Founding member

Latvia Joined April 2, 2004


Luxembourg Founding member

The Netherlands Founding member

Norway Founding member

Poland Joined March 12, 1999

Portugal Founding member

Romania Joined April 2, 2004

Slovakia Joined April 2, 2004

Slovenia Joined April 2, 2004

Spain Joined in May 1982

Turkey Joined in February 1952

United Kingdom Founding member

United States of America Founding member

[1] Before 1990: West-Germany
[2] Does not own armed forces

In 1999, three former Partnership for Peace countries joined NATO. It was for the fourth time since the foundation of the alliance that new members were added.

On March 29, 2004, during a ceremony in the Cash Room at the US Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C., seven former Partnership for Peace countries joined the alliance, bringing the total number of member nations to 26. The event was celebrated with a special ceremony hosted by United States President George W. Bush at the White House and attended by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

The Treaty

Without doubt, the most important article of the treaty is Article 5, in which the members

"agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."

In Article 6 the geographic areas are described, covering the areas mentioned in Article 5. In Article 3, the military aid - covering more than US$25 billion - of the United States to the European members in the first 20 years after NATO's founding was described.

(Note that the complete text of the treaty is covered in another document.)

West Germany Joining NATO

The rearming of West Germany and its negotiations to participate in NATO, was greeted with uneasiness and hesitancy so shortly after the end of WW2. The strength of Germany however was necessary in achieving a sufficient military counterweight to the Soviet forces. Germany agreed to restrict its force levels at 495,000 troops and renounce weapons of mass destruction. After the signing of the Paris Agreements of October 1954, the occupation of Germany by the western allies since the end of WW2 came to an end and in May 1955 West Germany became a full NATO member. As a direct result from this, the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact alliance in eastern Europe in the same year.

Membership Of Greece And Turkey

After a split between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia over ideology inside the communist camp, Belgrade stopped adding communist rebels in Greece. This was a catalyst for the entrance of Greece and Turkey (Lisbon Conference of 1952).

Deviating Course Of France

The French president Charles de Gaulle constantly criticized the dominating role of the United States in NATO. He also criticized Article 5, which would force France to take part in warfare at the decision of others. In July 1966 this led to the official withdrawal of France from participation in the military structure of NATO. Also, NATO forces and headquarters were required to leave France and NATO headquarters was moved to Brussels, Belgium. In case of unprovoked aggression, according to the Gaulle, France would support NATO. France continued to sit in the Council and the French ground forces in West Germany remained present, but not under NATO command. France also continued to participate actively in military activities, including contributions to the allied military presence in Bosnia.

After more than 30 years, at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council on December 5, 1995, France announced it would resume its role in appropriate NATO military bodies which do not encroach on its sovereignty. France also expressed the wish to participate in the meetings of the Council of Defense Ministers. However, this was before a difference in opinion with the United States over the command of NATO's southern command in the Mediterranean. The US was not willing to give up this post because of the presence of its Sixth fleet. France would like to see the post to be taken by a European member. France delayed its decision after the summit in Madrid of July 8, 1997 because it feels Europe should have a bigger voice in NATO.

Membership Of Spain

Though initially there was strong opposition by the opposition Socialists against Spain's membership in NATO in the previous elections earlier, Spain joined NATO in 1982. However, under the socialist prime minister Felipe González membership in NATO was made dependent on a partial withdrawal of US forces stationed in Spain under the 1953 agreements. Spain was to make its contribution to collective defense outside the integrated military structure of NATO. A national referendum was narrowly won on May 12, 1986 -- commonly referred to as a triumph for González rather than evidence of understanding NATO. Membership was thought to strengthen democracy and provide the opportunity to enter the European Community (now European Union). In January 1986 Spain joined the European Community after difficult negotiations.

Spain's desire to take a full part in NATO's military command is said to be blocked in part over questions of command responsibilities. The problems of France and Spain illustrate the difficulties in proceeding to adjust the 19-member Alliance to new circumstances.

Contributing to the problem are the difficult negotiations with Portugal over the Spanish request to have responsibility over the waters adjacent to the Canary Islands, which are currently under the control of SACLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic) in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Iberian-Atlantic Command in Portugal.

Though Spain has remained outside NATO's military command structure, it has always participated actively in various military activities, including contributions to the allied military presence in Bosnia.

Membership Of Poland, Hungary And The Czech Republic

In July 1997, at a Summit Meeting in Madrid, the heads of state and government of NATO invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to begin accession talks with a view to becoming members of NATO by 1999. On December 16, 1997, the protocols to the treaty on the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were signed and on March 12, 1999, all three countries became full members of NATO.

Cold War Era

The primary purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty was to strengthen western military power in case of a Soviet invasion of western Europe in order to extend its territory and communism. Because of the Soviet's much larger ground forces, NATO in the 1950s partly relied on the massive nuclear retaliation to deter Soviet aggression. This partly was responsible for the stabilization of the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union. From 1957, US nuclear weapons were stationed in western Europe, though the weapons remained under US control. NATO would respond to any conventional attack by the Soviet Union with the use of nuclear arms. This changed in 1967, when the conception of flexible response was accepted. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s NATO's forces were significantly and systematically improved. Though the Warsaw Pact's nuclear forces were much larger, NATO's superior weaponry and training made NATO roughly equal in strength. This process continued well into the 1980s. NATO had nuclear armed missiles at their disposal as well as a large conventional ground force - the US alone had about 300,000 troops stationed in Germany.

After the fall of president Khrushchev in the Soviet Union in 1964, the war fighting strategy was more and more supported. This strategy is based upon two theories:

  • The Soviet Union should be able to fight and win any kind of war, in spite of the arms used.
  • This strategy can only be accomplished by offensive.

It was important to surprise the opponent and deny its use of nuclear forces.

At that time, it seemed highly unlikely that there would ever come an end to the period of the Cold War.

Changing Relations With The Soviet Union

Although it seemed unlikely that there would ever come an end to the strained relations between East and West, this changed when Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev became secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985. More than his predecessors, he was prepared to compromise and not let potential military threats interfere with his objective to improve relationships with western European countries. His efforts to democratize the political systems and his far reaching reforms of his country - which would in a later stadium lead to the downfall of communism and even the breakup of the Soviet Union - was the beginning of new relations with Western countries.

Moscow abandoned control over the eastern European countries which resulted in a significantly smaller military threat to western and southern Europe. In 1990, West and East Germany reunified, which triggered the question as to the need to maintain NATO as a military organization.


The role played by the North Atlantic Alliance, from its establishment in 1949 to the end of the Cold War four decades later, was fundamental in bringing about the conditions which made these developments possible. As the instrument for guaranteeing the security, freedom and independence of its members, maintaining a strategic balance in Europe and promoting democratic values and the emergence of European democratic institutions, the Alliance created the stability which was the precondition for bringing an end to the adversarial relationship between East and West.

On October 16, 1992, NATO forces began monitoring flights within the airspace of Bosnia-Herzegovina in response to United Nations Security Council Resolution 781. This was the first time since the establishment that the alliance operated "out of area" -- i.e. outside the bounderies of its member states.


1945 End of WWII, signing of the UN manifest.
1948 Belgium, France, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom signed the Brussel Treaty, regarding joint defense.
1949 Signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington by 12 countries.
1952 Greece and Turkey joined NATO.
1954 The Soviet Union was rejected as NATO member.
1955 West Germany (now Germany) joined NATO. The Soviet Union Albania, Bulgeria, Hungary, East Germany (now Germany), Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia establish the Warshaw Pact as a(military) counterweight to NATO.
1961 The Wall devided Berlin.
1962 Cuban missile crisis.
1963 Establishment of the hotline between Washington and Mascow.
1966 France withdraws from the military structure of NATO.
1967 Establishment of NATO headquarters in Brussels.
1968 The Soviet Union invades Czechosolvakia.
1970 The nucleair missiles non-proliferation treaty became effective. Negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union regarding nucleair strategic weapons in SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks).
1972 Signing of the SALT treaty. SALT-II Negotiations in Geneva.
1973 Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki.
1975 Signing of the CSCE Treaty in Helsinki.
1979 NATO double decision regarding placement of US nucleair missiles in Europe and intenserefforts in arms control.
1981 New negotiations with the Soviet Union regarding nucleair weapons (START, Strategic Arms Reductions Talks).
1982 Spain joined NATO as the 16th member.
1983 START negotiations cancelled.
1985 Renewed arms reduction negotiations between the US and the SOviet Union. Agreement reached regarding strategic nucleair forces.
1987 Agreement Reagan-Gorbachov regarding worldwide elimination of medium range nucleair arms (INF treaty).
1989 Non-communist administrations in Poland. Hungary opened borders with the west. Disappearance of the Berlin Wall.
1990 London treaty, in which NATO members agree oncooperation with countries of Centerand Eastern Europe. West and East Germany united.
1994 Russia signs Partnership for Peace agreement (May 22).
1996 Russian troops participate in IFOR (Jan 13).
1992 Conducting operations in the airspace of former Yugoslavia (outside NATO territory) inresponse to UNSC resolution 781.
1998 Poland, Hunaria and the Czech Republic joinedNATO Conducting air attacks on Yugoslavia
1999 The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO. Air strikes against Yugoslavia during 79 days.
2009 Albania joined NATO.
2009 Croatia joined NATO.
Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, NATO, NRC Handelsblad, Jane's Information Group