North Atlantic Treaty
North Atlantic Treaty authentication page
TypeMilitary alliance
LocationWashington, D.C.
Effective24 August 1949; 74 years ago (1949-08-24)
ConditionRatification by the majority of the signatories including Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States
  •  Albania
  •  Belgium
  •  Bulgaria
  •  Canada
  •  Croatia
  •  Czech Republic
  •  Denmark
  •  Estonia
  •  Finland
  •  France
  •  Germany
  •  Greece
  •  Hungary
  •  Iceland
  •  Italy
  •  Latvia
  •  Lithuania
  •  Luxembourg
  •  Montenegro
  •  Netherlands
  •  North Macedonia
  •  Norway
  •  Poland
  •  Portugal
  •  Romania
  •  Slovakia
  •  Slovenia
  •  Spain
  •  Turkey
  •  United Kingdom
  •  United States
DepositaryGovernment of the United States of America
LanguagesFrench, English
Full text
North Atlantic Treaty at Wikisource

The North Atlantic Treaty is the treaty that forms the legal basis of, and is implemented by, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The treaty was signed in Washington, D.C., on 4 April 1949.


The treaty was signed in Washington, D.C., on 4 April 1949 by a committee which was chaired by US diplomat Theodore Achilles. Earlier secret talks had been held at the Pentagon between 22 March and 1 April 1948, of which Achilles said:

The talks lasted about two weeks and by the time they finished, it had been secretly agreed that there would be a treaty, and I had a draft of one in the bottom drawer of my safe. It was never shown to anyone except Jack [Hickerson]. I wish I had kept it, but when I left the Department in 1950, I dutifully left it in the safe and I have never been able to trace it in the archives. It drew heavily on the Rio Treaty, and a bit of the Brussels Treaty, which had not yet been signed, but of which we were being kept heavily supplied with drafts. The eventual North Atlantic Treaty had the general form, and a good bit of the language of my first draft, but with a number of important differences.[1]

According to Achilles, another important author of the treaty was John D. Hickerson:

More than any human being Jack was responsible for the nature, content, and form of the Treaty...It was a one-man Hickerson treaty.[1]

As a fundamental component of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty is a product of the US' desire to avoid overextension at the end of World War II, and consequently pursue multilateralism in Europe.[2] It is part of the US' collective defense arrangement with Western European powers, following a long and deliberative process.[3] The treaty was created with an armed attack by the Soviet Union against Western Europe in mind,[4] although the mutual self-defense clause was never invoked during the Cold War.

By signing the North Atlantic Treaty, parties are "determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of the peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law."[5]


Founding members

Current NATO member states
Animated map of NATO membership over time

The following twelve states signed the treaty and thus became the founding members of NATO. The following leaders signed the agreement as plenipotentiaries of their countries in Washington, D.C., on 4 April 1949:[6][7]

Non-founding members who joined before the dissolution of the Soviet Union

The following four states joined the treaty after the 12 founding states, but before the dissolution of the Soviet Union:

Members who joined after the dissolution of the Soviet Union

The following 15 states joined the treaty after the dissolution of the Soviet Union:


No state has rescinded its membership but some dependencies of member states have not requested membership after becoming independent:

  •  Cyprus (independence from the United Kingdom in 1960)
  •  Algeria (independence from France in 1962)
  •  Malta (independence from the United Kingdom in 1964)


Article 1

Article 1 of the treaty states that member parties "settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."[5]

Members seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area through preservation of peace and security in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.[5]

Article 2

Article 2 of the treaty stipulates that "The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them."[8] This is sometimes referred to as the Canada Clause after Pearson pushed for its inclusion in the treaty.[9] This included proposals for a trade council, cultural program, technological sharing, and an information program. Of those, only the latter two were passed.[10][11] Nonetheless, it has been brought up by observers commenting on trade disputes between members.[12]

Article 3

Article 3 of the treaty states that "In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack."[5]

Recently, this has been interpreted as the basis for the target for a 2% GDP expenditure rule,[13] which was established as a loose guideline in 2006.[14] This metric was confirmed again during the 2014 Wales summit.

It has also been used as a core concept for a mandate to strengthen member resilience: the ability to resist and recover from major disasters, failures in infrastructure, or traditional armed attack. This commitment was first accepted during the 2016 Warsaw summit, and further reiterated and clarified due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.[15][16] Per NATO documents, this has been understood to include seven key areas:

Article 4

Article 4 is generally considered the starting point for major NATO operations, and therefore is intended for either emergencies or situations of urgency. It officially calls for consultation over military matters when "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened."[18] Upon its invocation, the issue is discussed in the North Atlantic Council, and can formally lead into a joint decision or action (logistic, military, or otherwise) on behalf of the Alliance.[19] It has been officially invoked seven times since the alliance's creation.[20]

Article 4 invocations
Nations Date Reason Outcome
 Turkey February 2003 Iraq War.[20][21] Operation Display Deterrence.[22]
 Turkey June 2012 The shooting down of a Turkish military jet by Syria.[20] Operation Active Fence.[23]
 Turkey October 2012 Syrian forces shelling Turkish cities.[20]


March 2014 In response to the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Deployment of littoral, naval, and air forces in the Black Sea by Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey.[27] Condemnation and support for sanctions of member countries and international community.[28] Reform and medical aid to the Ukrainian government.[29] Creation of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence.[30]
 Turkey July 2015 In response to the 2015 Suruç bombing, which it attributed to ISIS, and other security issues along its southern border.[19][31][32][33]

Denouncement of the attack[33] and reassessment of NATO assets in Turkey.[34]

 Turkey February 2020 Increasing tensions as part of the Northwestern Syria offensive, including suspected[35] Syrian and Russian airstrikes on Turkish troops.[36][20] Augmentation of Turkish air defences.[37][38]

 Czech Republic

February 2022 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.[40]

Defensive build-up,[41][42] matériel support to Ukraine,[43] and activation of the NATO Response Force.[44][45]

There have also been instances where Article 4 was not formally invoked, but instead threatened. In fact, this was viewed as one of the original intentions for Article 4: as a means to elevate issues and provide member nations a means of deterrence.[46] For example, in November 2021, the Polish foreign ministry—along with Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia—briefly considered triggering Article 4 due to the Belarusian migrant crisis, but it was not formally requested.[47][48]

On 15 November 2022, a missile struck the territory of Poland at the village of Przewodów near the border with Ukraine.[49][50][51] The incident occurred during an attack on Ukrainian cities and energy facilities by Russia.[52][53] It was the first incident of a missile hitting NATO territory during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.[54][55] The NATO Secretary General talked with the Polish President and there was no call for an Article 4 convention,[56] although the government had been in talks to consider invoking it.[57]

Article 5

The key section of the treaty is Article 5. Its commitment clause defines the casus foederis. It commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state, in the areas defined by Article 6, to be an armed attack against them all. Upon such attack, each member state is to assist by taking "such action as [the member state] deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." The article has only been invoked once, but considered in a number of other cases.

September 11 attacks

Main article: September 11 attacks

Article 5 has been invoked only once in NATO history, after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.[58][59] 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.[60] The eight official actions taken by NATO in response to the 9/11 attacks included Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour, a naval operation in the Mediterranean which was designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction, as well as enhancing the security of shipping in general. Active Endeavour began on 4 October 2001.[61]

Threatened invocations

Article 5 threats
Party Date Reason
 Turkey June, 2012

The downing of an "unarmed" Turkish military jet which was "13 sea miles" from Syria over "international waters" on a "solo mission to test domestic radar systems".[62][63] On 25 June, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister said that he intended to raise Article 5.[64]

 Turkey August, 2012

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that "The tomb of Suleyman Shah [in Syria] and the land surrounding it is our territory. We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory, as well as an attack on NATO land... Everyone knows his duty, and will continue to do what is necessary".[65]

 United Kingdom
 United States
August, 2022

Chair of the Defence Select Committee of the United Kingdom Tobias Ellwood said that any deliberate attack against the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine that could cause radiation leaks would be a breach of Article 5. This statement was released over fears that a nuclear catastrophe could occur in the Russian-occupied plant during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The next day, American congressman Adam Kinzinger said that any radiation leak into NATO countries would kill people, which would be an automatic activation of Article 5.[66]

 Albania October, 2022

Albanian prime minister Edi Rama revealed that his government had considered invoking Article 5 in response to a major cyberattack on 15 July 2022 targeting critical and government infrastructure, widely believed to have been carried out on behalf of Iran by state–affiliated cybercriminals.[67][68]

Article 6

Article 6 states that Article 5 covers only member states' territories in Europe, North America, Turkey, and islands in the Atlantic north of the Tropic of Cancer.

It was the opinion in August 1965 of the US State Department, the US Defense Department, and the legal division of NATO that an attack on the U.S. state of Hawaii would not trigger the treaty, but an attack on the other 49 would.[69] The Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African shore are thus not under NATO protection in spite of Moroccan claims to them. Legal experts have interpreted that other articles could cover the Spanish North African cities but this take has not been tested in practice.[70] This is also why events such as the Balyun airstrikes did not trigger Article 5, as the Turkish troops that were attacked were in Syria, not Turkey.[71]

On 16 April 2003, NATO agreed to take command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which includes troops from 42 countries. The decision came at the request of Germany and the Netherlands, the two states 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 of the area delineated by Article 6.[72]

Articles 7 and 8

In the case of any contradiction with other international obligations (with the exception of the United Nations, which by Article 7 supersedes NATO), or in military conflict of two NATO members, Article 8 comes into force. This is most important in cases should one member engage in military action against another member, upon which the offending members would be held in abeyance of the treaty and thereby NATO protection as a whole. This has not occurred yet, but there have been several militarised disputes between NATO allies that have threatened this:

NATO Militarised Interstate Conflicts
Date Belligerents Conflict
1958–1961, 1972–73 and 1975–76  Belgium
 United Kingdom
 West Germany
 Iceland Cod Wars
1974  Greece  Turkey Turkish invasion of Cyprus
1994–1996  Canada  Spain Turbot War
1992–Present  Greece  Turkey The Aegean Dispute

If an intra-NATO conflict were to occur, there exist intra-NATO alliances which would be triggered instead in the instance of the abeyance. The following is a list of such active, intra-NATO military alliances.

Intra-NATO Military Alliances
Since Members Name
1373  Portugal
 United Kingdom
Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373
1940  Canada
 United States
Ogdensburg Agreement
1958  United Kingdom
 United States
US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement
2010  France
 United Kingdom
Lancaster House Treaties
2019  Greece
 United States
Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement[73][74][75]
2021  France
Franco-Greek defence agreement
2022  Finland
 United Kingdom
UK-Finland Defence Agreement[76] [77]
2023  Greece
 United Kingdom
Anglo-Greek Defence Agreement[78][79]

Article 9

Main article: North Atlantic Council

Establishes the North Atlantic Council, and is the only NATO body that derives its authority directly from the treaty. Its primary objectives as stated in the treaty is the enforcement of Article 3 and Article 5.

Article 10

Main article: Enlargement of NATO § Article 10

Article 10 dictates the process by which other countries may join NATO, which is by unanimous agreement by current NATO members. Further, new NATO members can only consist of other European nations. In practice, this has turned into a set of action plans which an aspiring nation must follow in order to become a member, including the Membership Action Plan (MAP) mechanism[80] and Intensified Dialogue formula.[81]

Article 11

Article 11 indicated the process of the initial ratification of the treaty. Each signatory nation was required to ratify the treaty through their respective constitutional processes. In order to come into force, the treaty had to be ratified by Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Article 12

Article 12 states the process by which the treaty may be amended, provided such amendments still affect the North Atlantic area and do not violate the Charter of the United Nations. In practice, this has only been used to clearly delineate which territories are under the purview of NATO.

Article 13

Main article: Withdrawal from NATO

Article 13 delimits the process by which a member leaves NATO, which simply consists of a one-year notice by the member nation to the U.S. government in its role as the treaty depositary, which then promulgates the notice to the other member nations. This has been contemplated by a number of member nations, but so far has not happened aside from withdrawals due to independence of former territories or dependencies (namely, Algeria, Malta, and Cyprus).

Otherwise, the next closest option for a member nation is to instead withdraw from NATO's military command structure, but not from NATO entirely. This happened with France in 1966, which rejoined in 2009; and with Greece in 1974, which rejoined in 1980 after the new Turkish military government ended its objections to Greek re-entry.

Article 14

Article 14 notes the official languages of NATO as English and French, and that the United States government shall promulgate copies of the treaty to the other member nations.

Changes since signing

Three official footnotes have been released to reflect the changes made since the treaty was written:[82]

Regarding Article 6:

Regarding Article 6:

Regarding Article 11:

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Joined as Kingdom of Greece.
  2. ^ Joined as West Germany. After reunification in 1990, the former East German territory became covered by NATO protection.


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Further reading