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What is the Purpose of NATO

Sucheta Pradhan Aug 29, 2020
Ever since its inception, NATO has been a prominent international alliance, which has always striven to establish peace and harmony in the world. With this goal in mind, it has come a long way, evolving according to the world's need and also altering its purpose from time to time. This Story features various purposes for which NATO has been in existence.
"In my opinion, terrorism is a question which is not a short- term problem for all of us. It is a long-term fight. And NATO can play, and will play, a very crucial role in this struggle."
Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Polish politician and journalist)
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, always seems to be in the limelight, owing to some or the other issue relating to international security. It is a prominent intergovernmental military alliance, wherein the member states have entered into an agreement to respond collectively to an external threat and/or attack on any of the members.
Currently, 30 countries across Europe and North America are members of this organization, enjoying all the benefits of the North Atlantic Treaty,  but at the same time, also bound by its various clauses.
NATO, as an international organization, has come a long way today, and the entire world has witnessed the major, and in numerous instances, dominant role that it has been playing in restoring and maintaining world peace.

Why Was NATO Formed?

» On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty  was signed among 12 nations from North America and Europe, viz. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
One of the most common reasons put forth with respect to the founding of the NATO was to put up a strong, collective military force vis-à-vis the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union. But, there were some other, lesser-known purposes as well.
» It all began as an aftermath of World War II. Europe was almost devastated with millions of deaths, high infant mortality rates, shortage of food, and poverty.
On the other hand, democracy or rather, the elected governments were under extreme threat all across Europe, which was posed by the communist Soviet Union and its allies, such as Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, etc.
» Owing to this backdrop, what was needed in Europe at that juncture was stability, both economic as well as political. This was where NATO came into the picture.
The organization aimed to keep a check and forbid, wherever possible, the revival of European nationalist militarism by ensuring that the 'allied' North American forces were present on the continent, if need be.
Moreover, NATO also aimed to bring the various conflicting European nations together, politically, so that peace could be restored on the continent, and by doing so, the aggression of the Soviet Union could also be deterred.
» The treaty ensured safety and security of all its member nations, and stated that help―political, economic, and military―was always available to the members, who were attacked and/or vulnerable.
The famous Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty  stated, "an armed attack against one or more of them... shall be considered an attack against them all", and all the members agreed to abide by this.
It was agreed that in cases of military emergency on a member, an ally can independently decide on the kind of help it would offer; for instance, in terms of money, forces, etc.

NATO Changes its Structure and Purpose

» In 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its first test of an atomic bomb, thus, shocking the entire Western world. Moreover, in 1950, the Korean War broke out with communist reigns, such as China and the Soviet Union taking an active part.
» NATO, which until then did not have an organized military structure to carry out and coordinate their activities in different parts of the world, was strikingly affected by these developments. The organization's immediate response was the creation of a military headquarters at Rocquencourt in France.
This was named as the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Soon after, a full-fledged civilian secretariat was also set up in Paris, with Lord Ismay of the United Kingdom as NATO's first Secretary General.
» Slowly and steadily, NATO had an organized military structure, and with the ensured security from all the allies, political stability began to be restored in Western Europe. Political stability also brought economic stability to the region. Soon, NATO expanded and new members joined in―Turkey and Greece in 1952 and West Germany in 1955.
» While Western Europe, with the aid of NATO, was making serious efforts to bring about political integration in the continent, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies were immensely displeased by these developments. They decided to form an alliance that would openly challenge NATO's efforts.
Consequently, in 1955, the Warsaw Pact  was signed as a mutual defense treaty between eight communist powers. The first result of the Warsaw Pact was the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, which formed a boundary between West Berlin and East Berlin.
» At this juncture, the enmity between NATO and the Soviet Union was pretty obvious to the world. NATO's purpose at this point was very clear. They adopted the policy of "massive retaliation" against the Soviet forces. It declared that if the Soviet Union ever attacks, NATO would use the atomic bomb.
This policy did play a dramatic role in deterring Soviet aggression, as use of nuclear weapons was a devastating idea. With this, NATO succeeded in concentrating its energy on economic growth of its member nations, which, indeed, happened to a great extent.
Added to this, the members also agreed upon scientific cooperation within the alliance that led to the establishment of the NATO Science Programme, a consequence of the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Détente: NATO's New Purpose

» By the 1960s, the organization that began with a purpose to provide security to its members, evolved into one that aimed to resolve tensions between the communist and democratically elected governments.
In 1966, owing to differing viewpoints between NATO's member states, France walked out of the integrated military structure, but assured that it would lend its forces to the organization, whenever NATO would carry out its peacemaking operations.
It was, thus, evident that NATO could be flexible with regards to its clauses, if need be, unlike the Warsaw Pact.
» For different important people within NATO, détente or peacemaking encompassed different things. While some envisioned a cooperative relationship between Eastern and Western Europe, some others sought to replace the doctrine of "massive retaliation" with that of "flexible response."
In 1967, a new purpose of NATO was announced to promote and encourage peace between the allies of NATO and those of the Warsaw Pact. NATO also intended not only to preserve the existing political conditions in the world, but also to change them, if necessary.
» NATO's initiative to promote détente grabbed the attention of the international community, which in turn, led to the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.
The Act's signatories, including the Soviet Union and its allies, entered into an agreement to guarantee fundamental freedom to their citizens, which the Soviets later realized, was a potentially destructive idea.
» The status quo seemed to remain stable for a couple years until the Soviet finally invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The NATO-led détente seemed to be threatened by Soviet's action, but NATO was not willing to let it go so easily. This time, NATO adopted the "dual track" system to deal with the Soviet Union.
While on one hand, the organization deployed its troops on the Afghan land, they continued diplomatic negotiations with the Soviet on the other. By the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union was spending three times more on war than the United States alone.
Also, some of the major economies of the Warsaw Pact were already undergoing gradual disintegration by this time, and all this, alongside several other factors, ultimately led to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

NATO as the Builder of International Partnerships

» In 1989, the demolition of the Berlin Wall led to the creation of a unified Germany, which later became NATO's member state. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and consequently, the disempowerment of its Eastern European allies, ushered a peaceful era of open markets and democracy in Europe.
» At this moment, many people questioned the very existence of NATO, as it was thought that the purpose for which the organization was created had been fulfilled. However, NATO now expanded its purpose.
Its main purpose now, apart from encouraging democracy and peace in Europe, was to prevent the spread of militant nationalism that was taking root in the continent.
With this purpose in mind, the allies of NATO formed North Atlantic Cooperation Council  in 1991, which facilitated healthy diplomatic relations with Central and Eastern European, and Central Asian "partners". Furthermore, in 1994, NATO also sought to establish a dialog with Mediterranean nations, in order to make them politically and economically stable.
» Despite these efforts of NATO and its "partners", it soon became clear that the decline of communism in the period following the Cold War, had created a sort of a power vacuum, a situation that was immensely dangerous for world stability.
The creation of the Partnership for Peace  programme in 1994, made it possible for the non-NATO states to communicate and seek help from the allies, in order to modernize and strengthen their militaries.

NATO and the War on Terror

» The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States made it all the more evident that political anarchy in one part of the world, could have disastrous effects on the other. It also brought to light the kind of role that the terrorist organizations played in spreading instability in the industrialized world.
After 9/11, there were more terrorist attacks on NATO's member nations, like the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2005 London bombings.
» As an immediate consequence of the 9/11 attacks, NATO deployed its forces in Afghanistan, with a mission to arrest as many al-Qaida  leaders as possible, and to deny the terrorist organization, an operative base.
Subsequently, in December 2001, the extremist Taliban  regime of Afghanistan was usurped, and NATO, jointly with the UN, led a multilateral force to establish peace in the country.
Today, the main purpose of NATO is to aid the world in the War on Terror, and destroy the weapons of mass destruction. It aims to curb violence and extremism by intervening in an appropriate manner, whether militarily or diplomatically.
NATO, with its 30 allies and numerous "partners", has a power to achieve this goal; however, the organization still seeks active cooperation from the rest of the world so that the challenges with respect to peace and stability, that the 21st century poses, can be met effectively.