NATO in Europe

Description of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes nato (north atlantic treaty organisation) in the following terms: [1] A model of brevity, the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 contains 14 Articles committing the participants to collective security. Its pivotal clause is Article 5, stating that ‘an attack against any signatory in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all’, resulting in a concerted response to restore security, including the use of armed force if necessary. In 1948 the Treaty of Brussels had committed the UK, France and the Benelux countries to a mutual defence pact; to these countries the North Atlantic Treaty added the USA, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway and Portugal. The key to NATO’s credibility was the USA, with its conventional forces and its nuclear deterrent, whose involvement was a consequence of its growing appreciation of the Soviet military threat, highlighted by the 1948-9 blockade of Berlin.Greece and Turkey joined in 1952 and West Germany (following the collapse of the proposed European Defence Community) in 1955.

NATO’s defence capability was one of the determining factors in maintaining peace during the Cold War, placing the USA at the heart of European security. With its North Atlantic Council of foreign ministers, its regional commands, its Defence and Nuclear Planning Committees and its Military Committee composed of national chiefs of staff, all supported by research teams, sophisticated surveillance and regular military exercises, NATO constituted a formidable machine. France, irritated by American predominance, withdrew from the integrated command in 1966, as did Spain within years of joining in 1982, but despite these hitches and constant undermining by ‘peace’ groups and communist fronts, a united policy was maintained in the face of Soviet repression and belligerence (see more in this European encyclopedia). The 1980s were a crucial period, when NATOsituated missiles with nuclear warheads on European soil, often against violent leftist protests. As the arms race escalated, the Soviet economy was brought to the point of disintegration. In 1989, the USSR’s satellite dictatorships fell like dominoes, followed in 1991 by the Soviet regime itself, ushering in the modern era.

For over 40 years NATO’s field of operations had been limited both geographically and by reference to the alliance’s defensive character (see more in this European encyclopedia). With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 a new rationale was needed, and NATO’s first shots fired in anger came in 1994 while supporting an international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The polarities of the Cold War had possessed the merit of simplicity; now a web of conflicting interests and legal questions surrounded the application of military force in a case of internal aggression in the former Yugoslavia, which lay outside the NATO area (defined as the territory of the signatories). It was eventually under the aegis of the United Nations that NATO forces carried out air strikes against Serb positions; and since the conclusion of the US-brokered peace accord in December 1995, NATO has organised its invigilation. In 1999, NATO again took an out-of-area initiative, this time without UN backing, when it controversially bombed infrastructure targets in Yugoslavia and military targets in Kosovo to halt Serb oppression of the Kosovar Albanians.

No sooner had Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary rid themselves of their communist regimes than they moved to cement their integration into Western civilisation, announcing their candidature for the EU and NATO. This caused friction with Russia, impinging on its traditional sphere of influence and raising an old spectre of encirclement.

In 1991 NATO issued a ‘Declaration of Peace and Co-operation’, simultaneously announcing a 30% force reduction and the formation of a ‘North Atlantic Co-operation Council’ (NACC). The idea was to begin a friendly dialogue with the former Soviet bloc, with the twin aims of underpinning democracy in Central Europe but reassuring Russia of NATO’s good intentions. In its Partnership for Peace programme, launched in 1994, NATO went on to give a form of associate status to some 37 countries from Albania to Kazakhstan, encouraging joint exercises, democratic control of the military and a commitment to humanitarian missions. In 1997 the ‘Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council’ was formed to assume the political role of the NACC and the military role of the Partnership for Peace, with the active involvement of Russia as a co-signatory. The resultant improved atmosphere paved the way for Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to join NATO in 1999.

Other countries, too, wished to join, but there were severe doubts over the wisdom of further enlargement. It was vital not to dilute the credibility of Article 5 (the Baltic states, for example, being isolated from the main ground forces, would be impossible to defend in an emergency). Moreover, every extension of the Atlantic Alliance entailed costly improvements to bring the military infrastructure of the new entrants up to NATO standards. US willingness to meet the bulk of these expenses was no longer assured. European defence budgets, too, were being cut regularly. The communist threat might have disappeared, but in the face of an over-supply of well armed dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere, the post Cold War ‘peace dividend’ looked to have been prematurely spent.

At times the tensions within the NATO alliance were almost as concerning as the external challenges. The growing assertiveness of the EU prompted French-led calls for a more independent European security role (see more in this European encyclopedia). Washington agreed that Europe should share more of the cost burden, but was adamant that to avoid duplication and confusion the EU’s emergent military arm, the WEU, should operate within the NATO framework. After all, although European defence spending was 60% that of the USA, it was America’s capacity to project power at a distance which alone permitted European detachments to be effective (in the 1991 Gulf War France’s airborne effectiveness had been crippled through incompatibility with NATO systems, while in the Kosovo war, on the very borders of the EU, US forces undertook some 90% of the air strikes). France, by contrast, seemed to see the WEU’s ultimate role in terms of rivalry to NATO. A compromise was worked out in the form of ‘Combined Joint Task Forces’, which would rely on US NATO-assigned logistics to support WEUaction in cases where the alliance as a whole did not wish to be involved in the front line (see more in this European encyclopedia). But it was an uneasy compromise (see more in this European encyclopedia). An awkward situation would arise if the WEU were to embark on some venture which clashed with US foreign policy. Turkey’s membership of NATO and its resentment of the EU would be another complicating factor.

Why should 260 million Americans be asked to defend 350 million rich Europeans from 140 million impoverished Russians?Pat Buchanan, US Republican political polemicist

Around the turn of the century, Franco-American relations were distinctly strained. A French proposal to resume closer NATO links was made conditional on the surrender of NATO’s Southern Command to a French officer – a condition that the USA found too presumptuous to accept. Prime Minister Tony Blair added to Washington’s alarm late in 1999 when a joint Anglo-French statement referred to ‘autonomous’ European forces (that is, the Eurocorps), to which Britain would make an increased logistical contribution. The UK had been by far the most reliable US ally and reassurances were rushed out that London still regarded NATO as the linchpin of Western defence, but a fresh uncertainty had been created.

As NATO passed its 50th anniversary, its world had changed. In place of a single enemy the new danger was of brushfire wars, ethnic conflict and deranged but well-funded dictators with access to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Most of the potential flashpoints were ‘out of area’ and likely to need a speedy response – the speed applying as much to political decisions as to military logistics. Against this background the EU was increasingly determined to show itself as a unified political force, but barely more capable than before of concerted or decisive action, as the Bosnian fiasco, and before it the 1991 Gulf War, had cruelly demonstrated. For the former Warsaw Pactcountries, heartened by President Clinton’s promise to keep 100,000 American troops in Europe, NATO remained an emblem of security. Others were troubled by the morality and legality of operations not backed by a UN mandate (see more in this European encyclopedia). Was it acceptable to infringe the sovereignty of an oppressive r?gime, and, if so, within what limits? To itself, and to the EU, one of the greatest alliances in history had become a source as much of questions as of answers. (See also Common Foreign and Security Policy and WEU.)

Common Foreign and Security Policy, NATO and WEU and the European Union

NATO and the European Union


See Also

  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
  • Partnership for Peace


See Also

  • Defence policy


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach
  2. V?ase Tambi?n

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