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Map showing expansion of NATO membership since its foundation.
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NATO or North Atlantic Treaty Organization ('OTAN or Organisation du traité de l'Atlantique nord in French)[note 1] is a military alliance of (primarily) Western European and English-speaking North American countries. NATO is formally premised on collective security. As per Article V,[1] any attack on a NATO partner (within North America or a broadly defined "Western Europe") would be considered an attack on the entire alliance.

NATO was created to prevent any further communist expansion during the Cold War. It was opposed by the Warsaw Pact, a similar institution of communist countries. The immediate aftermath of World War II created a situation of the Soviet Red Army being in Eastern Europe facing Western European countries devastated by the war with the US being the dominant Western power with the British Empire on the decline and soon breaking up, the strong American presence in the immediate aftermath of the war deterred Soviet attempts to make westward advances. NATO engaged in the controversial assistance for anti-communist strongmen in countries across the world deemed vulnerable to communist takeover. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the need for NATO seemed for a time to evaporate.

Efforts were made from the 1990s to early 2000s between NATO and Russia to cooperate through agreements made between them[2] with a NATO-Russia Council being established in 2001 with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.[3] However NATO support of revolutions overthrowing pro-Russian governments in Georgia and Ukraine from 2003-05 over allegations of vote-rigging by the pro-Russian governments in combination with the eastern expansion of NATO into the former Soviet republics in the Baltic pissed off Russia as several of its neighbors became led by pro-NATO governments.[4] Following the US declaring in 2007 its intention to create a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, Putin referred to NATO as "a real threat" to Russia.[5] From 2008 onward conflict between NATO and Russia has effectively been indirectly occurring with Russia invading Georgia led by a pro-NATO government and later invading and seizing control of the ethnic Russian majority populated region of Crimea from Ukraine also led by a pro-NATO government and encouraging ethnic Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Founding members[edit]

It was originally formed as a coalition of capitalist countries against the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. The old lineup included the US, UK, Netherlands, Canada, Italy, France, Belgium, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Portugal. It soon expanded to include Turkey and Greece, and then the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The US sought to include Spain in the treaty, but the European powers blocked this until after the end of the Fascist/Falangist regime in Spain.[note 2] Instead, the US established a quasi-alliance with Spain under the 1953 Pact of Madrid.


NATO partnerships.svg
  • Dark blue = NATO members
  • Blue = Membership Action Plan
  • Light blue = Enhanced Opportunities Partner
  • Yellow = Individual Partnership Action Plan
  • Orange = Partnership for Peace
  • Red = Mediterranean Dialogue
  • Purple = Istanbul Cooperation Initiative
  • Green = Global Partners

NATO today[edit]

The U.S. and its European allies found new uses for NATO in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. There's been recent pressure[6] to get the other members to pitch more in (only four of the 28 states are actually reaching the 2% of GDP budget commitment). Nonetheless, a number of former Warsaw Pact states expressed their desire to join NATO. In 1999, Poland, Czechia, and Hungary officially joined NATO.[note 3] In 2004, NATO expanded again, adding the three Baltic former Soviet Republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, along with Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

In 2008, proposals were put forward for the addition of Albania, Croatia, North Macedonia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Albania and Croatia were invited in, pending approval by all of the member countries and the appropriate actions taken by the Albanians and Croatians. North Macedonia was blocked by Greece, as Greece was very upset that North Macedonia called itself "Macedonia", although once that dispute was solved they were able to join. Ukraine and Georgia were both punted off indefinitely, at least in part because of the worry about upsetting Russia. Georgia and Ukraine both pose very specific problems from the point of view of joining NATO; Georgia was recently involved in a war with Russia, whereas the Ukrainians leased a port city to the Russians to use for their Black Sea navy... and, since the beginning of 2014, this mess (the optics surrounding the eventual non-membership for Ukraine seems to have been awfully ill-advised in hindsight, refueling Russian paranoia of the alliance).[7]

After Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, NATO sent weapons to supply Ukraine, and there have been calls for more countries to join the alliance. In May 2022, Sweden and Finland both announced they would apply to join NATO, ending decades of neutrality.[8] On 4 April 2023, Finland officially joined NATO, with Sweden still being held up by Turkey.[9]

Military strength[edit]

Turkey, on the frontline of the conflict with the Islamic State, has over 1,000,000 active duty and reserve forces, equal to the combined strength of Great Britain, France, and Germany.[10]

Seven NATO countries are in the top 15 in total annual military expenditures, and the alliance constitutes 70% of all world defense spending. According to the 2013 SIPRI Yearbook,[11] they are in rank order the US (#1), U.K. (#4), France (#6), Germany (#9), Italy (#10), Canada (#14) and Turkey (#15).

NATO member states[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. It does not (officially) stand for "Needs America to Operate" or "Not Able to Organize".
  2. Reportedly some human rights concern about Francisco Franco's ongoing campaign to execute all Spanish Republican fighters. (He ultimately killed about 250,000, most of them unarmed POWs.)
  3. Probably not coincidentally, all of these three countries had seen popular uprisings stamped out either by direct Soviet interventions or by local Communist regimes strongly prompted by Moscow. Poland saw several protests crushed by violent crackdowns during its Communist years, while Hungary and Czechoslovakia had local uprisings crushed by outright Soviet invasions in 1956 and 1968, respectively.