In April 2009, the NATO Defense Alliance turns 60 years old. Much has changed since ten European countries, the United States and Canada, signed the Atlantic Pact in 1949. The 60th anniversary invites a summary of what NATO has achieved and reflections on NATO’s future. In its sixtieth year of existence, is NATO at a crossroads?
- How has NATO changed since the Cold War?
- What challenges does NATO face?
- What does NATO mean for Norwegian security and defense policy?
2: NATO: a child of two world wars
NATO was established as a direct response to three overarching security challenges for post-World War II Europe:
- defend European countries against the threat posed by the Soviet Union
- have control of German military rearmament
- ensure the United States’ continued commitment to security policy in Europe.
Or as Lord Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General, put it: the purpose of NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. The hope was that NATO’s defense cooperation could prevent a third world war
Twelve countries in Europe and North America , including Norway, signed NATO’s founding document, the Atlantic Pact, in Washington DC in 1949. The core of the pact was a mutually binding security guarantee between NATO countries, enshrined in Article 5 . It states that if a NATO country is attacked by a third party, the other member states are obliged to come to its rescue on the basis of the principle ” one for all, all for one “.
From a European point of view, Article 5 was considered a guarantee that the United States, a country located in North America according to dentistrymyth, would come to the rescue of its European allies if necessary. However, Article 5 has been activated only once in NATO’s history – following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
3: NATO during the Cold War
The Cold War is referred to precisely as cold because there were never any direct acts of war between the two main opponents, the United States and the Soviet Union, and their allies. However, the two superpowers took part in a number of local conflicts in other parts of the world, such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Horn of Africa (so-called “proxy wars”).
NATO expansions in the 1950s, first with Greece and Turkey and later with West Germany, also created tensions between the two superpowers. The latter expansion in particular was seen by the Soviets as a provocation. The Soviet Union responded by establishing an alliance against NATO, the Warsaw Pact , in 1955. In addition to the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany signed the pact. The purpose largely reflected NATO’s commitment to common defense and mutual assistance in the event of an outside attack.
While the 1970s were characterized by relaxation (“détente”) and the approach to cooperation between the superpowers. Among other things, the Conference on Security and Cooperation (KSSE, later the OSCE) was established in 1975. On the other hand, the 1980s represented one of the coldest periods in relations between the West and the Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons issues (long-range and medium-range missiles) and the US Star Wars program are examples of issues that increased tensions.
These issues also created debate among Alliance members. France had already stepped out of NATO’s military structures in 1966 in protest against US domination. The country instead chose to focus on its own nuclear weapons and wanted to develop a security and defense dimension within the European Community (EC).
4: NATO after 1990: alliance without mission?
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the 40-year Cold War was practically over. The original basis for NATO’s existence thus fell away, and many therefore believed that NATO’s days were now numbered. Others contented themselves with pointing out that NATO was facing a serious identity crisis .
As US Senator Richard Lugar put it, NATO had to choose between going ” out of area ” or ” out of business “. In other words, NATO must be willing to take on new tasks, including those outside the core area, or abandon its activities.
As is well known, NATO chose the first thing – to engage outside the geographical area of the NATO countries and to take on new tasks. In NATO’s strategic concept from 1991 , the NATO countries affirmed that it was in their own interest to ensure peace and stability, also outside the NATO area.
NATO’s efforts in the Balkan wars in the 1990s thus gave the Alliance renewed relevance. NATO established peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo. None of these countries were NATO members. NATO’s commitment thus confirmed an expanded understanding of what it meant to safeguard member countries’ security. The extension of NATO’s geographical scope was later formalized in the revised strategic concept in 1999 .