North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Organisation du Traité de l'Atlantique Nord
AbbreviationNATO, OTAN
Formation4 April 1949; 75 years ago (1949-04-04)
TypeMilitary alliance
HeadquartersBrussels, Belgium
Official language
Jens Stoltenberg
Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, Royal Air Force
General Curtis Scaparrotti, United States Army
Général Denis Mercier, French Air Force
Expenses (2017)US$946 billion[2]

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO /ˈnt/; French: Organisation du Traité de l'Atlantique Nord; OTAN), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The alliance is based on the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949.[3][4] NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO Headquarters are located in Haren, Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of Allied Command Operations is near Mons, Belgium.

NATO was little more than a political association until the Korean War galvanized the organization's member states, and an integrated military structure was built up under the direction of two US Supreme Commanders. The course of the Cold War led to a rivalry with nations of the Warsaw Pact which formed in 1955. Doubts over the strength of the relationship between the European states and the United States ebbed and flowed, along with doubts over the credibility of the NATO defense against a prospective Soviet invasion – doubts that led to the development of the independent French nuclear deterrent and the withdrawal of France from NATO's military structure in 1966 for 30 years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany in 1989, the organization conducted its first military interventions in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 and later Yugoslavia in 1999 during the breakup of Yugoslavia.[5] Politically, the organization sought better relations with former Warsaw Pact countries, several of which joined the alliance in 1999 and 2004.

Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, requiring member states to come to the aid of any member state subject to an armed attack, was invoked for the first and only time after the September 11 attacks,[6] after which troops were deployed to Afghanistan under the NATO-led ISAF. The organization has operated a range of additional roles since then, including sending trainers to Iraq, assisting in counter-piracy operations[7] and in 2011 enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The less potent Article 4, which merely invokes consultation among NATO members, has been invoked five times following incidents in the Iraq War, Syrian Civil War, and annexation of Crimea.

Since its founding, the admission of new member states has increased the alliance from the original 12 countries to 29. The most recent member state to be added to NATO is Montenegro on 5 June 2017. NATO currently recognizes Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine as aspiring members.[8] An additional 21 countries participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, with 15 other countries involved in institutionalized dialogue programs. The combined military spending of all NATO members constitutes over 70% of the global total.[9] Members have committed to reach or maintain defense spending of at least 2% of GDP by 2024.[10]


The structure of NATO evolved throughout the Cold War and its aftermath. An integrated military structure for NATO was first established in 1950 as it became clear that NATO would need to enhance its defences for the longer term against a potential Soviet attack. In April 1951, Allied Command Europe and its headquarters (SHAPE) were established; later, four subordinate headquarters were added in Northern and Central Europe, the Southern Region, and the Mediterranean.[11]

From the 1950s to 2003, the Strategic Commanders were the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT).


Eleven men in suits stand around a large desk at which another man is signing a document.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington, on 4 April 1949 and was ratified by the United States in August 1949.

The Treaty of Brussels was a mutual defence treaty against the Soviet threat at the start of the Cold War. It was signed on 17 March 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom. It was the precursor to NATO. The Soviet threat became immediate with the Berlin Blockade in 1948, leading to the creation of a multinational defence organization, the Western Union Defence Organisation, in September 1948.[12] However, the parties were too weak militarily to counter the Soviet Armed Forces. In addition, the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état by the Communists had overthrown a democratic government and British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin reiterated that the best way to prevent another Czechoslovakia was to evolve a joint Western military strategy. He got a receptive hearing in the United States, especially considering American anxiety over Italy (and the Italian Communist Party).[13]

In 1948, European leaders met with US defence, military and diplomatic officials at the Pentagon, under US Secretary of State George C. Marshall's orders, exploring a framework for a new and unprecedented association.[14] Talks for a new military alliance resulted in the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington on 4 April 1949. It included the five Treaty of Brussels states plus the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.[15] The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated in 1949 that the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".[16] Popular support for the Treaty was not unanimous, and some Icelanders participated in a pro-neutrality, anti-membership riot in March 1949. The creation of NATO can be seen as the primary institutional consequence of a school of thought called Atlanticism which stressed the importance of trans-Atlantic cooperation.[17]

A 1952 US postage stamp commemorating the third anniversary of NATO. Stamps honoring the organization were issued by many member countries.

The members agreed that an armed attack against any one of them in Europe or North America would be considered an attack against them all. Consequently, they agreed that, if an armed attack occurred, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence, would assist the member being attacked, taking such action as it deemed necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. The treaty does not require members to respond with military action against an aggressor. Although obliged to respond, they maintain the freedom to choose the method by which they do so. This differs from Article IV of the Treaty of Brussels, which clearly states that the response will be military in nature. It is nonetheless assumed that NATO members will aid the attacked member militarily. The treaty was later clarified to include both the member's territory and their "vessels, forces or aircraft" above the Tropic of Cancer, including some overseas departments of France.[18]

The creation of NATO brought about some standardization of allied military terminology, procedures, and technology, which in many cases meant European countries adopting US practices. The roughly 1300 Standardization Agreements (STANAG) codified many of the common practices that NATO has achieved. Hence, the 7.62×51mm NATO rifle cartridge was introduced in the 1950s as a standard firearm cartridge among many NATO countries.[19] Fabrique Nationale de Herstal's FAL, which used the 7.62mm NATO cartridge, was adopted by 75 countries, including many outside of NATO.[20] Also, aircraft marshalling signals were standardized, so that any NATO aircraft could land at any NATO base. Other standards such as the NATO phonetic alphabet have made their way beyond NATO into civilian use.[21]

Cold War

Main article: Cold War

A map of Europe showing several countries on the left in blue, while ones on the right are in red. Other unaffiliated countries are in white.
During the Cold War, most of Europe was divided between two alliances. Members of NATO are shown in blue, with members of the Warsaw Pact in red, unaffiliated countries are in grey. Yugoslavia, although communist, had left the Soviet sphere in 1948, while Albania was only a Warsaw Pact member until 1968.

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 was crucial for NATO as it raised the apparent threat of all Communist countries working together and forced the alliance to develop concrete military plans.[22] Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was formed to direct forces in Europe, and began work under Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower in January 1951.[23] In September 1950, the NATO Military Committee called for an ambitious buildup of conventional forces to meet the Soviets, subsequently reaffirming this position at the February 1952 meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Lisbon. The Lisbon conference, seeking to provide the forces necessary for NATO's Long-Term Defence Plan, called for an expansion to ninety-six divisions. However this requirement was dropped the following year to roughly thirty-five divisions with heavier use to be made of nuclear weapons. At this time, NATO could call on about fifteen ready divisions in Central Europe, and another ten in Italy and Scandinavia.[24][25] Also at Lisbon, the post of Secretary General of NATO as the organization's chief civilian was created, and Lord Ismay was eventually appointed to the post.[26]

In September 1952, the first major NATO maritime exercises began; Exercise Mainbrace brought together 200 ships and over 50,000 personnel to practice the defence of Denmark and Norway.[27] Other major exercises that followed included Exercise Grand Slam and Exercise Longstep, naval and amphibious exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, Italic Weld, a combined air-naval-ground exercise in northern Italy, Grand Repulse, involving the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR), the Netherlands Corps and Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE), Monte Carlo, a simulated atomic air-ground exercise involving the Central Army Group, and Weldfast, a combined amphibious landing exercise in the Mediterranean Sea involving American, British, Greek, Italian and Turkish naval forces.[28]

Greece and Turkey also joined the alliance in 1952, forcing a series of controversial negotiations, in which the United States and Britain were the primary disputants, over how to bring the two countries into the military command structure.[23] While this overt military preparation was going on, covert stay-behind arrangements initially made by the Western European Union to continue resistance after a successful Soviet invasion, including Operation Gladio, were transferred to NATO control. Ultimately unofficial bonds began to grow between NATO's armed forces, such as the NATO Tiger Association and competitions such as the Canadian Army Trophy for tank gunnery.[29][30]

Two soldiers crouch under a tree while a tank sits on a road in front of them.
The German Bundeswehr provided the largest element of the allied land forces guarding the frontier in Central Europe.

In 1954, the Soviet Union suggested that it should join NATO to preserve peace in Europe.[31] The NATO countries, fearing that the Soviet Union's motive was to weaken the alliance, ultimately rejected this proposal and on 17 December 1954, the North Atlantic Council approved MC 48, a key document in the evolution of NATO nuclear thought. MC 48 emphasized that NATO would have to use atomic weapons from the outset of a war with the Soviet Union whether or not the Soviets chose to use them first. This gave SACEUR the same prerogatives for automatic use of nuclear weapons as existed for the commander-in-chief of the US Strategic Air Command.

The incorporation of West Germany into the organization on 9 May 1955 was described as "a decisive turning point in the history of our continent" by Halvard Lange, Foreign Affairs Minister of Norway at the time.[32] A major reason for Germany's entry into the alliance was that without German manpower, it would have been impossible to field enough conventional forces to resist a Soviet invasion.[33] One of its immediate results was the creation of the Warsaw Pact, which was signed on 14 May 1955 by the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and East Germany, as a formal response to this event, thereby delineating the two opposing sides of the Cold War.

Three major exercises were held concurrently in the northern autumn of 1957. Operation Counter Punch, Operation Strikeback, and Operation Deep Water were the most ambitious military undertaking for the alliance to date, involving more than 250,000 men, 300 ships, and 1,500 aircraft operating from Norway to Turkey.[34]

French withdrawal

A map of France with red and blue markings indicating air force bases as of 1966.
Map of the NATO air bases in France before Charles de Gaulle's 1966 withdrawal from NATO military integrated command

NATO's unity was breached early in its history with a crisis occurring during Charles de Gaulle's presidency of France.[35] De Gaulle protested against the United States' strong role in the organization and what he perceived as a special relationship between it and the United Kingdom. In a memorandum sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 17 September 1958, he argued for the creation of a tripartite directorate that would put France on an equal footing with the US and the UK.[36]

Considering the response to be unsatisfactory, de Gaulle began constructing an independent defence force for his country. He wanted to give France, in the event of an East German incursion into West Germany, the option of coming to a separate peace with the Eastern bloc instead of being drawn into a larger NATO–Warsaw Pact war.[37] In February 1959, France withdrew its Mediterranean Fleet from NATO command,[38] and later banned the stationing of foreign nuclear weapons on French soil. This caused the United States to transfer two hundred military aircraft out of France and return control of the air force bases that it had operated in France since 1950 to the French by 1967.

Though France showed solidarity with the rest of NATO during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, de Gaulle continued his pursuit of an independent defence by removing France's Atlantic and Channel fleets from NATO command.[39] In 1966, all French armed forces were removed from NATO's integrated military command, and all non-French NATO troops were asked to leave France. US Secretary of State Dean Rusk was later quoted as asking de Gaulle whether his order included "the bodies of American soldiers in France's cemeteries?"[40] This withdrawal forced the relocation of SHAPETooltip Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe from Rocquencourt, near Paris, to Casteau, north of Mons, Belgium, by 16 October 1967.[41] France remained a member of the alliance, and committed to the defence of Europe from possible Warsaw Pact attack with its own forces stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany throughout the Cold War. A series of secret accords between US and French officials, the Lemnitzer–Ailleret Agreements, detailed how French forces would dovetail back into NATO's command structure should East-West hostilities break out.[42]

When de Gaulle announced his decision to withdraw from the integrated NATO command, President Lyndon Johnson suggested that when de Gaulle "comes rushing down like a locomotive on the track, why the Germans and ourselves, we just stand aside and let him go on by, then we are back together again."[43] The vision came true. France announced their return to full participation at the 2009 Strasbourg–Kehl summit.[44]

Détente and escalation

Main article: Détente

Two older men in suits sit next to each other, while a third stands behind leaning in to listen to the right man talk. US President Richard Nixon talked with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1973.
Détente led to many high level meetings between leaders from both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

During most of the Cold War, NATO's watch against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact did not actually lead to direct military action. On 1 July 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature: NATO argued that its nuclear sharing arrangements did not breach the treaty as US forces controlled the weapons until a decision was made to go to war, at which point the treaty would no longer be controlling. Few states knew of the NATO nuclear sharing arrangements at that time, and they were not challenged. In May 1978, NATO countries officially defined two complementary aims of the Alliance, to maintain security and pursue détente. This was supposed to mean matching defences at the level rendered necessary by the Warsaw Pact's offensive capabilities without spurring a further arms race.[45]

On 12 December 1979, in light of a build-up of Warsaw Pact nuclear capabilities in Europe, ministers approved the deployment of US GLCM cruise missiles and Pershing II theatre nuclear weapons in Europe. The new warheads were also meant to strengthen the western negotiating position regarding nuclear disarmament. This policy was called the Dual Track policy.[46] Similarly, in 1983–84, responding to the stationing of Warsaw Pact SS-20 medium-range missiles in Europe, NATO deployed modern Pershing II missiles tasked to hit military targets such as tank formations in the event of war.[47] This action led to peace movement protests throughout Western Europe, and support for the deployment wavered as many doubted whether the push for deployment could be sustained.

Wim van Eekelen, Minister of Defence of the Netherlands, greeting US soldiers deploying to NATO bases in 1987

The membership of the organization at this time remained largely static. In 1974, as a consequence of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Greece withdrew its forces from NATO's military command structure but, with Turkish cooperation, were readmitted in 1980[citation needed]. The Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina did not result in NATO involvement because article 6 of the North Atlantic Treaty specifies that collective self-defence is only applicable to attacks on member state territories north of the Tropic of Cancer.[48] On 30 May 1982, NATO gained a new member when the newly democratic Spain joined the alliance; Spain's membership was confirmed by referendum in 1986. At the peak of the Cold War, 16 member nations maintained an approximate strength of 5,252,800 active military, including as many as 435,000 forward deployed US forces, under a command structure that reached a peak of 78 headquarters, organized into four echelons.[49]

After the Cold War

Main article: NATO–Russia relations

The Revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 removed the de facto main adversary of NATO and caused a strategic re-evaluation of NATO's purpose, nature, tasks, and their focus on the continent of Europe. This shift started with the 1990 signing in Paris of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe between NATO and the Soviet Union, which mandated specific military reductions across the continent that continued after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.[50] At that time, European countries accounted for 34 percent of NATO's military spending; by 2012, this had fallen to 21 percent.[51] NATO also began a gradual expansion to include newly autonomous Central and Eastern European nations, and extended its activities into political and humanitarian situations that had not formerly been NATO concerns.

Two men in suits sit signing documents at a large table in front of their country's flags. Two others stand outside watching them.
Reforms made under Mikhail Gorbachev led to the end of the Warsaw Pact.

The first post-Cold War expansion of NATO came with German reunification on 3 October 1990, when the former East Germany became part of the Federal Republic of Germany and the alliance. This had been agreed in the Two Plus Four Treaty earlier in the year. To secure Soviet approval of a united Germany remaining in NATO, it was agreed that foreign troops and nuclear weapons would not be stationed in the east. Whilst there was no formal commitment in the agreement not to expand NATO to the east, there are diverging views on whether negotiators gave informal commitments regarding further NATO expansion.[52][53][54] Jack Matlock, American ambassador to the Soviet Union during its final years, said that the West gave a "clear commitment" not to expand, and declassified documents indicate that Soviet negotiators were given the impression that NATO membership was off the table for countries such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland.[55] Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister at that time, said in a conversation with Eduard Shevardnadze that "[f]or us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east."[55] In 1996, Gorbachev wrote in his Memoirs, that "during the negotiations on the unification of Germany they gave assurances that NATO would not extend its zone of operation to the east,"[56] and repeated this view in an interview in 2008.[57] However in 2014 Gorbachev stated the opposite – that "The topic of 'NATO expansion' was not discussed at all [in 1990], and it wasn't brought up in those years. I say this with full responsibility. Western leaders didn't bring it up, either."[52][58] According to Robert Zoellick, a State Department official involved in the Two Plus Four negotiating process, this appears to be a misperception, and no formal commitment regarding enlargement was made.[59] Harvard University historian Mark Kramer also rejects that an informal agreement existed[52][60].

As part of post-Cold War restructuring, NATO's military structure was cut back and reorganized, with new forces such as the Headquarters Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps established. The changes brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union on the military balance in Europe were recognized in the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which was signed in 1999. The policies of French President Nicolas Sarkozy resulted in a major reform of France's military position, culminating with the return to full membership on 4 April 2009, which also included France rejoining the NATO Military Command Structure, while maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent.[42][61]

Enlargement and reform

Further information: Enlargement of NATO

A pale yellow building with square columns with three flags hanging in front and soldiers and dignitaries saluting them.
The NATO flag being raised in a ceremony marking Croatia's joining of the alliance in 2009

Between 1994 and 1997, wider forums for regional cooperation between NATO and its neighbors were set up, like the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. In 1998, the NATO–Russia Permanent Joint Council was established. On 8 July 1997, three former communist countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, were invited to join NATO, an invitation which was accepted by all three, with Hungarian acceptance being endorsed in a a referendum in which 85.3% of voters supported joining NATO.

Czech President Vaclav Havel welcomed the expansion, stating that "Never have we been part of such a broad, solid and binding security alliance, which at the same time respects in its essence the sovereignty and will of our nation." Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek also welcomed the expansion saying that "Poland forever returns where she has always belonged: the free world". Hungarian foreign minister Janos Martonyi stated that the expansion showed that Hungary was returning "to her natural habitat." The expansion was also welcomed by US foreign secretary Madeleine Albright who stated that the expansion would do "for Europe's east what NATO has already helped to do for Europe's west: steadily and systematically, we will continue erasing – without replacing – the line drawn in Europe by Stalin's bloody boot." [62]

Expansion was criticised in the US by some policy experts as a "a policy error of historic proportions."[63] According to George F. Kennan, an American diplomat and an advocate of the containment policy, this decision "may be expected to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking."[64]

Membership went on expanding with the accession of seven more Central and Eastern European countries to NATO: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. They were first invited to start talks of membership during the 2002 Prague summit, and joined NATO on 29 March 2004, shortly before the 2004 Istanbul summit. Slovenian membership was endorsed in a referendum in which 66.02% of voters supported joining.

New NATO structures were also formed while old ones were abolished. In 1997, NATO reached agreement on a significant downsizing of its command structure from 65 headquarters to just 20.[65] The NATO Response Force (NRF) was launched at the 2002 Prague summit on 21 November, the first summit in a former Comecon country. On 19 June 2003, a further restructuring of the NATO military commands began as the Headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic were abolished and a new command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT), was established in Norfolk, United States, and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) became the Headquarters of Allied Command Operations (ACO). ACT is responsible for driving transformation (future capabilities) in NATO, whilst ACO is responsible for current operations.[66] In March 2004, NATO's Baltic Air Policing began, which supported the sovereignty of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia by providing jet fighters to react to any unwanted aerial intrusions. Eight multinational jet fighters are based in Lithuania, the number of which was increased from four in 2014.[67] Also at the 2004 Istanbul summit, NATO launched the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with four Persian Gulf nations.[68]

Two older Caucasian men in black suits and red ties sit facing each other in a room with green, white, and gold trimmed walls.
Meetings between the government of Viktor Yushchenko and NATO leaders led to the Intensified Dialogue programme.

The 2006 Riga summit was held in Riga, Latvia, and highlighted the issue of energy security. It was the first NATO summit to be held in a country that had been part of the Soviet Union. At the April 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania, NATO agreed to the accession of Croatia and Albania and both countries joined NATO in April 2009. Ukraine and Georgia were also told that they could eventually become members.[69] The issue of Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO prompted harsh criticism from Russia, as did NATO plans for a missile defence system. Studies for this system began in 2002, with negotiations centered on anti-ballistic missiles being stationed in Poland and the Czech Republic. Though NATO leaders gave assurances that the system was not targeting Russia, both presidents Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev criticized it as a threat.[70]

In 2009, US President Barack Obama proposed using the ship-based Aegis Combat System, though this plan still includes stations being built in Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Poland.[71] NATO will also maintain the "status quo" in its nuclear deterrent in Europe by upgrading the targeting capabilities of the "tactical" B61 nuclear bombs stationed there and deploying them on the stealthier Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.[72][73] Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, NATO committed to forming a new "spearhead" force of 5,000 troops at bases in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.[74][75]

The Russian intervention in Crimea in 2014 lead to strong condemnation by NATO nations, and Poland invoked Article 4 meetings.[76] At the subsequent 2014 Wales summit, the leaders of NATO's member states formally committed for the first time spend the equivalent of at least 2% of their gross domestic products on defence by 2024, which had previously been only an informal guideline.[77] In 2015, five of its 28 members met that goal.[78][79][80] At the beginning of 2018, eight of the 29 members either were meeting the target or were close to it; six others had laid out plans to reach the target by 2024 as promised; and Norway and Denmark had unveiled plans to substantially boost defense spending (including Norway's planned purchase 52 new F-35 fighter jets.[81]

On 15 June 2016, NATO officially recognized cyberwarfare as an operational domain of war, just like land, sea and aerial warfare. This means that any cyber attack on NATO members can trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.[82] Montenegro became the 29th and newest member of NATO on 5 June 2017, amid strong objections from Russia.[83][84]

Structural changes

1952 NATO organisational chart

The Defence Planning Committee was a former senior decision-making body on matters relating to the integrated military structure of the Alliance. It was dissolved following a major committee review in June 2010 and its responsibilities absorbed by the North Atlantic Council.

Civilian structure

In NATO: The First Five Years Lord Ismay described the civilian structure as follows:[85]

The ..Office of the Secretary General [is] directed by an Executive Secretary, Captain R.D. Coleridge (UK), who is also Secretary to the Council. He is responsible for supervising the general processing of the work of the Council and their committees, including provision of all secretarial assistance, as well as supervision of the administrative services of the Staff/Secretariat itself. Thus the Secretariat provides secretaries to all the Council's principal committees and working groups - apart from those of a strictly technical nature - and ensures co-ordination between them. .. On the Staff side there are three main divisions corresponding to the three principal aspects of NATO's work, each under an Assistant Secretary General. Ambassador Sergio Fenoaltea (Italy) heads the Political Affairs Division, M. Rene Sergent (France) the Economics and Finance Division, and Mr. Lowell P. Weicker (USA) the Production and Logistics Division. The Divisions' tasks are to prepare, in close touch with delegations, proposed action in their respective fields for consideration by the appropriate committee or by the Council. In addition to the main divisions there are three other offices working directly to the Secretary General. These are the Office of Statistics (Mr. Loring Wood of the USA), the Financial Comptroller's Office (M. A. J. Bastin of Belgium), and the Division of Information (Mr. Geoffrey Parsons, Jr. of the USA). The Information Division, besides providing material about NATO for the use of member governments, (it does not engage in independent operations), is also the press and public relations branch of the civilian authority.

Military structure

The Strategic Commanders are the former 'Major NATO Commanders', who sat atop a command hierarchy consisting of Major Subordinate Commanders (MSCs), Principal Subordinate Commanders (PSCs) and Sub-PSCs.[86] The Military Committee had an executive body, the Standing Group, made up of representatives from France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The Standing Group was abolished during the major reform of 1967 that resulted from France’s departure from the NATO Military Command Structure.[87]


NATO military command and areas of responsibilities (1954)

A key step in establishing the NATO Command Structure was the North Atlantic Council’s selection of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) in December 1950.[87] After Eisenhower arrived in Paris in January 1951, he and the other members of the multinational Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Planning Group immediately began to devise a structure for the new Allied Command Europe. NATO official documents say '..The corner stone of the NATO Military Command Structure was laid.. when the North Atlantic Council approved D.C. 24/3 on 18 December 1951.'[88] They quickly decided to divide Allied Command Europe into three regions: Allied Forces Northern Europe, containing Scandinavia, the North Sea and the Baltic; Allied Forces Central Europe, and Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH), covering Italy and the Mediterranean. SHAPE was established at Rocquencourt, west of Paris.

The British post of Commander in Chief Mediterranean Fleet was given a dual-hatted role as NATO Commander in Chief of Allied Forces Mediterranean in charge of all forces assigned to NATO in the Mediterranean Area. The British made strong representations in discussions regarding the Mediterranean NATO command structure, wishing to retain their direction of NATO naval command in the Mediterranean to protect their sea lines of communication running through the Mediterranean to the Middle East and Far East.[89]

In 1952, after Greece and Turkey joined the Alliance,[90] Allied Land Forces South-Eastern Europe (LANDSOUTHEAST) was created in Izmir, Turkey, under a U.S. Army General. This was due to the two states' geographic distance from the LANDSOUTH headquarters, as well as political disagreements over which nation should be the overall commander for their ground forces.

With the establishment of Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT) on 30 January 1952, the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic joined the previously created Supreme Allied Commander Europe as one of the alliance’s two Major NATO Commanders.[91] A third was added when Allied Command Channel was established on 21 February 1952 to control the English Channel and North Sea area and deny it to the enemy, and protect the sea lanes of communication.[92][93] The establishment of this post, and the agreement that it was to be filled by the British Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, was part of the compromise that allowed an American officer to take up the SACLANT post. Previously Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth had controlled multinational naval operations in the area under WUDO auspices. In due course the CINCHAN role was assumed by the British Commander-in-Chief Fleet.

In 1966, when French president Charles de Gaulle withdrew French forces from the military command structure, NATO's headquarters was forced to move to Belgium. SHAPE was moved to Casteau, north of the Belgian city of Mons. Headquarters Allied Forces Central Europe was moved from the Chateau de Fontainebleau outside Paris to Brunssum, in the Netherlands.

Structure in 1989

After the Cold War

By June 1991, it was clear that Allied Forces Central Europe (a Major Subordinate Command) could be reduced, with the Soviet threat disappearing. Six multinational corps were to replace the previous eight.[95] Announcements in June 1991 presaged main defensive forces consisting of six multinational corps. Two were to be under German command, one with a U.S. division, one under Belgian command with a pending offer of a U.S. brigade, one under U.S. command with a German division, one under joint German-Danish command (LANDJUT), and one under Dutch command. The new German IV Corps was to be stationed in Eastern Germany, and was not to be associated with the NATO structure.

On July 1, 1994, the Alliance disestablished Allied Command Channel, through retaining many of its subordinate structures after reshuffling. Most of the headquarters were absorbed within ACE, particularly within the new Allied Forces Northwestern Europe.[96]

NATO E-3A flying with United States Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons in a NATO exercise.

From 1994 to 1999 ACE had three Major Subordinate Commands, AFNORTHWEST, AFCENT, and AFSOUTH. In 1995 NATO began a Long Term Study to examine post-Cold War strategy and structure. Recommendations from the study for a new, streamlined structure emerged in 1996.[97] The European and Atlantic commands were to be retained, but the number of major commands in Europe was to be cut from three to two, Regional Command North Europe and Regional Command South Europe. Activation of the new RC SOUTH occurred in September 1999, and in March 2000 Headquarters AFNORTHWEST closed and the new RC NORTH was activated.[98] The headquarters of the two Regional Commands were known as Regional Headquarters South (RHQ South) and RHQ NORTH respectively. Each was to supervise air, naval, and land commands for their region as well as a number of Joint Subregional Commands (JSRCs). Among the new JSRCs was Joint Headquarters Southwest, which was activated in Madrid in September 1999.

Organizations and agencies

Prior to the reorganization, the NATO website listed 43 different agencies and organizations and five project committees/offices as of 15 May 2008.[99] They included:

Military operations

Main article: List of NATO operations

Early operations

No military operations were conducted by NATO during the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, the first operations, Anchor Guard in 1990 and Ace Guard in 1991, were prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Airborne early warning aircraft were sent to provide coverage of southeastern Turkey, and later a quick-reaction force was deployed to the area.[103]

Bosnia and Herzegovina intervention

Main article: NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A fighter jet with AV marked on its tail takes off from a mountain runway.
NATO planes engaged in aerial bombardments during Operation Deliberate Force after the Srebrenica massacre.

The Bosnian War began in 1992, as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The deteriorating situation led to United Nations Security Council Resolution 816 on 9 October 1992, ordering a no-fly zone over central Bosnia and Herzegovina, which NATO began enforcing on 12 April 1993 with Operation Deny Flight. From June 1993 until October 1996, Operation Sharp Guard added maritime enforcement of the arms embargo and economic sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 28 February 1994, NATO took its first wartime action by shooting down four Bosnian Serb aircraft violating the no-fly zone.[104]

On 10 and 11 April 1994, during the Bosnian War, the United Nations Protection Force called in air strikes to protect the Goražde safe area, resulting in the bombing of a Bosnian Serb military command outpost near Goražde by two US F-16 jets acting under NATO direction.[105] This resulted in the taking of 150 U.N. personnel hostage on 14 April.[106][107] On 16 April a British Sea Harrier was shot down over Goražde by Serb forces.[108] A two-week NATO bombing campaign, Operation Deliberate Force, began in August 1995 against the Army of the Republika Srpska, after the Srebrenica massacre.[109]

NATO air strikes that year helped bring the Yugoslav wars to an end, resulting in the Dayton Agreement in November 1995.[109] As part of this agreement, NATO deployed a UN-mandated peacekeeping force, under Operation Joint Endeavor, named IFOR. Almost 60,000 NATO troops were joined by forces from non-NATO nations in this peacekeeping mission. This transitioned into the smaller SFOR, which started with 32,000 troops initially and ran from December 1996 until December 2004, when operations were then passed onto European Union Force Althea.[110] Following the lead of its member nations, NATO began to award a service medal, the NATO Medal, for these operations.[111]

Kosovo intervention

Main articles: 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and KFOR

Three trucks of soldiers idle on a country road in front of trees and red roofed houses. The rear truck has KFOR painted on is back.
German KFOR soldiers patrol southern Kosovo in 1999.

In an effort to stop Slobodan Milošević's Serbian-led crackdown on KLA separatists and Albanian civilians in Kosovo, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1199 on 23 September 1998 to demand a ceasefire. Negotiations under US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke broke down on 23 March 1999, and he handed the matter to NATO,[112] which started a 78-day bombing campaign on 24 March 1999.[113] Operation Allied Force targeted the military capabilities of what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the crisis, NATO also deployed one of its international reaction forces, the ACE Mobile Force (Land), to Albania as the Albania Force (AFOR), to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees from Kosovo.[114]

Though the campaign was criticized for high civilian casualties, including bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Milošević finally accepted the terms of an international peace plan on 3 June 1999, ending the Kosovo War. On 11 June, Milošević further accepted UN resolution 1244, under the mandate of which NATO then helped establish the KFOR peacekeeping force. Nearly one million refugees had fled Kosovo, and part of KFOR's mandate was to protect the humanitarian missions, in addition to deterring violence.[114][115] In August–September 2001, the alliance also mounted Operation Essential Harvest, a mission disarming ethnic Albanian militias in the Republic of Macedonia.[116] As of 1 December 2013, 4,882 KFOR soldiers, representing 31 countries, continue to operate in the area.[117]

The US, the UK, and most other NATO countries opposed efforts to require the UN Security Council to approve NATO military strikes, such as the action against Serbia in 1999, while France and some others claimed that the alliance needed UN approval.[118] The US/UK side claimed that this would undermine the authority of the alliance, and they noted that Russia and China would have exercised their Security Council vetoes to block the strike on Yugoslavia, and could do the same in future conflicts where NATO intervention was required, thus nullifying the entire potency and purpose of the organization. Recognizing the post-Cold War military environment, NATO adopted the Alliance Strategic Concept during its Washington summit in April 1999 that emphasized conflict prevention and crisis management.[119]

War in Afghanistan

Main articles: International Security Assistance Force and War in Afghanistan

A monumental green copper statue of a woman with a torch stands on an island in front of a mainland where a massive plume of gray smoke billows amongst skyscrapers.
The September 11 attacks in the United States caused NATO to invoke its collective defence article for the first time.

The September 11 attacks in the United States caused NATO to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Charter for the first time in the organization's history. The Article says that an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all. The invocation was confirmed on 4 October 2001 when NATO determined that the attacks were indeed eligible under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty.[120] The eight official actions taken by NATO in response to the attacks included Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour, a naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea which is designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, as well as enhancing the security of shipping in general which began on 4 October 2001.[121]

The alliance showed unity: On 16 April 2003, NATO agreed to take command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which includes troops from 42 countries. The decision came at the request of Germany and the Netherlands, the two nations leading ISAF at the time of the agreement, and all nineteen NATO ambassadors approved it unanimously. The handover of control to NATO took place on 11 August, and marked the first time in NATO's history that it took charge of a mission outside the north Atlantic area.[122]

A general hands a NATO flag from a soldier on the left to one on the right.
ISAF General David M. Rodriguez at an Italian change of command in Herat

ISAF was initially charged with securing Kabul and surrounding areas from the Taliban, al Qaeda and factional warlords, so as to allow for the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai. In October 2003, the UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the ISAF mission throughout Afghanistan,[123] and ISAF subsequently expanded the mission in four main stages over the whole of the country.[124]

On 31 July 2006, the ISAF additionally took over military operations in the south of Afghanistan from a US-led anti-terrorism coalition.[125] Due to the intensity of the fighting in the south, in 2011 France allowed a squadron of Mirage 2000 fighter/attack aircraft to be moved into the area, to Kandahar, in order to reinforce the alliance's efforts.[126] During its 2012 Chicago Summit, NATO endorsed a plan to end the Afghanistan war and to remove the NATO-led ISAF Forces by the end of December 2014.[127] ISAF was disestablished in December 2014 and replaced by the follow-on training Resolute Support Mission

Iraq training mission

Main article: NATO Training Mission – Iraq

In August 2004, during the Iraq War, NATO formed the NATO Training Mission – Iraq, a training mission to assist the Iraqi security forces in conjunction with the US led MNF-I.[128] The NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I) was established at the request of the Iraqi Interim Government under the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. The aim of NTM-I was to assist in the development of Iraqi security forces training structures and institutions so that Iraq can build an effective and sustainable capability that addresses the needs of the nation. NTM-I was not a combat mission but is a distinct mission, under the political control of NATO's North Atlantic Council. Its operational emphasis was on training and mentoring. The activities of the mission were coordinated with Iraqi authorities and the US-led Deputy Commanding General Advising and Training, who was also dual-hatted as the Commander of NTM-I. The mission officially concluded on 17 December 2011.[129]

Turkey invoked the first Article 4 meetings in 2003 at the start of the Iraq War. Turkey also invoked this article twice in 2012 during the Syrian Civil War, after the downing of an unarmed Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet, and after a mortar was fired at Turkey from Syria,[130] and again in 2015 after threats by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to its territorial integrity.[131]

Gulf of Aden anti-piracy

Main article: Operation Ocean Shield

A tall plume of black smoke rises from the blue ocean waters next to a large gray battleship and a small black inflatable boat.
USS Farragut destroying a Somali pirate skiff in March 2010

Beginning on 17 August 2009, NATO deployed warships in an operation to protect maritime traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean from Somali pirates, and help strengthen the navies and coast guards of regional states. The operation was approved by the North Atlantic Council and involves warships primarily from the United States though vessels from many other nations are also included. Operation Ocean Shield focuses on protecting the ships of Operation Allied Provider which are distributing aid as part of the World Food Programme mission in Somalia. Russia, China and South Korea have sent warships to participate in the activities as well.[132][133] The operation seeks to dissuade and interrupt pirate attacks, protect vessels, and abetting to increase the general level of security in the region.[134]

Libya intervention

Main article: 2011 military intervention in Libya

During the Libyan Civil War, violence between protestors and the Libyan government under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi escalated, and on 17 March 2011 led to the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which called for a ceasefire, and authorized military action to protect civilians. A coalition that included several NATO members began enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya shortly afterwards, beginning with Opération Harmattan by the French Air Force on March 19.

On 20 March 2011, NATO states agreed on enforcing an arms embargo against Libya with Operation Unified Protector using ships from NATO Standing Maritime Group 1 and Standing Mine Countermeasures Group 1,[135] and additional ships and submarines from NATO members.[136] They would "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries".[135]

Pieces of a destroyed tank, notably the gun turret, lie on a sandy landscape.
Libyan Army Palmaria howitzers destroyed by the French Air Force near Benghazi in March 2011

On 24 March, NATO agreed to take control of the no-fly zone from the initial coalition, while command of targeting ground units remained with the coalition's forces.[137][138] NATO began officially enforcing the UN resolution on 27 March 2011 with assistance from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.[139] By June, reports of divisions within the alliance surfaced as only eight of the 28 member nations were participating in combat operations,[140] resulting in a confrontation between US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and countries such as Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Germany to contribute more, the latter believing the organization has overstepped its mandate in the conflict.[141][142][143] In his final policy speech in Brussels on 10 June, Gates further criticized allied countries in suggesting their actions could cause the demise of NATO.[144] The German foreign ministry pointed to "a considerable [German] contribution to NATO and NATO-led operations" and to the fact that this engagement was highly valued by President Obama.[145]

While the mission was extended into September, Norway that day announced it would begin scaling down contributions and complete withdrawal by 1 August.[146] Earlier that week it was reported Danish air fighters were running out of bombs.[147][148] The following week, the head of the Royal Navy said the country's operations in the conflict were not sustainable.[149] By the end of the mission in October 2011, after the death of Colonel Gaddafi, NATO planes had flown about 9,500 strike sorties against pro-Gaddafi targets.[150][151] A report from the organization Human Rights Watch in May 2012 identified at least 72 civilians killed in the campaign.[152] Following a coup d'état attempt in October 2013, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan requested technical advice and trainers from NATO to assist with ongoing security issues.[153]

Participating countries

Map of NATO affiliations in Europe Map of NATO partnerships globally
A map of Europe with countries in blue, cyan, orange, and yellow based on their NATO affiliation. A world map with countries in blue, cyan, orange, yellow, purple, and green, based on their NATO affiliation.


Main article: Member states of NATO

Twelve men in black suits stand talking in small groups under a backdrop with the words Lisbonne and Lisboa.
NATO organizes regular summits for leaders of their members states and partnerships.

NATO has twenty-nine members, mainly in Europe and North America. Some of these countries also have territory on multiple continents, which can be covered only as far south as the Tropic of Cancer in the Atlantic Ocean, which defines NATO's "area of responsibility" under Article 6 of the North Atlantic Treaty. During the original treaty negotiations, the United States insisted that colonies such as the Belgian Congo be excluded from the treaty.[154][155] French Algeria was however covered until their independence on 3 July 1962.[156] Twelve of these twenty-nine are original members who joined in 1949, while the other seventeen joined in one of seven enlargement rounds.

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, France pursued a military strategy of independence from NATO under a policy dubbed "Gaullo-Mitterrandism".[citation needed] Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated the return of France to the integrated military command and the Defence Planning Committee in 2009, the latter being disbanded the following year. France remains the only NATO member outside the Nuclear Planning Group and unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, will not commit its nuclear-armed submarines to the alliance.[42][61] Few members spend more than two percent of their gross domestic product on defence,[157] with the United States accounting for three quarters of NATO defense spending.[158]


Main article: Enlargement of NATO

A map of Europe with countries labeled in shades of blue, green, and yellow based on when they joined NATO.
NATO has added 13 new members since the German reunification and the end of the Cold War.

New membership in the alliance has been largely from Central and Eastern Europe, including former members of the Warsaw Pact. Accession to the alliance is governed with individual Membership Action Plans, and requires approval by each current member. NATO currently has two candidate countries that are in the process of joining the alliance: Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Macedonia. In NATO official statements, the Republic of Macedonia is always referred to as the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", with a footnote stating that "Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name". Though Macedonia completed its requirements for membership at the same time as Croatia and Albania, who joined NATO in 2009, its accession was blocked by Greece pending a resolution of the Macedonia naming dispute.[159] In order to support each other in the process, new and potential members in the region formed the Adriatic Charter in 2003.[160] Georgia was also named as an aspiring member, and was promised "future membership" during the 2008 summit in Bucharest,[161] though in 2014, US President Barack Obama said the country was not "currently on a path" to membership.[162]

Russia continues to oppose further expansion, seeing it as inconsistent with understandings between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and European and American negotiators that allowed for a peaceful German reunification.[55] NATO's expansion efforts are often seen by Moscow leaders as a continuation of a Cold War attempt to surround and isolate Russia,[163] though they have also been criticised in the West.[164] A June 2016 Levada poll found that 68% of Russians think that deploying NATO troops in the Baltic states and Poland – former Eastern bloc countries bordering Russia – is a threat to Russia.[165] Ukraine's relationship with NATO and Europe has been politically divisive, and contributed to "Euromaidan" protests that saw the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. In March 2014, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk reiterated the government's stance that Ukraine is not seeking NATO membership.[166] Ukraine's president subsequently signed a bill dropping his nation's nonaligned status in order to pursue NATO membership, but signaled that it would hold a referendum before seeking to join.[167] Ukraine is one of eight countries in Eastern Europe with an Individual Partnership Action Plan. IPAPs began in 2002, and are open to countries that have the political will and ability to deepen their relationship with NATO.[168]

A 2006 study in the journal Security Studies argued that NATO enlargement contributed to democratic consolidation in Central and Eastern Europe.[169]


Further information: Foreign relations of NATO

Hundreds of soldiers in military uniforms stand behind a line on a tarmac with 14 flags held by individuals at the front.
Partnership for Peace conducts multinational military exercises like Cooperative Archer, which took place in Tblisi in July 2007 with 500 servicemen from four NATO members, eight PfP members, and Jordan, a Mediterranean Dialogue participant.[170]

The Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme was established in 1994 and is based on individual bilateral relations between each partner country and NATO: each country may choose the extent of its participation.[171] Members include all current and former members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.[172] The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) was first established on 29 May 1997, and is a forum for regular coordination, consultation and dialogue between all fifty participants.[173] The PfP programme is considered the operational wing of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership.[171] Other third countries also have been contacted for participation in some activities of the PfP framework such as Afghanistan.[174]

The European Union (EU) signed a comprehensive package of arrangements with NATO under the Berlin Plus agreement on 16 December 2002. With this agreement, the EU was given the possibility to use NATO assets in case it wanted to act independently in an international crisis, on the condition that NATO itself did not want to act – the so-called "right of first refusal".[175] For example, Article 42(7) of the 1982 Treaty of Lisbon specifies that "If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power". The treaty applies globally to specified territories whereas NATO is restricted under its Article 6 to operations north of the Tropic of Cancer. It provides a "double framework" for the EU countries that are also linked with the PfP programme.

Additionally, NATO cooperates and discusses its activities with numerous other non-NATO members. The Mediterranean Dialogue was established in 1994 to coordinate in a similar way with Israel and countries in North Africa. The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was announced in 2004 as a dialog forum for the Middle East along the same lines as the Mediterranean Dialogue. The four participants are also linked through the Gulf Cooperation Council.[176]

Political dialogue with Japan began in 1990, and since then, the Alliance has gradually increased its contact with countries that do not form part of any of these cooperation initiatives.[177] In 1998, NATO established a set of general guidelines that do not allow for a formal institutionalisation of relations, but reflect the Allies' desire to increase cooperation. Following extensive debate, the term "Contact Countries" was agreed by the Allies in 2000. By 2012, the Alliance had broadened this group, which meets to discuss issues such as counter-piracy and technology exchange, under the names "partners across the globe" or "global partners".[178][179] Australia and New Zealand, both contact countries, are also members of the AUSCANNZUKUS strategic alliance, and similar regional or bilateral agreements between contact countries and NATO members also aid cooperation. Colombia is the NATO’s latest partner and Colombia has access to the full range of cooperative activities NATO offers to partners; Colombia became the first and only Latin American country to cooperate with NATO.[180]


The Structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is complex and multi-faceted.[181] The decision-making body is the North Atlantic Council (NAC), and the member state representatives also sit on the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) and the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG).[182] Below that the Secretary General of NATO directs the civilian International Staff, that is divided into administrative divisions, offices and other organizations. Also responsible to the NAC, DPC, and NPG are a host of committees that supervise the various NATO logistics and standardisation agencies.

The NATO Military Committee advises and assists the NAC on military matters. The Defence Planning Committee which directs its output to the Division of Defence Policy and Planning, a nominally civilian department that works closely with the Military Committee's International Military Staff.[183]

All agencies and organizations integrated into either the civilian administrative or military executive roles. For the most part they perform roles and functions that directly or indirectly support the security role of the alliance as a whole.

Two gray haired older men talk with a soldier wearing camouflage and a green beret who is facing away.
Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg (right) and his predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (left), talk with members of the Norwegian army's Telemark Battalion in Oslo.

The main headquarters of NATO is located on Boulevard Léopold III/Leopold III-laan, B-1110 Brussels, which is in Haren, part of the City of Brussels municipality.[184] A new €750 million headquarters building began construction in 2010, was completed in summer 2016,[185] and was dedicated on 25 May 2017. The 250,000 square metres (2,700,000 sq ft) complex was designed by Jo Palma and home to a staff of 3800.[186] Problems in the original building stemmed from its hurried construction in 1967, when NATO was forced to move its headquarters from Porte Dauphine in Paris, France following the French withdrawal.[187][41]

The staff at the Headquarters is composed of national delegations of member countries and includes civilian and military liaison offices and officers or diplomatic missions and diplomats of partner countries, as well as the International Staff and International Military Staff filled from serving members of the armed forces of member states.[188] Non-governmental citizens' groups have also grown up in support of NATO, broadly under the banner of the Atlantic Council/Atlantic Treaty Association movement.

The cost of the new headquarters building escalated to about €1.1 billion[189] or $1.23 billion.[190]

Civilian structure

In the twenty-first century NATO has an extensive civilian structure, including:

The Defence Planning Committee (DPC) is normally composed of Permanent Representatives, but meets at the level of Defence Ministers at least twice a year. It deals with most defence matters and subjects related to collective defence planning. In this it serves as a coordinating body between the Civilian and Military organizational bureaucracies of NATO.

The Defence Planning Committee was a former senior decision-making body on matters relating to the integrated military structure of the Alliance. It was dissolved following a major committee review in June 2010 and its responsibilities absorbed by the North Atlantic Council. [3]

Military structures

NATO's military operations are directed by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and split into two Strategic Commands long both commanded by U.S. officers, assisted by a staff drawn from across NATO. The Strategic Commanders are responsible to the NATO Military Committee for the overall direction and conduct of all Alliance military matters within their areas of command.

On 12 June 2003 NATO ministers announced an end to the decades-old structure of a command each for the Atlantic and Europe. Allied Command Operations (ACO) was to be responsible for the strategic, operational and tactical management of combat and combat support forces of the NATO members, and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) responsible for the induction of the new member states' forces into NATO, and NATO forces' research and training capability.[191] The European allies had become concerned about the possibility of a loosening of U.S. ties to NATO if there were no longer any U.S.-led NATO HQ in the United States, and the refocusing of the Atlantic command into a transformation command was the result.[192] The alliance created several NATO Rapid Deployable Corps and naval High Readiness Forces (HRFs), which all report to Allied Command Operations. In Europe the Regional Commands were replaced by JFC Brunssum and JFC Naples, and the JSRCs disappeared (though the Madrid JSRC became a land command for JFC Naples).

The commander of Allied Command Operations retained the title "Supreme Allied Commander Europe", and remains based at SHAPE at Casteau. He is a U.S. four-star general or admiral with the dual-hatted role of heading United States European Command, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. ACO includes Joint Force Command Brunssum in the Netherlands, Joint Force Command Naples in Italy, and Joint Command Lisbon in Portugal, all multi-national headquarters with many nations represented.[193] From 2003, JFC Brunssum had its land component, Allied Land Component Command Headquarters Heidelberg at Heidelberg, Germany, its air component, Allied Air Command Ramstein, at Ramstein in Germany, and its naval component at the Northwood Headquarters in the northwest suburbs of London. JFC Naples has its land component in Madrid, air component at İzmir, Turkey, and its naval component, Allied Maritime Command Naples, in Naples, Italy. It also directed KFOR in Kosovo. Joint Command Lisbon was a smaller HQ with no subordinate commands.

In 2012-2013, the Military Command Structure was reorganised. Allied Force Command Madrid was disestablished on 1 July 2013, the Heidelberg force command also deactivated,[194] the maritime component command at Naples was closed[195] and the air component command at Izmir also shut down.[196] Allied Air Command Izmir was reorganised as Allied Land Command.

A number of NATO Force Structure formations, such as the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps, are answerable ultimately to SACEUR either directly or through the component commands. Directly responsible to SACEUR is the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany where a jointly funded fleet of E-3 Sentry AWACS airborne radar aircraft is located. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs of the Strategic Airlift Capability, which became fully operational in July 2009, are based at Pápa airfield in Hungary.

Allied Command Transformation (ACT) is based in the former Allied Command Atlantic headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, United States. It is headed by the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), a French officer. There is also an ACT command element located at SHAPE in Mons, Belgium. In June 2009 Le Figaro named the French officer who was to take command of ACT following France's return to the NATO Military Command Structure.[197] Subordinate ACT organizations include the Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) located in Stavanger, Norway (in the same site as the former Norwegian Armed Forces National Joint HQ); the Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) in Bydgoszcz, Poland; and the Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC) in Monsanto, Portugal. The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) at La Spezia, Italy, was also part of ACT until it was shifted under the auspices of the NATO Science & Technology Organization.

In early 2015, in the wake of the War in Donbass, meetings of NATO ministers decided that Multinational Corps Northeast would be augmented so as to develop greater capabilities, to, if thought necessary, prepare to defend the Baltic States, and that a new Multinational Division Southeast would be established in Romania. Six NATO Force Integration Units would also be established to coordinate preparations for defence of new Eastern members of NATO.[198]

Multinational Division Southeast was activated on 1 December 2015.[199] Headquarters Multinational Division South – East (HQ MND-SE) is a North Atlantic Council (NAC) activated NATO military body under operational command (OPCOM) of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) which may be employed and deployed in peacetime, crisis and operations.

On 25 April 2017, the commander-designate of the new Multinational Division Northeast arrived at the headquarters location at Elblag, Poland. On 3 July 2017, the new division reached initial operational capability (IOC).[200] The division is tasked to coordinate the four NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups and to carry out Article 5 collective defence activities.[201]

In late 2017-early 2018, two new commands were approved, a rear area transit command which was finally announced as the Joint Support and Enabling Command, to be located at Ulm, Germany, and a new command for the Atlantic.[202] In March 2018 Chair of the Military Committee General Petr Pavel announced that the new Atlantic command would become part of the NATO Force Structure at the level of a Joint Force Command, similar to the two that exist at Brunssum and Naples. On 7 June 2018 the Secretary-General said a new JFC will have its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, in the United States.[203] The name was confirmed as Joint Force Command Norfolk at the NATO Summit in July.

Canada-US Regional Planning Group

The Canada-US Regional Planning Group (CUSRPG) is the only survivor of the originally five regional planning groups of the late 1940s and early 1950s.[204] All the others were subsumed into Allied Command Europe and Allied Command Atlantic.[205] In August 1953 it was tasked to '..(a) Prepare, approve and forward to the Military Committee, through the Standing Group, plans for and other material pertaining to, the defense of the Canada-U.S. Region. (b) Coordinate plans with SACLANT and other NATO Commands.[206] The NATO Handbook stated in 1990s editions that it was responsible for the defence of the US-Canada area and meets alternatively in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa. As such it appears to duplicate, in part, the work of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence.

NATO Networks

There are several communications networks used by NATO to support its exercises and operations:

Organizations and agencies

A major reorganization of the NATO Agencies was agreed at a meeting of the defence ministers from NATO's 28 member states on 8 June 2011. The new Agencies' structure will build upon the existing one:[207]


Main article: North Atlantic Council

NATO foreign ministers and Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Đukanović signed a protocol at the NATO Council in 2016.

Like any alliance, NATO is ultimately governed by its 29 member states. However, the North Atlantic Treaty and other agreements outline how decisions are to be made within NATO. Each of the 29 members sends a delegation or mission to NATO's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.[208] The senior permanent member of each delegation is known as the Permanent Representative and is generally a senior civil servant or an experienced ambassador (and holding that diplomatic rank). Several countries have diplomatic missions to NATO through embassies in Belgium.

Together, the Permanent Members form the North Atlantic Council (NAC), a body which meets together at least once a week and has effective governance authority and powers of decision in NATO. From time to time the Council also meets at higher level meetings involving foreign ministers, defence ministers or heads of state or government (HOSG) and it is at these meetings that major decisions regarding NATO's policies are generally taken. However, it is worth noting that the Council has the same authority and powers of decision-making, and its decisions have the same status and validity, at whatever level it meets. France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States are together referred to as the Quint, which is an informal discussion group within NATO. NATO summits also form a further venue for decisions on complex issues, such as enlargement.[209]

The meetings of the North Atlantic Council are chaired by the Secretary General and, when decisions have to be made, action is agreed upon on the basis of unanimity and common accord. There is no voting or decision by majority. Each nation represented at the Council table or on any of its subordinate committees retains complete sovereignty and responsibility for its own decisions.

Parliamentary Assembly

Main article: NATO Parliamentary Assembly

A large baroque yellow and gold room with a stage on the left and long tables filled with men and women in suits on the right.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, an intergovernmental organization of NATO and associate countries' elected representatives, meets in London prior to the start of the 2014 Newport summit.

The body that sets broad strategic goals for NATO is the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA) which meets at the Annual Session, and one other time during the year, and is the organ that directly interacts with the parliamentary structures of the national governments of the member states which appoint Permanent Members, or ambassadors to NATO. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is made up of legislators from the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance as well as thirteen associate members. Karl A. Lamers, German Deputy Chairman of the Defence Committee of the Bundestag and a member of the Christian Democratic Union, became president of the assembly in 2010.[210] It is however officially a different structure from NATO, and has as aim to join together deputies of NATO countries in order to discuss security policies on the NATO Council.

The Assembly is the political integration body of NATO that generates political policy agenda setting for the NATO Council via reports of its five committees:

These reports provide impetus and direction as agreed upon by the national governments of the member states through their own national political processes and influencers to the NATO administrative and executive organizational entities.

Military Committee

Main article: NATO Military Committee

An older man with a gray beard, red beret, and olive green military suit.
Petr Pavel (right), of the Czech Republic, was Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to 2018.

NATO's military operations are directed by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee with the Deputy Chairman, and split into two Strategic Commands commanded by a senior US officer and (currently) a senior French officer[211] assisted by a staff drawn from across NATO. The Strategic Commanders are responsible to the Military Committee for the overall direction and conduct of all Alliance military matters within their areas of command.[66]

Each country's delegation includes a Military Representative, a senior officer from each country's armed forces, supported by the International Military Staff. Together the Military Representatives form the Military Committee, a body responsible for recommending to NATO's political authorities those measures considered necessary for the common defence of the NATO area. Its principal role is to provide direction and advice on military policy and strategy. It provides guidance on military matters to the NATO Strategic Commanders, whose representatives attend its meetings, and is responsible for the overall conduct of the military affairs of the Alliance under the authority of the Council.[212] The Chairman of the NATO Military Committee is Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach of the United States, since 2018, and the Deputy Chairman is Steven Shepro of the United States, since 2016.[213]

Like the Council, from time to time the Military Committee also meets at a higher level, namely at the level of Chiefs of Defence, the most senior military officer in each nation's armed forces. Until 2008 the Military Committee excluded France, due to that country's 1966 decision to remove itself from the NATO Military Command Structure, which it rejoined in 1995. Until France rejoined NATO, it was not represented on the Defence Planning Committee, and this led to conflicts between it and NATO members.[214] Such was the case in the lead up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.[215] The operational work of the Committee is supported by the International Military Staff.

Allied commands

NATO is located in NATO
Locations of NATO's two strategic commands — Allied Command Transformation (ACT) with its subordinate centres (blue marks) and Allied Command Operations (ACO), headquartered at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and including its subordinate and joint force commands (red marks).

NATO's commands are Allied Command Transformation (ACT), responsible for transformation and training of NATO forces, and Allied Command Operations (ACO), responsible for NATO operations worldwide.[216]

Rapid Deployable Corps

NATO has several NATO Rapid Deployable Corps, including Eurocorps, I. German/Dutch Corps, Multinational Corps Northeast, and NATO Rapid Deployable Italian Corps among others, as well as naval High Readiness Forces (HRFs), which all report to Allied Command Operations.[217]

Three soldiers in camouflage stand in salute while a fourth raises a blue and white flag on a red and white striped flagpole.
NATO flag raising at opening of Exercise Steadfast Jazz at Drawsko Pomorskie in Poland in November 2013

In early 2015, in the wake of the War in Donbass, meetings of NATO ministers decided that Multinational Corps Northeast would be augmented so as to develop greater capabilities, to, if thought necessary, prepare to defend the Baltic States, and that a new Multinational Division Southeast would be established in Romania. Six NATO Force Integration Units would also be established to coordinate preparations for defence of new Eastern members of NATO.[218]

Multinational Division Southeast was activated on 1 December 2015.[219] Headquarters Multinational Division South – East (HQ MND-SE) is a North Atlantic Council (NAC) activated NATO military body under operational command (OPCOM) of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) which may be employed and deployed in peacetime, crisis and operations by NATO on the authority of the appropriate NATO Military Authorities by means of an exercise or operational tasking issued in accordance with the Command and Control Technical Arrangement (C2 TA) and standard NATO procedures.

During August 2016, it was announced that 650 soldiers of the British Army would be deployed on an enduring basis in Eastern Europe, mainly in Estonia with some also being deployed to Poland. This British deployment forms part of a four-battle group (four-battalion) deployment by various allies, NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, one each spread from Poland (the Poland-deployed battle group mostly led by the US) to Estonia.

See also

Similar organizations


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