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What is NATO

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe is marking its 70th anniversary this year and we are celebrating with an in-depth look into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).  We will journey back in time to the very beginning of the Alliance and week-by-week give you a new window into this Transatlantic-multinational organisation.

What is NATO?

The agreement founding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was signed in Washington D.C. in April 1949 by twelve nations from Europe and North America with the ambition to provide collective security against the Soviet Union, prevent the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe and encourage European political integration.

The newly formed Alliance is committed to democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, as well as peaceful resolution of disputes. Most importantly, the treaty set out the idea of collective defence, meaning that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all.

NATO ensures that the security of its European members is inseparably linked to that of its North American members. The organisation also provides a unique forum for dialogue and cooperation across the Atlantic.

In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020). Now, 30 countries from North America and Europe make up the Alliance. NATO’s fundamental goal is to safeguard Allied freedom and security by political and military means.

On signing the treaty, countries voluntarily committed themselves to participating in the political consultations and military activities of the organisation. Although every country retains their cultures, their traditions and national authority; real challenges can exist when sharing the same environment and working together to reach the same target.

The members are subject to the obligations of the treaty but there remains a certain level of flexibility, which allows members to choose how they participate. NATO contributes to the security environment by defending democratic values, individual liberty and the rule of law, working for peace and stability across the Euro-Atlantic. The collective defence of its members and, through partnerships with non-NATO countries, is carried out by a leading role in peacekeeping and crisis response operations. By contributing to peace and security, NATO helps to create political stability and economic growth.

After World War Two, Europe was devastated. Approximately 70 million Europeans died in the conflict; 19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were one in four; millions of people were homeless or orphaned.

In addition, communists aided by the Soviet Union were threatening elected governments across Europe. Following the end of WWII, the United States grew into a leading position with its strong military and booming economy. European nations, alongside their North American Allies, worked together to form NATO’s military structure.

In 1950, NATO’s top political decision was to make an official, organisational body: The North Atlantic Council (NAC). Allies agreed to dismiss the Regional Planning Groups promoting an integrated military command, to create the post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and appoint an American General as its head. In response to these agreements, on December 19, 1950 the NAC announced the appointment of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first SACEUR, officially named by President Harry S. Truman.

As of 2020, the position celebrated its 70th anniversary with General Tod D. Wolters currently holding the title of SACEUR.

After that day, SACEUR became responsible for overall command of NATO military operations. His role is to conduct the necessary military planning for operations, including the identification of forces required for the mission and request these forces from NATO countries.

The position of SACEUR remains today as the commander of Allied Command Operations (ACO) based at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium. The following episode discusses ACO, the military structure within NATO and dives into the variety of headquarters and roles that exist within the organisational military chain.

This is episode one of the SHAPE Public Affairs’ series, “Knowing NATO,” where we will introduce you to all aspects of NATO. Following highlights include the NATO structure, how does NATO function, and much more…

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